COMMENT: In The Field

Applications for Real-Time Access
By Ari Kaplan

Oracle technologies and tools simplify mobile and wireless application development.

Database applications for wireless handhelds have an important role for business IT because they can increase productivity and lower costs for an enterprise. Let's look at an experience I had designing and deploying a wireless application where access was the key.

My client, a large healthcare network, wanted a better system. Physicians needed access to patient records after hours. These physicians were at multiple geographically dispersed locations, on call for consultation after the central office was closed. The goal was to let them view necessary records for patients who called, as well as to access a medication interaction database. The physicians would also need to update patient records or add notes based on their conversations. The application had to run on both wireless Palm-based and Pocket PC-based handhelds. The challenge: Our team needed to develop a prototype rapidly that would go out to a handful of testers, followed by a rollout to about 150 users in the next phase.

Designing Wireless Applications

How did we go about solving this problem? The first step was to decide what functionality was needed: a "mobile" or "wireless" application. Mobility implies offline access to data. Typically, the user has a small subset of the database that resides locally on the handheld. The user can access this information using Oracle Database Lite 10g and make changes that will become part of the database when the handheld reconnects and resyncs. For the healthcare network, an offline application was impractical, because the volume of data that the physicians needed wouldn't fit on the handhelds.

Wireless, however, offers real-time connectivity to the back-end database. Little or no data resides on the handheld, which acts as the interface to the database. Our team chose wireless for the physician application because users—the doctors—had to be sure that they had the latest information, and they needed to update patient records in real time.

Next Steps


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Oracle Database Lite 10g
Oracle Application Server Wireless
Oracle Application Server



Then we had to decide on the two main components of our physician wireless database application. First, we needed a middleware server to connect to the company's database; second, we needed the handheld component. We chose Oracle Application Server Wireless, which provides a communications channel from the back-end database to the handhelds. In addition, it allows you to format output for different handheld platforms, such as BlackBerry, Palm, and Pocket PC, in a process called device definition.

Furthermore, Oracle Application Server Wireless provides built-in security that includes authentication, encryption, and auditing. Authentication supports the same roles and privileges that you find on a desktop installation—you can even use the same usernames and passwords. Standard encryption, such as SSL, is available. Auditing can use standard Oracle audit trails whenever a user logs in, including who, when, and what commands the user issued. Failed attempts to connect can also be logged, for later analysis. Federal privacy laws such as HIPAA make security a paramount concern for all medical applications; our wireless tool for physicians, because it accessed patient records, required the highest level of security.

To achieve this level of security on a wireless app, user access to Oracle Application Server Wireless should be with a virtual private network (VPN), just as if the user were accessing the system from a laptop or home office. Some handhelds, such as the BlackBerry, have an enterprise VPN built in. Others require a third-party mobile VPN. Our team used a VPN for the physician application.

The handheld component of our physician app required no special client-side processing. The simplest solution for such applications uses the handheld's native Web browser to access a Web-based application. This eliminates the need for creating and maintaining different interfaces on different platforms. However, it does require that the back end perform all needed processing: The handheld is just an interface.

Wireless Development Success

With the right tools, technology, and techniques, developing database applications for mobile or offline and wireless handhelds is not much different from ordinary development. Using this solution, our clients benefited from real-time access to the data they needed, from practically anywhere. Your users can, too.


Ari Kaplan ( ari_kaplan@ioug.org ) is president of the IOUG (Independent Oracle Users Group) and senior consultant for Datalink. He founded Expand Beyond Corporation, a leader in mobile IT software. He has been involved in Oracle technology since 1992.


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