Context-aware mobility: What is it and how will it change the business world?

Employees can save time by more quickly finding goods on warehouse shelves or supplies buried in storage closets

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As enterprises grow into their mobility initiatives, context-aware technology will play an increasingly important role for them. Appear has found context awareness to be particularly useful for traditional blue-collar workers who use mobile devices to access real-time information, such as those in the rail transport, emergency services, health care and air-travel industries, says Appear CEO Xavier Aubrey.

Fresh approach for salespeople

Presence is another logical starting point for context-aware mobility, especially as enterprises look at extending unified communications to mobile workers, Gartner's Clark says.

In April, enterprise mobility company Agito released a new version of its RoamAnywhere Mobility Router that features automatic location and context-enhanced presence functionality. RoamAnywhere Presence integrates with enterprise presence servers, including Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. It lets mobile workers determine the presence for any employee, including those at their desks, using the native Microsoft Communicator application, the company says.

"As you mobilize applications, you can't just shrink-wrap them and throw them on a phone; you've got to add context," says Christian Gilby, product marketing director at Agito.

At Anthony Marano Co., a large, nationwide produce distributor, enterprise mobility is all about being able to support voice calls in or out of the company's distribution center seamlessly as users move from Wi-Fi to cell coverage. Salespeople live and die by the phone, as they barter with suppliers and negotiate with customers on which fruits and vegetables they'll buy or sell and at what price points, explains Chris Nowak, chief technology officer at the Chicago-based company.

They also rely heavily on the call transfer feature, forwarding customers from one sales rep to another depending on what type of produce a grocery store or food service company needs that day. Now, with the "cool new context-aware component," salespeople no longer have to blindly transfer those calls from their cell phones.

From the Agito client software running on their phones, salespeople can set up buddy lists. With the presence feature, users now immediately see who is already on a call and who is available. They can also tell if that contact is in the building, in transit or working at home but hooked into the building Wi-Fi network using Agito's Secure Remote Voice feature.

"Our salespeople have to make decisions quickly because they're dealing with fresh produce, and now they're better able to judge what to do with a call based on presence," Nowak says.

Presence comes in handy beyond voice, too. As an example, Gartner's Clark describes a health care scenario in which presence could help quicken time to diagnosis and, therefore, treatment. Say that while conducting tests, a radiologist determines that a patient has an anomaly that other team members need to know about ASAP. From his presence-enabled buddy list application, he can see that three of the four doctors working on the case are tied up. Location information shows him the closest workstation to the one available doctor, so he shoots off his report to that machine and sends an instant message alerting the doctor to take a look.

"The whole goal is taking a business process that's about to occur and making that as smooth as can be," Clark says.

Next: Context on ice

Beth Schultz is a freelance technology writer in Chicago. She can be reached at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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