Custom Applications for Windows Mobile

When developing a business-oriented strategy to leverage mobile computing, you may find there's no off-the-shelf commercial software that meets your organization's needs. This may have several causes:

- You have a unique business or process that simply needs a custom solution - You use existing custom software that requires a mobile counterpart - The software you need is not available from commercial software companies - Your existing commercial software has no ability to provide mobile integration

If you're in any of these situations, your path to enterprise mobility is quite a bit more difficult. This doesn't mean enterprise mobility won't be worth it. Even if there are existing wireless applications for your backend systems (say, Microsoft CRM, SAP, or Oracle), those off-the-shelf versions might not meet your exact needs. Before looking at what it takes to get a custom project off the ground, let's consider general trends in enterprise mobile computing.

Wireless Industry trends

First, nobody wants to be the first to try out new technology. They want to implement proven technology. Many companies are looking at their competitors to see what they're doing with mobile computing and how they're doing it. It's gotten so that some companies conduct confidential pilot programs in order to prove technology internally without their competitors knowing about it.

In addition, "mobile" is often improperly considered to be a synonym for "wireless" due to the simple fact that most visible mobile deployments to date have been thin-client or Web-based applications. While this is a legitimate architectural model, it requires prevalent, fast, and reliable connectivity for these wireless applications to function. Many people simply assume that since these types of systems often have issues regarding performance, reliability, and usability, they should wait until pervasive high-speed wireless data networks have arrived before attempting to "go mobile."

While many mobile solutions to date require constant wireless connectivity, there are other architectures that can leverage the amazing computing power of today's Windows Mobile devices. With the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework, Microsoft has provided us with all the tools we need for powerful mobile software development. Leveraging a smart client architecture, the.NET CF can take these handheld devices much further than we've ever taken them before. If you can understand what these mobile units are truly capable of, you will see hundreds of opportunities today for using them in businesses all around you.

Custom development options

The most inexpensive way to build custom software is to create it yourself with a product from companies like Syware or Formotus. While this can often be an extremely cost-effective strategy, it's not for everyone and not appropriate for all environments. Some people may feel overwhelmed with the task of "programming." You can develop simple data-driven applications very easily and rapidly, but keep in mind that along with the simplicity comes a lack of programmatic functionality. You won't get the same power and capabilities that come when using a more powerful development environment. Consider very carefully whether this approach will meet your needs.

If you are a part of a larger company that has software developers on staff, you may be able to field an internal development project to create the system. Be aware, though, that they will probably have to adjust their user interface design practices, usability/reliability standards, and overall architectural assumptions if the project is to be successful. In order to help with the transition to mobile software development, you may want to consider hiring experienced consultants and/or mobile software engineers to evaluate your needs, develop a strategy and system design, and then have your in-house software developers program and maintain the system.

Finally, you can simply outsource the entire project. Some development firms prefer to build software directly from a formal specifications document, while others would rather help the customer evaluate their needs in order to develop requirements and specifications. While some firms specialize in conducting Return on Investment (ROI) analysis, feasibility studies, and usability research, other firms simply want to do what they're best at which is writing great software that is optimized for mobile platforms. You'll find enormous disparity in the cost and quality of work performed, so it pays to do your research and to know exactly what you're looking for.

Mobility as a business strategy

Whatever industry you're in, you're always looking for an edge over your competition. For many companies, mobile computing technology can provide that edge, but most people simply aren't aware of how Windows Mobile devices can enhance their business.

Sometimes you have to understand an application's uses completely, beyond its simple out-of-the-box functionality. Then you can see how it can enable employees to do their jobs better, faster, and more efficiently. From salesmen to engineers to waitresses to managers, mobile computing technology can revolutionize the business world.

Whether or not you currently use mobile technology, leveraging either commercial or custom software, consider how a strategy that includes mobile technology can brighten your company's bottom line and future success.