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Lotus Domino & BlackBerry MDS : How STS Enables It's People with Critical Client Information, Anywhere, Anytime, Anyplace

by Darren Duke

05/21/2007

THE BUSINESS REASON

STS use a combination of a custom designed CRM application built on Lotus Domino in conjunction with BlackBerry Mobile Data Services (or Mobile Data System, RIM seem to use the name interchangeably) to provide secure access to critical client data to employees away from the office. All of this is accomplished via a secure connection between the employee's BlackBerry smartphone, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (and Mobile Data Services) and the Domino Server. In this article Darren Duke talks about the reasons, the architecture and the relative simplicity of extending applications to the BlackBerry platform. Some of the benefits of this approach are lower total cost of ownership, higher return on investment for infrastructure already installed and employee enablement.

Let's start with a scenario. You are at a trade show mulling around the booths and you see a booth for a company you have been wanting to "get a foot in the door" with for several months/years/etc. You know you have talked to some contacts at the company previously and we all know name dropping is a good ice-breaker for Trade Show networking. Alas, you don't have you laptop and unless you know the first or last name of the your "contact" you cannot search them out on your BlackBerry smartphone to scour the directories back at HQ. No names to drop, no titles to impress the "booth body". "Hello booth body, I'm Darren and I work for Simplified Technology Solutions". However, booth body hears, "Hello I'm one of a thousand of utterly forgettable people whose business cards you will have to scan in before you can go home.....blah, blah". We've all been there, on both sides.

Now, let's say your company had the foresight to extend your company's CRM solution to you trusty BlackBerry smartphone. The scenario above becomes as simple as opening an application, entering the first few letters of the company name and then reading the results that have just came back. Now the scenario plays out very differently. "Hello booth body, I'm Darren and I work for Simplified Technology Solutions, do you know John Doe? He's CxOof your company, isn't he? I talked with him just the other day about xyz opportunity....". Now the booth body takes notice. Name dropping and title dropping have that affect. You are no longer one of the thousands of faceless drones, but one of the few visitors to have his/her attention and are right at the top of their call-back list. Another person at that company now knows who you are and what you do. And that is how business really gets done - not just what you know, but who you know.

The former actually happened to an STS employee. We then took the plunge into MDS to extend the CRM solution to the BlackBerry. Now the latter happens. Our people are far better prepared for any opportunities or client needs that may come their way regardless of where they are or when it happens. Indeed, to see how highly we rate customer service read Scott Eastin's article, Customer Service, the Magic Revealed

This has subsequently lead to an internal desire to have other applications accessible via MDS. As MDS can also send data from the device to the application (duplex communication if you will) it opens up many useful functions that were previously too time consuming or costly to push out to the BlackBerry. Timesheet, Expense, Requisitions, Help Desk, basically any enterprise application that you would use at the office can now be cost-effectively pushed out to the mobile platform.

Remember, BlackBerry is, by it's very design, very, very secure. MDS is no exception. It is a "behind the firewall" technology, meaning all traffic moving to and from MDS is as secure (if not more so) than if a user were using the company's internal network via a Local Area Network or VPN. Absolutely no traffic is exposed to the internet in an unencrytped form. So, repeat after me...."secure, secure, secure".

THE COMPONENTS

In March 2006 Research In Motion (RIM) released BlackBerry Enterprise Server(TM) (BES) 4.1 for Lotus Domino, Novell Groupwise and Microsoft Exchange. Along with this major release came the introduction of the new BlackBerry Mobile Data System(TM) (MDS). MDS is an application development and deployment environment that essentially sits atop of the BES install that abstracts much of the smartphone architecture for developing applications. While MDS doesn't replace the BlackBerry Java Development Environment (JDE) for all application scenarios, it does provide a platform to allow applications to be designed, prototyped, developed and tested much faster than with the JDE. MDS can also be purchased as a stand-alone server for those not wishing to use a BES.

MDS is pretty much a Web Services consumer application in simplest form and uses Web Services Definition Language (WDSL) to achieve this. You create a web service and MDS can do bottom-up development from the service. Along with Domino R7 web service creation ability (this is the first release to support native Web Services and it creates the WSDL automatically for you) a developer can have a working prototype of a fully featured MDS application inside of a week. This same prototype could have taken weeks had the developer utilized the JDE. Note that MDS does not require a Lotus Domino server, it just requires an enterprise application that can output web services and publish WSDL. This means that Java, .NET or any other modern language can be used to drive the data to the smartphone.

BlackBerry MDS Studio is where the fun begins. It is visual development tool built on the Eclipse framework - well done RIM for picking an open architecture! MDS Studio is a framework that allows an application developer to utilize JavaScript (it's a real language now, just ask the AJAX folks), web services, and a visual design tool. All development and testing can take place inside of MDS Studio thanks to the BlackBerry emulators that ship with the product. The applications themselves comprise of the following components:

Data - comprised of custom objects, built-in data type (mail. calendar, pin, etc) and Global variables accessible to your application.

Message - used to map your web services to and from objects and variables in MDS and exposes the data to you screens and enterprise application

Screens - the visual representation of what the individual screens look like. It also allows from the "plumbing" of events (onclick, etc) to be associated with Scripts (see below)

Scripts - Programmed in JavaScript, these allow for manipulation of Screens, Messages and Data.

These components are then supplemented with Data Sources, which are simply WSDL definitions from some previously defined web server. It takes some perseverance to figure out how all the components interact, but RIM have some excellent examples on their developers site that will help. But it is still a whole lot easier than learning the full BlackBerry Java API and using JDE for the development work.

INSTALL

Once the application has been created, MDS Studio is utilized to publish the application to the MDS server. Once the MDS server has the application available it can then be pushed down to the BlackBerry smartphone of your choosing. It is worth noting at this point the smartphone needs to have the MDS Runtime application installed in order to run any MDS based application. This can be accomplished via a wireless application install (although to be quite honest here at STS we have found MDS Runtime wireless install a little hit and miss) or via the BlackBerry Desktop Manager software and the Application Loader. Once MDS Runtime is installed, the application can be pushed down or (policy permitting) the user can search for and download the application to the BlackBerry smartphone.

OTHER COOL THINGS

Once the MDS server is installed and configured, users can securely access intranet sites inside the firewall via the BlackBerry browser (ever wonder why users sometimes have two browsers on their smartphone? one is a browser for MDS which gets added to the device after a BES activation). More often than not you will want to have a customized web presence for the BlackBerry to account for the size of the screen.

Oh, and MDS Studio is a free download, see "Useful links" below to ge it.

CONCLUSION

RIM and the major cell carriers have been pushing MDS and its ease of use from an application development point-of-view. This is an easier development environment, but it still is a development environment. Most application developers should be able to become familiar with MDS in a reasonable amount of time. Configuration of MDS on a BES server is slightly more tricky and it took STS a few tries to get the install working. As always, should you need help, either with application development using MDS or JDE, or with installing, configuring, maintaining or patching MDS or BES, we're only a phone call away: 678 638 6688.


Useful links:

Should your organization require resources to help with any aspect of you design, development, testing, training or implementation please don't hesitate to contact STS for a quote.

©2007 All Rights Reserved, Simplified Technology Solutions, Inc



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