Context Matters

With context-aware technology, employees can quickly find the supplies and colleagues they need.

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Airport Operations

These potential challenges aren't stopping some users. SITA is implementing a context-aware test platform that's based on the Appear Context Engine (ACE), a rules engine that determines where and when information should be available, and to whom. Kista, Sweden-based Appear Networks also offers push/provisioning, synchronization and device management modules, all made context-aware via the ACE.

At an airport, context awareness could come into play in many ways, says SITA's Fabre. In the case of a security breach, for example, the personnel closest to the incident would receive alerts, a map of the problem area and perhaps video from nearby surveillance cameras. Meanwhile, duty managers handling aircraft turnaround could more efficiently allocate tasks to baggage handlers, gate agents and maintenance crews while streamlining deployment of air bridges, fuel trucks and luggage ramps.

Fabre says one airline reported that implementing a context-aware mobility platform enabled it to adjust its staffing levels from one duty manager per aircraft to one manager for four or five planes. As a result, it projects double-digit cuts in aircraft maintenance and intervention time. It's also considering a hosted context-aware service from SITA at airports where it doesn't have a large enough presence to warrant building a context-aware mobility network of its own, Fabre says.

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

A Sales Presence

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

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

"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 Santa Clara, Calif.-based Agito.

At Anthony Marano Co., a large, Chicago-based distributor of produce, 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. The salespeople, who barter with suppliers and negotiate with customers on which fruits and vegetables they'll buy or sell and at what prices, live and die by the phone, says Chris Nowak, chief technology officer at Anthony Marano.

They also rely heavily on the call transfer feature, which enables them to forward customers from one sales rep to another depending on what type of produce the customer needs that day. Now, with the "cool new context-aware component," salespeople no longer have to blindly transfer those calls from their cell phones, Nowak says.

Using Agito client software running on their phones, salespeople can set up buddy lists. With the presence feature, they can see who's already on a call and who's available. They can also tell if that contact is in the building, in transit or working at home but hooked into the building's 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," Nowak says.

Presence comes in handy beyond voice applications, too. For example, Clark describes a health care scenario in which presence could help doctors make a diagnosis and begin treatment sooner. Say that while conducting tests, a radiologist determines that a patient has an anomaly that other team members need to know about right away. Using a 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 can transmit a report to that machine and send an instant message alerting his colleague to take a look.

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

Schultz is a freelance technology writer in Chicago. Contact her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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