By Ari Kaplan
Mobile applications are coming. Are you ready?
If you haven't been involved with mobile applications yet, you will be. Mobile applications are becoming indispensable for helping organizations reach goals of increased productivity, reduced vulnerability, and improved customer service. Developing applications for wireless platforms presents unique challenges. Let's look at what makes mobile apps so valuable that it's worth tackling these challenges.
Companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort to keep their systems up and running, because downtime reduces productivity and discourages customers. Reducing mean time to repair is critical, because when the system stops, the business stops.
The Standish Group has estimated that system downtime costs the average surveyed company about US$500,000 an hour. That's a lot of money, especially when IT needs about an hour to respond, diagnose, and fix a problem.
When I worked for USRobotics as a DBA, I always carried an on-call pager. I experienced firsthand the problem that many companies face: more than one-third of alerts are received when it is difficult to respond quickly, either off-site with no dial-up connection, on-site while not at your desk, or while commuting. In these situations, the DBA (or the expert or problem solver) becomes the single point of failure in the system. It was clear to me that any application that could reduce response time would be good for everyone involved, reducing my support headaches and lowering my company's vulnerability to system disruptions.
That was the origin of my first mobile application, Pocket DBA for Oracle. With this utility running on a wireless PDA, DBAs have secure, real-time access to their organization's database. They can work directly and immediately on any problems and resolve issues rapidly. The mean time to respond drops from about 22 minutes to about 2 minutes.
This kind of significant change affects the entire organization. Essentially the organization leverages the power of this single mobile application to reduce vulnerability to downtime, avoid lost productivity, and improve customer satisfaction. And that's only one application.
Developing Pocket DBA for Oracle required overcoming some serious programming challenges. The issues included managing significant data transfer over a low-bandwidth connection, installing the kinds of security that are necessary to avoid exposing vital database secrets, surmounting (or trying to surmount) limitations on graphics, and simplifying the user interface. These considerations are all important and should be addressed in planning for any mobile application.
After you meet these challenges for one application, you can use the same methods to create other mobile applications that can use the same leverage to improve productivity and customer satisfaction for other business problems. PDAs can change from electronic day planners to viable platforms running real applications.
Consider sales, for example. Conventional wisdom says that salespeople should spend their time with customers rather than in the office. Yet, if they're with a customer, how can they access the essential, up-to-the-minute data residing back at the company's database? How can they enter orders? How can they arrange logistics of manufacturing and delivery? With mobile applications, running on a highly portable PDA or similar platform, that's how.
Selling is not the only area that can benefit from mobile applications. What about medical personnel in a hospital keeping in touch with necessary patient data and scheduling? How about service or delivery personnel primarily out on the road? How about real estate, utilities, banking, insurance, or construction? It's hard to imagine a business that couldn't benefit from mobile applications providing data access wherever workers happen to be.
Mobile applications could radically change the way we do business. The companies that implement mobile apps first can expect to enjoy an advantage for now. Because what's now a bonus for some will soon be a necessity for all. Get ready for it.