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KM on the road: mobile applications

This article appears in the issue March 2008 (100 Companies) [Volume 17, Issue 3]
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No matter how light a laptop is, carrying it around, opening it and booting up is never entirely convenient for a mobile knowledge worker. The popularity of much more portable devices such as the BlackBerry from Research in Motion and more recently, smartphones, reflects their value in keeping workers connected to their e-mail. But what about the other business applications on which employees rely to be productive? Although such solutions have not been pervasive on mobile devices so far, improvements in hardware, software and connectivity are pointing toward a much more dynamic market in the coming years.

According to a study by In-Stat, growth in revenue for mobile business applications will increase 44 percent from 2007 to 2008. The study covered about 500 companies of various sizes and industry sectors. In 2007, at least one mobile data application was in place in 94 percent of firms in the study, up from 75 percent the previous year.

"About a third of the respondents had KM [knowledge management] applications in place," says Bill Hughes, principal analyst at In-Stat, "with another 17 percent planning to add them." The growth in mobile devices will keep pace. Gartner is expecting a growth rate of 42 percent for PDAs and smartphones in 2007, once final figures are available.

Field service technicians and sales department staff were among the first to adopt mobile technology, and constitute a significant component of the market. Other applications such as business intelligence (BI), office suites and enterprise content management are also emerging. Search solutions, long a core technology in KM, are also bringing value to the mobile platforms (see sidebar end of article).

At Hydroworx, technicians are constantly on the road to maintain and repair customers equipment for hydrotherapy pools. The pools are used by professional athletes as well as patients with injuries, who are dependent on the equipment to maintain good health. To provide its field service workers with information about customers no matter where the worker was located, Hydroworx selected BlueService from BlueFolder and delivers it on the technicians smartphones through a browser interface.

A Web-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, BlueService stores customer information, service requests, schedules, contracts and other information. Like the desktop version, the mobile version is Web-based. Technicians in the field can view contact information in the database through their smartphones. They receive e-mails and text message alerts over the cellular phone network regarding schedule changes. Technicians can also determine whether a customers equipment is still under warranty or other service agreement without having to contact the central office.

The choice of a Web-based mobile solution was the logical one for a SaaS application, which already used the browser interface. "We are independent of platform, and its a simple interface that can work over slow connections," says Marc Fey, COO of BlueFolder. "Its also totally integrated with the SaaS solution. However, if customers want to use this data in conjunction with their other applications, it can be exported in XML format."

Users can see some standard analytical reports in BlueFolder, but if they want to carry out more detailed analytics, for example, it can be imported into BI applications

BI for road warriors

One of the most useful functions on a mobile device is being able to get dashboard information on business performance. The leading BI vendors have mobile products. Information Builders Inc. (IBI), MicroStrategy, and Cognos (which has been purchased by IBM) all announced mobile introductions or enhancements at the end of 2007.

IBIs WebFOCUS Active Reports has been available on Treos, Dell PDAs, HP PDAs and other devices using the Opera Mobile browser for more than a year, and the company announced its mobile dashboard product in November 2007.

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