A Blackberry Introduction
by Edward Lineberry
Research In Motion's BlackBerry architecture provides the framework for mobile communication in many organizations. From the varied BlackBerry devices, through the encrypted network, all the way to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server, corporate communication is expedient, secure, and reliable. In this article, I'll discuss how to build on this framework to get more out of your company's data.
BlackBerry devices are sometimes called Smart Phones. They are cell phones that do more than just phone calls and text messaging. Smart Phones offer full access to email, contacts, calendaring, and the web. BlackBerry devices in particular provide this information out of the box with the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. Organizations can immediately benefit by deploying BES in their existing enterprise environment. BES communicates with Exchange and Domino, so chances are BlackBerry devices can be added to your existing IT infrastructure with immediate benefits.
Custom applications for the BlackBerry can provide even more benefits. Information available only while at the office or connected to the intranet can be securely accessed from almost anywhere.
Identifying Candidate Applications
Most businesses rely on a few key applications outside of the standard groupware that is already available to BlackBerry devices. These key applications might store sales history, order information, or CRM data. If there is information that employees need on demand and every single day, then this is a good candidate for extending to mobile devices. Alternatively, there may be data that is never captured because there is no time to enter it at a desktop computer during the day. Billing information, for instance, that is entered at the end of the week may not be as accurate as that captured every day or the moment the billing task is complete. Whatever information drives your business, this is where you will find the biggest payoff. Identify the critical data, and make it more accessible.
An Easy Way to Start
There are several types of applications that can be developed for the BlackBerry platform, but for an easy way to get started, I'll take a look at one particular type, the Browser Push application. The BlackBerry Enterprise Server can take web content and push it to individual BlackBerry devices, alerting the owner to a change in content and making the content instantly available. Once the content is on the device, it remains accessible even outside of network coverage.
One example that has little practical business value, is the weather alert provided by Research in Motion. Users can subscribe to this Browser Push application and once a day the weather forecast is sent to the device. An representative icon changes with the forecast: clouds, rain, or sunshine. The user can click on the icon for more detail. A further benefit in this example is that the data is customized for the individual who provides a zip code at the time of registration.
In a Browser Push application, the data is passed through the BlackBerry Enterprise Server and then onto the device. All that is necessary is the data itself, and a small program to make a network connection to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server. This server side component can be written in almost any programming language, and it is likely that your organization already has a place to host this application.
The weather forecast example I mentioned earlier illustrates the basic idea, but has no value in the business world. Let's say that an organization wants to send updated sales reports to their employees on a particular schedule. The data resides in a relational database and is normally accessed through a reporting tool such as Crystal Reports. To get this data to the BlackBerry, we need to implement the following steps in the Browser Push application.
1. Connect to the relational database and perform a SQL query to retrieve the sales data.
2. Format that data into a web page.
3. Send that web page to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
In the simplest version of this application, each subscriber gets the same sales summary. A more complex version could perform a different query for each subscriber and send personalized data.
One of the latest buzzwords in IT is Service Oriented Architecture. The idea behind this trend is to capitalize on existing applications by enabling them to share data through web services. Once the web service is built, future applications can aggregate that data and reuse it. Instead of constantly building new systems to capture and store data, existing systems are made more open.
A simpler implementation of this same philosophy is at work in Browser Push applications for the BlackBerry. Take the data that's most important to your business and put it in the mobile hands of your employees.
For more technical details, please visit java.net
Edward Lineberry is a Technical Lead for Simplified Technology Solutions, Inc., an Atlanta-based IT consulting firm. For more information, go to www.simplified-tech.com
This article was first published on the Association of Information Technology Professional's Atlanta chapter website.
Copyright retained by the author and re-published with their consent.
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