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Wireless? Get iSerious!

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During a 1995 company meeting, a young colleague of mine suggested that our company, LANSA Inc., should begin to develop applications for use on the World Wide Web. Although nobody wanted to squash the young buck’s enthusiasm, the walls and boardroom table whispered “Get serious!” Our company focus was the delivery of serious business applications, not trinkets for the Web.

Who knew that just one year later, our company would deliver a large-scale, serious, browser-based intranet application integrated into J.D. Edwards & Company on an AS/400?

Now That It’s Time for Wireless...Get iSerious!

As with the PC revolution of the ’80s and the Internet revolution of the ’90s, the current wireless revolution is being championed by consumers first, with businesses trailing. Now that the average city dweller uses at least one wireless device, it’s time that most businesses begin to profit from (or at least prepare for) the wireless revolution.

Why Should You Run Your Wireless Solutions on Your iSeries or AS/400?

If the answer because my business already runs there doesn’t sound familiar, you probably missed the client/server and e-business revolutions. If that’s not enough of a reason, independent consultants such as Zona Research, Inc. and Aberdeen Group, Inc. confirm that your iSeries (or AS/400) is a highly reliable, integrated, secure, scaleable, and powerful transaction server ideal for e-business. By the definition that I accept, e-business certainly includes wireless technologies—besides “w-business” just has no ring to it!

Wireless is another form of client/server computing. Terms like thin client and fat client still apply. At the extreme, thin client means that your back-end server does most of the work, leaving only the user interface to your client. Examples are Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), Wireless Markup Language (WML), and Web browsers. Fat client suggests that your iSeries is to act primarily as a database manager, while your wireless application sits on your personal digital assistant (PDA). Examples are Puma Technology’s Satellite Forms and C++ applications with Palm conduits. Many solutions will likely fall somewhere in between a fat and thin client. This article focuses on Palm OS devices since they claim roughly 75 percent of the world PDA market, and cellular phones are not generally considered a viable business application interface.

OS/400 Requirements

Although I am discussing wireless solutions that center around IBM’s newer iSeries machines running OS/400 V4R5, you will also be able to configure most, if not all, of the wireless solutions described here on an AS/400 running OS/400 V4R5. If your AS/400 is running OS/400 V4R4 or below, some of the networking technologies needed for Web and wireless solutions may be at a lower implementation level or altogether absent. Check with your wireless solutions provider to determine what capabilities are needed.

Selecting from Practical Wireless Solutions

Currently, there are several practical ways for you to integrate wireless technology with your core iSeries communications and applications. Your choice depends on a few key factors:

• Device availability—Are your users already equipped with a certain type of PDA?

• Network availability—Is the wireless network generally available to your target users?

• Connection persistence—Is the wireless network available to your users 100 percent of the time or only occasionally?

Figure 1 depicts some of the technologies that can form part of your iSeries- integrated wireless solution and some of the parameters. Lotus EasySync for Notes uses Palm’s HotSync Server to synchronize your calendar and email files between a Palm device and a Lotus Notes-equipped computer. Lotus Mobile Notes allows for more direct access to your calendar and email from your Palm device or Wireless Application Protocol-enabled cell phone. IBM’s DB2 Everyplace (formerly called DB2 Everywhere) and Mobile Connect can also serve to synchronize your Lotus Notes email and calendar, but more importantly, they allow for synchronization of DB2 application data and transactions. Separating the two products, DB2 Everyplace is the DB2 database implementation for a Palm device. Mobile Connect is the technology that allows you to synchronize the DB2 data between your Palm device and DB2 on your iSeries via an NT server. Mobile Connect also offers some limited data synchronization conflict notification and resolution. Figure 2 shows how Mobile Connect and DB2 Everyplace combine to address your synchronization strategy.

Making use of the mini-browser available on your Palm VII device (or Palm V with cellular modem and OmniSky service), you can gain access to Web applications that are pared down specifically for the very limited screen size, graphical capabilities, JavaScript, and memory of the target device. This is certainly the easiest solution to implement, and it offers real-time AS/400 and iSeries data and application access thus eliminating the need for data synchronization and the possibility of data conflict. However, this solution is reliant upon having a persistent wireless connection, which may not be available or feasible in all situations.

Web clipping is a technology of storing subsets of HTML content on the Palm device itself, with links to access more information that is usually served from an Internet- accessible Web server. To develop the Web clipping application—also known as a Palm Query Application (PQA)—you use a simple text editor to author an HTML document with limited syntax (HTML 3.2), then compile it into a .pqa file that is ready to be loaded on the target Palm device. The Web clipping application is now available to the Palm user via standard Palm navigation. The Internet-served content is usually dynamic and based on some user-determined query parameters. Proxy servers automatically convert between HTML and the Web-clipping format.

IBM’s MQSeries Everyplace is an extension of the MQSeries multiplatform messaging software to include handheld devices. Although it does not provide a complete

solution on its own, MQSeries Everyplace could be used in both a direct-connect and a data synchronization solution architecture.

Palm conduits are software plug-ins for HotSync Manager. They can be used to synchronize information between a Palm device and a Windows or Macintosh computer. Palm offers a conduit development kit (CDK) to help you build custom conduits using C++ or Java. Once the data is on your PC, it can be transmitted to your iSeries via tools like DataMirror Corporation’s Transformation Server.

Direct-connect or Synchronization?

If a direct-connection strategy is feasible (e.g., persistently connected mini-browser, WML, WAP) then there is no need for any sort of data synchronization or conflict resolution. Your Web application generally controls the page presentation, the information that can be viewed, and what DB2 data can be updated. If you have employed a repository- style application architecture—where reusable business rules, triggers, and server routines are separated from your user interface—then your task to deploy your business applications to handheld devices will be relatively straightforward.

However, if a synchronization strategy is to be employed, things are far more complicated. Even once the data makes its way to your iSeries database (e.g., through IBM’s Mobile Connect), you may still be left with the task of integrating this data into your core business applications. Why? Enterprise applications—such as ERP systems—have databases that are often too complicated to directly update by a mere HotSync. Those customer orders, which your remote sales force has recorded on Palm devices all day, require inventory to be allocated, data to be validated, and orders to be placed.

Absorbing a single customer order into your ERP system may require hundreds or even thousands of lines of code. Your ERP vendor can probably provide you with an API that your synchronization routine can call in order to facilitate this effort. If you’ve previously implemented a Web ordering solution that’s integrated into your back-end ERP application, it’s likely that you’ve already overcome this challenge.

The other big issue with employing a synchronization strategy is that your remote sales force cannot predict a delivery date until the orders are uploaded and processed. Product stock levels downloaded to the Palm device the night before may be depleted before the day’s wireless orders are received. Worse, if the field representatives and customers had access to this information at the time of ordering, a substitute product might have been selected.

Your customers may be used to this information vacuum between ordering and receiving, but they will likely become more demanding. A quick fix is to have automatic emails sent to your customers notifying them of their order’s status and projected delivery date as it moves through your back-end system.

In the future, it is likely that a direct-connection strategy will become the standard, but this cannot happen until wireless networks become cheaper, more reliable, and faster. Until then, the very complex problem of data synchronization and conflict resolution will continue to offer challenges for the business and technical communities.

So, What’s Right for You?

There is, of course, no easy answer. Here are two hypothetical scenarios to help your gray matter attack the gray area:
Scenario One
Business problem—Your company distributes snack foods to various small retailers. You want to expand your market share by in-store visits to larger variety stores. Wireless networks are only available in 20 percent of your territory, while 75 percent of your customers already access the Internet.

Business solution—Use Palm devices with simple fulfillment software (fat client), uploading orders nightly to your iSeries-based ERP system.

Before heading out on the road, a salesperson connects his Palm device to your iSeries back-end application via telephone access to the Internet and downloads the names and addresses of customers to visit that day, available products, pricing data, fulfillment lead times, and previous orders of those customers.

Navigating via a Global Positioning System-enabled Palm device, referencing the next customer’s address, the sales person travels from store to store, armed with product samples and a Palm device to input orders. At the end of the day, the sales person reconnects their Palm device to your iSeries back-end to upload the orders and access the information needed for the next morning.

As soon as an order is entered using the Palm-based application, an order reference number, user ID, and password can be given to the customer. This solution provides customers with the ability to track their orders via an existing Web-based order-inquiry application, and perhaps it will seduce the customer into placing future orders via an existing Web-based order-entry application—all without the need for a costly in-store visit. Combine this with an electronic customer relationship management system and you have an end-to-end solution. Palm III devices with simple C++ application running over a DB2 Everyplace database connected to your iSeries by Mobile Connect are the technologies that make this work.

Scenario Two

Business problem—Your company inspects the construction of bridges. Sometimes your employees are inspecting construction material wear hundreds of feet up the side of a bridge abutment. Inspectors need access to safety codes and to be guided through a series of pages to capture information that will end up in an inspection report. Wireless Internet is widely available in these urban areas.

Business solution—Inspectors use laptops computers whenever possible, but carry Palm devices in places where a laptop is too cumbersome. Either way, a browser can be the main interface (thin client) to an iSeries-based Web application tied directly into your real- time data.

Since the connection to your iSeries back-end system is real-time, inspectors have Web and wireless access to your database of previous inspections on that bridge or those similar. This can help corroborate inspectors’ findings and prevent the need for off-site research and follow-up visits. Since no information is recorded on paper, inspection reports and certifications can also be delivered online without transcribing messy handwritten notes. Laptops with landline modems and Palm VII devices—both directly connected to the same iSeries-based Web application, but with pages tailored to the parameters of the specific device—are the technologies that make this possibility a reality.

How to Get Started

If you’re wondering how to get started with wireless applications, here’s my quick list of items to think about:

• Determine where you are starting—Hopefully, you have already realized the importance of having a central repository of business rules, triggers, and modular server-side routines—logically cushioning your core systems from your user interfaces. If not, you may have to consider modularizing or even re-engineering your core applications before you can truly take advantage of the wireless world—or the Web world for that matter.

• Determine your business needs—Almost every company has a business case in which to wireless-enable at least one small part of its systems. Choose something important, but not too large, and get moving. Inquiry applications are usually a good place to cut your teeth.

• Identify the wireless devices and supporting network—Consider factors such as screen size, transmission speed, the practicality of user training, the importance of real-time data, network persistence, and the complexity of data synchronization.

• Find the software and development tools needed to deliver the client and server sides of the business application solution—Most of the software tools mentioned in this article offer 30-day trials, sample code, and application building blocks to help you test the waters. For example, DB2 Everyplace has a Query By Example application that allows you to quickly develop inquiry applications without having to code. And if it is not feasible to equip all your application builders and testers with Palm devices, you can download a Palm operating system emulator that will run on your PC.

Wireless technologies are still emerging. You will suffer some growing pains if you start integrating with them now, but your competitors will thank you if you don’t. So, get iSerious!

References and Related Materials

“Getting Ready to Publish AS/400 Data to Wireless Devices,” Jyh-Ching Yaur, AS/400 Network Expert, September/October 2000

IBM DB2 Everyplace Web site: www-4.ibm.com/software/ data/db2/everyplace/

IBM DB2 Everyplace and Mobile Connect Web site: www. developer.ibm.com/tech/integration/pcdb2emc/paper.html

IBM Pervasive computing with IBM DB2 Everywhere and IBM Mobile Connect Web site: www.developer.ibm.com/tech/integration/pcdb2emc/paper.html

LANSA Inc. Web site: www.lansa.com

“Management Central-Pervasive,” Greg Hintermeister, Midrange Network Expert, January/February 2000

Palm IBM Enterprise Solutions Web site: www.palm.com/enterprise/solutions/ibm.html

Lotus Lotus DB2 Mini- MQ Series Custom Easy Mobile Everyplace Browser Everyplace Conduit Sync Notes & Mobile WML or

Connect WAP

Relies on persistent wireless connection? No Yes No Yes Yes or No No Synchronization strategy? Yes No Yes No Yes or No Yes Calendar, email? Yes Yes Yes No No Yes DB2 application data inquiry? No No Yes Yes Yes, custom No DB2 application transactions? No No Yes Yes Yes, custom No Solution complexity rating Low Low Medium Low High High

Figure 1: Here’s how several practical technologies are positioned as part of a wireless solution.

Wireless-_Get_iSerious_06-00.jpg 455x200

Figure 2: Mobile Connect and DB2 Everyplace combine to address your synchronization strategy.



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