The company offers everything from provisioning to data wipe, but the question remains: How well will it work on legacy systems?
The promise of deploying native applications to mobile devices recently has inspired a number of developers to turn their attention to this challenge. With the small size of mobile device displays, screen scraping is a less than optimum solution. One young company started by a former IBMer believes it has a simple and highly effective solution to address this clearly growing need.
Bitzer Mobile, Inc. of Milpitas, California, announced the release last month of a virtualization solution that allows enterprise applications to run on leading mobile devices including iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android smartphones and is working on versions for Windows Phone 7 and iPad due in a month.
Apart from a straightforward setup, the beauty of the solution is that users can employ the company's—or their own—mobile devices, and it will work equally as well—and will be equally secure.
"Bitzer’s solution will change the way businesses deploy applications on mobile devices," says Ali Ahmed, chief technology officer and founder of Bitzer Mobile and former IBM employee. "Our technology offers a unique solution for enterprises motivated to provide employees and partners with critical information at their fingertips on their personal devices. Our open, standards-based, technology will help CIOs and IT managers quickly prototype, test, develop, deploy and support multi-platform native apps and 'consumerization' using a single solution that was not available until now."
The Bitzer Mobile solution is comprised of the smartphone client, or "virtual container" software (EVC), an integration (Mobile Virtualization) layer (MVL) that runs on the enterprise web server, and the Admin Control Panel that centrally manages all mobile users. The client software is specific to the type of phone or tablet and can be downloaded free by the user from the Bitzer website or the smartphone provider market. The Admin Control Panel gives the IT department access and control over company data on the mobile device. It can provision users, enforce authentication and security policies, and remotely wipe and lock apps. It also records usage statistics and audit logs.
For legacy systems, there are essentially three ways to connect to the Bitzer Mobile enabled smartphone, Ahmed tells MC Press Online. "There are three possibilities we are suggesting for terminal-based applications," Ahmed says. "Number one is if you have access to any sort of APIs. These are legacy systems, so chances are low that they would have any web services access. But if there is access to any APIs that we can invoke to call or get the data and do the transactions, we can use that to create the MVL or the integration layer. Once it gets to the integration layer, we can totally change the representation and provide access to the mobile device.
"Second would be if you have access to the data store itself—drivers to which we can directly connect to the data store, such as ODBC. We generally discourage that because then you have to recode the business logic, but in some cases that's the only option.
"The third would be screen scraping and get the data into a web application and from there, we can change the representation. So the goal is to get it to an MVL, or a web-based interface, and from there it's really straightforward to get it to the device.
Ahmed says Bitzer has started to write the application-specific APIs for the mobile virtualization layer for many major ERP applications such as JD Edwards and SAP, though oftentimes each implementation is customized. He says it currently takes about a day for an HTML programmer to customize an API. The company is currently writing new APIs for strategic customers, but the plan is for developers to use its tools to write their own. The company has issued a specification to that end and has online tutorials describing how to accomplish it. Bitzer plans to release an SDK design studio in the near future that makes creating a new API a simple matter of drag-and-drop.
Bitzer Mobile's open backend framework, Ahmed says, makes it relatively easy to customize an API for most applications using the company's pre-written modules. Bitzer Mobile has already created a number of standard API modules that serve as starting points for interfacing with various applications. For certain applications, the modules don't need customization.
While deploying to mobile devices may have seemed like a daunting task for IBM i shops two years ago, the technology today continues to evolve making the challenge of providing managed access to enterprise applications from mobile end points clearly within grasp. Given the explosive growth of mobile devices and the expectation of accessing corporate data with them, companies like Bitzer Mobile are likely ahead of the curve.