Take Your Line of Business Applications Mobile
At a Glance:
- Business need for mobile LOB apps
- Robust platform for mLOB development and deployment
- Over-the-air security, management, and provisioning
Beyond traditional voice, messaging, and productivity functions, many businesses today want mobile professionals to have access to the same line of business (LOB) systems they use in
the office through mobile LOB (mLOB) applications. Candidate systems typically include customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), business intelligence (BI), finance, and accounting applications. Obviously, having mLOB functionality enables mobile users to access and use rich business applications and interact with data on the go in real time, thereby reducing time to sale, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing business productivity. Some typical business scenarios could include:
- Sales teams can use Microsoft Dynamics™ CRM Mobile to view and update customer data from anywhere. Another mLOB application could give them access to real-time price and inventory data. Furthermore, salespeople could use specialized devices to collect sales documentation in the field, from filling out orders to collecting signatures. In fact, there are even point-of-sale applications for Windows Mobile® devices that can scan bar codes and read credit cards and then connect to back-end LOB data systems for processing.
- Field service workers can be scheduled using ERP solutions that route personnel based on their appointments and location, and can be automatically tracked using GPS-enabled Windows Mobile devices. Field service employees pick up only the first job of the day; as they complete a job, they are automatically dispatched to the next one (see Figure 1).
- In manufacturing organizations, Windows Mobile devices with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanning capability can be used for inventory management in an RFID-enabled warehouse, instantly and wirelessly populating information to a database. Moreover, there are Windows Mobile devices that are ruggedized or designated "intrinsically safe" for hazardous working environments in order to deliver data where it is needed while meeting important safety requirements.
- Mobile executives who go from customer meetings to board meetings to press events in a single day—perhaps far from the home office—can get financials, expense reports, or customer information wherever they happen to be.
These and many other business scenarios are driving leading-edge companies to adopt mLOB applications. This article will show you how Windows Mobile and Mobile Device Manager work together, thereby empowering IT pros to deploy the rich mobile functionality increasingly demanded by today's businesses.
Figure 1 An mLOB application showing a completed field service job
Enabling and Managing Remote Workers
Windows Mobile has proven to be a powerful platform for enabling remote workers in diverse industries because it works well with existing Windows®-based IT assets, its mobile messaging and unified communications (UC) are provided by Exchange Server and Office Communications Server, and both users and IT pros alike enjoy a familiar Windows experience that requires less training to use and understand.
With the release of Mobile Device Manager, Windows Mobile has become an even more compelling choice for mobile device deployment in business settings. Mobile Device Manager enables mobile devices to be provisioned, managed, and secured over the air using Active Directory® and Group Policy, just as if the devices were networked PCs or file shares. Policies and software can be pushed to phones automatically, and security, software, and hardware policies can be managed in a highly granular fashion with rich inventory-reporting capabilities.
The impetus behind these innovations is the notion that mobile devices should be natural extensions of IT systems rather than existing in their own middleware bubble. For companies wanting to move significantly beyond messaging, communications, and basic productivity on Windows Mobile devices, making mobile devices first-class citizens on the network is critical.
So, what if you are in one of the organizations that wants to go beyond the basics? Let's look at how the features of Windows Mobile and Mobile Device Manager make this possible by providing a great platform for mLOB applications.
Security and Device Management
The very capabilities that make mLOB applications attractive—that they provide anywhere, anytime access to business-critical information about customers, finances, inventory, and so on—also make security more challenging. Users input and access that information from small devices over public networks in a variety of locations.
Many companies already enable mobile access to LOB applications as well as to other shared resources and tools on the intranet through laptops with Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections. Mobile Device Manager extends this functionality to Windows Mobile devices with Mobile VPN (see Figure 2). The Mobile Device Manager Gateway Server enables an IPsec-encrypted tunnel between the Windows Mobile client and the network, providing secured access to information behind the corporate firewall over public connections such as the Internet or wireless packet data networks. Windows Mobile supports multiple types of encryption in this setting.
Figure 2 Advanced device management, security, and Mobile VPN with Mobile Device Manager (Click the image for a larger view)
Encryption policies can be set and enforced for data on devices and storage cards. Workers using mLOB applications might download confidential information to their mobile devices, which are much easier to misplace than other network devices. Happily, remote device wipe can be performed on any Mobile VPN-enabled device with a data connection (see Figure 3). If a pharmaceutical salesperson, for example, downloads customer files from her company's CRM system onto her mobile device and then inadvertently leaves the device in a cab, serious consequences could result.
Figure 3 If a mobile device is lost or stolen, the information on it can be removed remotely. (Click the image for a larger view)
Mobile Device Manager is designed to deal with such issues. In fact, Mobile Device Manager lets you manage almost every aspect of Windows Mobile device functionality and user policy, from disabling specific hardware features to controlling which applications can be installed to limiting access to certain network resources. All of this can be done from one solution, and all of it can be done over the air. When users have mLOB capabilities, these features become even more important. For example, you may want to prevent users from using Bluetooth networking, which could allow the downloading of data to uncontrolled devices. You may want only certain users to be able to install the mobile accounting software client, so you could set it to upload and install automatically to only those users who need it.
Furthermore, Mobile Device Manager does not require corporate data to pass through a third-party Network Operations Center (NOC) that could represent another possible availability or security breakpoint. Essentially, Mobile Device Manager gives you complete control over mobile device deployments of almost any scale—control that makes it easy to deploy, manage, and secure mLOB functionality.
The network integration yields another advantage: all of the highly granular control is accomplished by means of Active Directory and Group Policy, without the need to manage mobile devices separately from other network clients. This saves money and time. Most important, however, it lets you employ consistent security and access policies. Group Policy is a highly efficient way to control mobile access to LOB data. Those who need access can be provided with it easily; those who don't can be restricted en masse or individually.
Another major consideration in managing mLOB deployments—and mobile devices in general—is interoperability with existing infrastructure. Unlike Windows Mobile, some mobile device operating systems are disconnected from other forms of IT, requiring their own languages, servers, and tools. These factors become increasingly important when you're providing complex applications and critical data access on mobile devices.
Windows Mobile and Mobile Device Manager supply that interoperability. As a Windows OS, Windows Mobile works well with other Windows-based IT assets, such as Microsoft® Exchange Server, Microsoft Forefront™, SQL Server®, and Microsoft Office Communications Server. This intra-family interoperability makes it easier to design and build cutting-edge mLOB functionality.
For example, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), the Microsoft .NET Framework technology for enabling inter-application communication, can enable Exchange Server to be used as a message-passing utility for mLOB implementations using a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Occasionally connected workers can be kept current using a new Sync Framework that makes it easy to synchronize data between Windows Mobile devices using the SQL Server Compact 3.5 and corporate data on SQL Server 2008. These scenarios might be more difficult to implement without a mobile infrastructure that works with so many out-of-the-box network resources.
IT and User Productivity
Increasing productivity is an important goal of mLOB deployments. But if the capabilities are difficult for workers to use and for IT pros to manage, the costs may outweigh the benefits or at least reduce the return on investment (ROI). A goal of Windows Mobile development is to make it as similar as possible to the desktop Windows experience; the resulting familiarity can increase the value of the solution for all involved.
On the IT side, Windows Mobile—using Mobile Device Manager—is designed to bring Windows Mobile devices into the mainstream of the network. It does so by using familiar technology, especially Active Directory and Windows Server®. Mobile Device Manager is part of the System Center family of IT management solutions, used by a large number of IT pros around the world. Instead of having to learn an entirely new set of tools and practices, IT pros familiar with a Windows-based environment can use the Microsoft Management Console snap-ins they already know.
The same is true for users. The desktop-like experience of using Windows Mobile helps them get up to speed quickly. They can use the Office Mobile suite, including Office Mobile Outlook®, to get work done without learning new applications. They don't have to worry about device management because it's taken care of centrally. mLOB applications can be designed to work in ways familiar to users of the desktop versions of the same programs; new tools can be built to look and behave like typical Windows software. This user familiarity can result in fewer support calls and lower incident severity—a boon for IT pros as well.
Other aspects of the Windows Mobile and Mobile Device Manager platform also enhance productivity. Mobile VPN provides seamless and persistent connectivity even across networks, in addition to fast reconnect functionality, helping users connect when they need to and reducing another common source of help desk calls. The multiple device form factors supported by Windows Mobile enable companies to standardize on a small number of devices while still giving employees the ability to choose devices that meet their needs. Device diversity also allows for productivity-enhancing mLOB scenarios like bar code-based inventory management or routing with GPS-enabled devices.
Development and Distribution
The attributes that define LOB applications—data richness, power, and specialized functionality—tend to work best on a mobile platform that is designed for application-based productivity. Windows Mobile provides a desktop-like experience for mobile workers, making it easier to develop, distribute, and manage mLOB applications.
To begin with, Windows Mobile supports a version of .NET called the .NET Compact Framework. Since the .NET Framework is a programming toolset used by millions of developers worldwide, many IT operations already have the development skills in-house to customize and create mLOB applications for Windows Mobile. If they don't, those skills are readily available in the marketplace.
Windows Mobile also supports a large number of commercially available mLOB applications. Microsoft offers mLOB solutions as part of its Microsoft Dynamics product family, including Microsoft Dynamics CRM Mobile and Microsoft Dynamics AX Mobile Sales. Also, Microsoft Dynamics Mobile Development Tools provide developers with technologies for extending the software to the mobile environment. Microsoft has made a commitment to take other Microsoft Dynamics solutions mobile, with Microsoft Dynamics NAV support coming soon. And most major LOB solutions, such as SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft, and SalesForce.com, provide Windows Mobile-compatible versions of their application suites.
Once they have been purchased or developed, mLOB applications can be deployed and managed over the air using Mobile Device Manager and Windows Server Update Services 3.0. Group Policy can be used to set which devices receive the application and what functions they can access. Note that application updates can be performed in the same easy manner.
The Bottom Line
A growing number of companies are providing mLOB applications to employees and executives, adding new considerations for those tasked with deploying and maintaining IT systems. Windows Mobile and Mobile Device Manager deliver on the vision of network-ready mobile devices, providing an easy-to-manage platform for mLOB development and deployment. It is a platform that maximizes security and user productivity while minimizing IT department headaches and infrastructure investment. And because Mobile Device Manager lets you scale mLOB deployments to a larger number of users, the cost of mLOB development and deployment per user is decreased while ROI per user is increased. Thus, the ease of managing Windows Mobile with Mobile Device Manager frees you to think creatively about how mLOB applications can be used most effectively—instead of how to get them working in the first place.
Matt Fontaine is a writer and consultant based in Seattle, Wash. He attends to a wide array of industries including high-performance computing, enterprise software, actuary, commercial real estate, engineering, construction, and consumer packaged goods. Matt is a proud alumnus of The Evergreen State College.