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Enterprise Applications On the Move: Web Services on Mobile Devices

  • May 9, 2006
  • By Roy Mitchell
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The Next Step: Mobile Applications

The expansion of mobile devices and their built-in capabilities, particularly toward programmable operating systems, has led to the growth of the possible range of new applications to be built and added to them. Windows Mobile devices provide full support for the Microsoft programming environment; the Compact .NET Framework is implemented on PDAs, Phone Edition PDAs, and Smartphones. Support for J2ME on Palm devices and many phones based on the Symbian operating system (such as Nokia and Sony-Ericsson) allow Java programs to be written for and run on even generic cell phones. These applications can be delivered and installed to the mobile device automatically and wirelessly through a capability called Over-The-Air provisioning (OTA).

With these new, diverse options for developing applications, organizations have new opportunities for corporate use of mobile devices and integration with corporate applications. With Microsoft .NET Compact Framework (.NET CF), it is possible to develop applications to run on the mobile device thats interact seamlessly with corporate assets over GPRS or Wi-Fi networks. For example, a GPRS wireless PDA application can be built to interact with a mobile middleware solution, which in turn interacts with the mainframe legacy system or contemporary systems such as SAP.

Let's look at an example: A mobile application on a wireless PDA would allow a salesperson on the road to access customer contact information. Through an application that runs locally on the PDA, this salesperson can tap the PDA's touch-sensitive screen and enter the name of the customer or the company to retrieve contact details. This would trigger the application running on the PDA to communicate with a mobile middleware server through the GPRS network, which then would wirelessly connect to an IBM iSeries system that runs the customer database. Then, in a reverse path, information from the iSeries system would be gathered and passed back completely transparently by the middleware server to the PDA application, seeming to the salesperson as though the whole process has run locally on the PDA—the salesperson has simply tapped the screen to access the needed information. The key standard delivering this transparency for future mobile applications will be Web services.

Looking Ahead: Mobile Web Services

Web services, lying within the broader world of SOA, will be the driver for the new mobile economy. The underlying principles of SOA are not new; existing client-server systems, such as DCE, CORBA and DCOM, have delivered distributed applications for quite some time. Unlike these client-server systems however, SOA allows information providers to be developed entirely independently from information consumers through intercommunications standards that are manifested through Web services. The information providers—legacy IBM mainframe applications, the more modern contemporary applications like SAP, or a combination thereof—that span various platforms will remain the core drivers of business in the enterprise. As an integration layer is needed between the "old" applications and the "new" Internet-enabled mobile economy for standardized information integration, the challenge then becomes Web-enabling or mobile-enabling existing corporate assets to transform the transactions lying in the disparate systems into services that can be consumed by other applications and systems.

The information consumers in the mobile economy are the mobile devices. These mobile devices are no longer simple gadgets for presenting static information such as WAP card decks or Web pages, but they are fully programmable interactive systems with applications built for them by conventional development environments for desktop and laptop computers like Microsoft Visual Studio. In today's world, applications for mobile devices can consume Web services and work easily with any corporate systems.

Moving Into the Future: Mobile Middleware Platforms

Selecting a mobile middleware platform that provides real-time access to backend business systems and the tools for transforming specific business functions from those systems into Web services is critical in building enterprise mobile solutions. This platform must offer a wide array of business systems connectors out of the box and connect to legacy systems because this is a core business platform for most large organizations. Accomplishing this with the limitations of the screen size and reduced bandwidth on mobile devices requires the mobile solutions to choose and only expose the functions of backend business systems critical to the application's use.

Many of the current mobile middleware solutions available today have roots in database synchronization with infrastructures based around this technology; however, unstructured data (the majority of business information) by its nature does not lend itself to a database-centric solution. As a mobile middleware platform should not require the developer to create new logic but build an extension of the existing logic, a new approach is required to deliver true real-time enterprise mobility.

Summary

Mobile technology opens excellent competitive opportunities for companies by enabling crucial corporate information to travel with employees, partners, and customers wherever they go. The "go anywhere" coverage of mobile networks and the exponential growth of Internet-enabled mobile phones and PDAs make the mobile enterprise a viable and cost-effective proposition.

Web services are the lingua franca for the mobile enterprise; they are also the common denominator among business systems, the Java world, and the .NET world. The more a company's application assets are Web-enabled and the business processes are presented as Web services (or perhaps more accurately as business services), the more those company assets can be utilized to easily deliver high-value mobile solutions.

About the Author

Roy Mitchell is a senior product manager at NetManage (www.netmanage.com) a software company that provides solutions for accessing, Web enabling, and integrating enterprise information systems. Mitchell has more than 10 years of product management experience in enterprise software solutions.





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