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Oracle reiterates its wireless simplicity credentials

Following in the footsteps of the wired world, wireless application and system integration become vendor battleground in war on complexity. Oracle says it's ready.

Ahead of the Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco in December, Oracle Mobile CTO Jacob Christfort has taken time to clarify the company's vision of the mobile/wireless environment and highlight what it thinks remains the enterprise's chief barrier to successful deployment.

Oracle continues to portray itself as the sensible alternative that offers a simplified solution based on a set of products designed to work together without costly consulting engagements. The company is well on the way to wireless-enabling its E-Business Suite of applications, as it plans to release wireless versions of field sales, field service and customer intelligence applications from its CRM suite, expense and property management apps from its financial applications set, and manufacturing and supply chain apps from its warehouse management system, all by the end of the year. Voice support will also become a component for all Oracle software and services, including Oracle 9i, Oracle E-Business Suite, OracleMobile Online Studio and Oracle JDeveloper, as soon as early next year.

Oracle is hoping its broad commitment to support voice access to information will accelerate adoption of its platform in the corporate enterprise and attract developers and applications to its software platforms.

Christfort identifies the chief problem currently facing enterprises that implement a mobile computing and Internet infrastructure as application and computer system complexity. At an application level, issues include the choice of necessary transmission protocol, content languages for wireless services and the bandwidth associated with wireless data. In addition, integrating wireless gateway connectivity to existing ERP and messaging systems as well as access to various back-end sources is similarly problematic.

Context Mobile and wireless access to real-time corporate data, anywhere, anytime, represents a new competitive opportunity for companies. Typically those wanting to wireless-enable applications are aiming to do one or more of three things; increase productivity through simplified, real-time completion of business transactions; make enterprise data accessible from any wireless device using a transparent interface to all corporate systems; and let employees access critical business information, such as supply chain reports, sales plans and shared calendars, from wireless devices.

Wireless represents a new way to define value for customers and internal users. The applications do not necessarily generate revenue, but should reduce costs by helping employees work more effectively. The ability to filter information from disparate data sources is a key asset in the wireless environment.

Competition Oracle Mobile seeks to define its traditional application server competitor IBM as unduly complex and BEA as irrelevant when it comes to wireless. "The big difference is the applications," says Christfort. "The low-hanging fruit is email, PIM apps including personal document management and access to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes." But what will sort the men from the boys, in Christfort's opinion, is the ability to deliver vertical applications to a multitude of different device types.

At present, application-level wireless integration is fraught with complexity. Issues include compatible hardware and peripherals selected to work with the software application, selecting the types of mobile devices that information will be sent to, and managing the wireless session information appropriately for each user.

Given such complexity, Oracle's attempt to sell all-in-one software solutions is attractive. But while some customers might like the sound of a packaged solution, others will be suspicious of being tied to one vendor's application offerings and will prefer a best-of-breed approach. Many customers will also have legacy systems they'll want to keep.

Christfort claims the opportunity for third-party ISVs is to build value-add services to Oracle's 9i Wireless Edition server. It would be crazy to rebuild a car if it is already running smoothly, he explains by way of analogy.

Conclusion Companies will nonetheless want to integrate with their existing back-end sources, which demands third-party support. A company will have to choose among data, process and application-oriented types of integration.

Oracle knows it has more to do if it is to convince ISVs to develop applications for its platform and persuade systems integrators of the viability of its all-in-one software marketing message.

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