The New Front End: Vendors Extend Apps To Handheld Platform

ERP, CRM and other back-end systems reach out


Courtesy of CRN
May 10, 2005
By Rochelle Garner


Handhelds aren’t just for e-mail anymore. Today, mobile professionals are tapping into full-blown CRM applications by way of the Research In Motion BlackBerry, Palm Treo, Pocket PC and other handheld devices. Now it looks as if back-end applications will soon take a spot on companies’ mobile devices.


NetSuite, Sendia and Saratoga Systems last month all unveiled tools that make it easier for systems integrators to craft a broader range of rich user experiences.


As a result, some systems integrators say they are on the verge of mobilizing back-office applications such as ERP, inventory management and logistics.


“With the Sendia platform, I can develop applications on the handheld device to PeopleSoft or Oracle or J.D. Edwards, so I’m not just limited to connecting to [CRM],” said Brent Mellow, executive vice president of MW Advisors, a Dallas-based consulting firm. “That’s where I think we’ll see the real explosive growth: connecting to other applications beyond the front end.”


For almost three years, MW Advisors has tapped into the hosted backup and transport service offered by Sendia, Santa Monica, Calif., to mobilize yet deliver the same CRM functions and features found on the desktop.


But MW Advisors does more than just put a pretty face on a BlackBerry. The consulting firm also defines business rules that will automatically trigger events on a back-end server-such as sending collateral to prospects-whenever the user logs a task as complete or pulls down a pick list of actions.


Now, said Mellow, he is looking at the updated Sendia Wireless Workspace 2.0, with its new developers’ studio and framework, for creating and deploying the same sort of on-the-go workflow for different applications. Examples include dispatch software for field-service organizations, or technician trouble tickets on the factory floor.


“I think people will stop carrying laptops and instead carry BlackBerries,” said Mellow. “It’s incredibly compelling when the act of entering data in a handheld device can trigger a series of events back in the home office. This is explosive.”


Jeremy DeSpain agreed. COO and partner of Explore Consulting, Bellevue, Wash., DeSpain heads Explore’s efforts to craft connections between PDAs and NetSuite, using NetSuite’s newly released NetFlex development and integration software.


“NetSuite’s Web services integration capability really enables small businesses to access their realtime information more easily than large companies can today,” said DeSpain, referring to the standards-based APIs now offered in NetFlex. “That’s what Web services integration does: It exposes that realtime data out to any application or, in our case, to a PDA. Our role as a developer and systems integrator is to enable those business metrics to be accessed more readily through mobility. I believe small-business managers will have much better information about how their businesses are doing. I’ve shown large- company CEOs the NetSuite dashboard, and they just drool.”


Using NetFlex, Explore is in the final stages of building an order- entry application that, initially, would hook into NetSuite’s CRM functions. “I just demoed our order-entry app to a current NetSuite client looking to mobilize 85 field-sales reps,” said DeSpain. “They want the first version deployed in four to six weeks.”


Later this year, San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite will update its NetFlex software to integrate with its full ERP suite, including accounts payable and inventory. When that’s available, Explore will expand its mobile applications repertoire. “Most likely, the next ones would be inventory-related and integrating to other e-commerce avenues, such as eBay,” said DeSpain. “I think mobile access to e-commerce will be a big focus for us.”


For Saratoga Systems, any back-end data should be accessible from just about any mobile device. And, said Al Smith, president of the Campbell, Calif., company, that access should occur without a lot of complexity. “We are selling our [Saratoga Wireless software] as a generalized tool for getting information from any type of database, without getting into the middleware hairball,” Smith said. “This is a microbrowser-based system, displayed in a user-friendly report format, for fast retrieval of back-end data. What’s more, it doesn’t require a big integration effort.” Smith said the company is beginning to build a North American channel.


Todd Kort, principal analyst at market-research firm Gartner, said he isn’t surprised to see new products that broaden the base of applications for the BlackBerry and other devices. “I don’t have any hard data, but there’s definitely a trend in that direction,” Kort said. “After e-mail, CRM is the first application that companies want to mobilize. After that, checking on inventory becomes important. And for the average productivity worker, a BlackBerry can be a good adjunct to a laptop. We’re now seeing the device penetrate deeper into accounts, where salespeople can make decisions and trigger events without waiting to get back to the office.”


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Media contacts: Explore Consulting, 425.462.0100