Sidebar: Keep Mobile Apps Simple, Say IT Managers

PALM DESERT, CALIF.

When IT managers develop mobile and wireless applications, keeping them simple and small is usually the best route to take, according to several experienced users who spoke at Mobile & Wireless World.

Even though mobile devices can mimic most of the capabilities of a desktop PC, such as handling attachments and rich text documents, plain text is usually a better choice for sending data, said Ralph Nichols, a service program manager at Pitney Bowes Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Nichols developed a purely text-based mobile application that is being rolled out to the mailing equipment maker's 3,500 field service technicians.

Pitney Bowes is even avoiding the use of abbreviations that might confuse end users, he said. The system, which will be used to dispatch workers and report the results of service calls, includes text fields that provide customer names, the types of machines they have and the problems they're experiencing. Nichols said the mobile application is integrated with Siebel Systems Inc.'s field service management software, which includes similar fields.

Another text field lists repair parts, enabling service technicians to send messages that automatically update spare-parts inventories on Pitney Bowes' back-end systems. The mobile application initially was installed at one field service unit last year and now is being deployed throughout the U.S. and Canada, Nichols said.

Companies that want to deliver data to end users who have devices smaller than laptop PCs need to make sure it is "concisely formatted" to fit on a 3-inch screen, said Justin Hectus, director of information at Keesal, Young & Logan, a law firm in Long Beach, Calif.

Hectus said attorneys at the firm use mobile devices that are hooked into the back-end knowledge management system. Simple but powerful text fields let the users enter small amounts of information on the fly and quickly share the data with other workers.

Travel Inc., a corporate travel firm in Duluth, Ga., found keeping it simple a daunting task when it was planning an application that would let customers access itineraries and Department of Homeland Security alerts while on the road. The company's customer base of about 100,000 business travelers uses myriad mobile devices, said Linwood Hayes, its chief technology officer.

Hayes eventually hooked up with Atlanta-based Air2Web Inc., which helped him design a system that can send information to any mobile device worldwide. The m-Itinerary service, which Travel Inc. launched early last year, relies on the simplest mobile data interface - Short Messaging Service - to push information to customers, Hayes said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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