At an enterprise level, wireless hardware products generally address technology capabilities rather than real business process issues. Ideally, enterprises want mobile workers to gain access to back-end corporate applications that tie directly to revenue, says Kevin Burden, manager of smart handheld devices at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass.
International law firm Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP of Los Angeles is dealing with items on this wish list. The firm's 800 attorneys can update their offices about their billable hours while on the road. They enter the amount of time spent on client projects into Mobile Time Billing from Wireless Verticals Inc. of Austin, Texas, which runs on BlackBerry, a personal digital assistant (PDA) from Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Through Microsoft Exchange, the application forwards the data to an enterprise application called Carpe Diem from ProSoft Solutions Inc. of Houston.
The system makes it easier to update and view accounting and client information on a daily basis, says Mary Odson, CIO of Paul, Hastings. "We have an executive inquiry system based on a data warehouse, which allows the partners in our firm to inquiry real-time client and matter-specific information," ensuring that information is kept up-to-date, says Odson.
Paul, Hastings chose the BlackBerry wireless standard as a way to get attorneys to stop using laptop computers as their primary tool for e-mail. According to Odson, the firm was able to reduce laptop assignments by 40 percent, resulting in a cost savings of $300,000 a year.
As it was in this law firm, BlackBerry is often adopted to handle what many companies consider a critical task: real-time wireless delivery of e-mail from Exchange and Lotus Notes. Research In Motion recently announced that its subscriber base has grown to 164,000 users, many of which have chosen BlackBerry to replace the Palm handhelds they used to carry just to consult their calendars.
"The reason RIM has been successful is that they've looked at the market and found a hole that wasn't being filled," says IDC's Burden. Now RIM must decide whether to continue to concentrate on point solutions such as BlackBerry or use its position to build its solution into a widely used wireless hardware platform.
The recent addition of wireless calendar synchronization to BlackBerry seems like a natural extension. Workers on the go can accept, decline or initiate meeting requests from the device. Changes are updated automatically on both desktop and handheld calendars.
For the most part, however, RIM is leaving such
enhancements to third-party developers. It is attempting to spur outside application development by adopting Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) from Sun
Microsystems as its development platform. Java's more than two million developers dwarf Palm OS's
total of 130,000. But RIM will need a giant boost,
because around 7,000 software applications are shipping today on Palm, while RIM has a mere handful. "We're moving ahead with Java aggressively because we see it as a cross-platform way for application providers and service providers to implement solutions not only on BlackBerry but other wireless and mobile devices," says David Werezak, RIM's vice president of marketing.
Paul, Hastings' attorneys also use BlackBerry to run Universal InBox from Captaris Inc. of Kirkland, Wash., for real-time notification of voice mail and faxes. The notification includes who called, date and time, phone number and length of the call. "You can't listen or view those things from the BlackBerry, but it still saves time for our attorneys," Odson says.
In trying to expand its platform, Research In Motion is listening to demand from corporate customers that want to run BlackBerry handhelds on different wireless networks. RIM recently added service over the Motient Corp. network to its original BellSouth Corp.-based service, and it has announced an agreement with BT Cellnet Ltd. to roll out service over General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) in the United Kingdom. More such agreements would allow BlackBerry owners to use it internationally and should produce significantly higher data speeds and more reliable performance.
In response to the BlackBerry threat, Palm Inc. will introduce a wireless handheld that includes the two most popular features among BlackBerry users:
always-on e-mail and instant notification of new messages. This new PDA is also expected to be smaller and slimmer than Palm's existing Palm VII device.
RIM is unlikely to tamper much with success. New voice-driven pagers in the works will run on GPRS and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks, but they will be otherwise unchanged from current products.
But IDC's Burden says RIM will have to develop fuller applications if it wants to expand its reach. "The
inhibitor has always been the wireless build-out," he says. "If you want to give a mobile worker access to back-end applications, you can't rely solely on a browser model that depends on the wireless network for access to that data."
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