LITTLETON, Mass.-IBM isn't normally thought of when talking about mobile computing, but it's a significant player in the space, and company officials are looking to expand that role.
However, don't expect any IBM-brand smartphones, according to Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM's Software Group.
Mills and other IBM officials were in this town here just northwest of Boston June 16 to celebrate the opening of IBM Mass Labs, the company's largest software development lab in North America. They also used the opportunity to talk to analysts and journalists about IBM's place in the growing mobile business market, and discuss some directions the company is moving in.
"There'll be no device products," Mills said. "We want to be the technology inside or on top of ... but we're not seeking visibility."
Instead, IBM wants to bring simplicity, manageability and intelligence to the growing mobile workforce, Mills said.
The company has been investing in mobile business technology for more than a decade, including in products such as WebSphere and Lotus Notes, he said. However, with no IBM-branded devices, it might be hard to miss the company's impact.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, attended the IBM event to get a clearer view of the company's mobile strategy.
It's not a high-profile role, but given IBM's strength in data management and intelligence, including through its Smarter Planet initiative, it's not difficult to see how the company can play in the space, he said.
Mills said IBM is focusing much of its efforts on addressing the needs arising out of the rapid growth of mobile computing, and ensuring that its products can play in that arena.
"Our entire portfolio is touched by this phenomenon of mobility," he said. "A lot of the things we're doing across the portfolio is to enable a mobile [environment]."
It makes good business sense, he said. More than 1 trillion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2011, and by 2015, there will be 20 times more mobile data content and 40 times more mobile transaction spending.
All that will increase demand for improved management of data, traffic and network bandwidth, not to mention services that touch every part of the mobile space, Mills said. That's where IBM can help.
IBM on June 16 unveiled a number of new offerings aimed at bringing more intelligence into different points in the mobile business space, and outlined mobile-centric projects going on in the IBM Labs.
IBM's Site Intelligence Operations is a combination of software and services designed to help service providers remotely predict and fix problems at remote cell tower sites. For example, if there's a power outage, an alert can be sent to an engineer's mobile device or desktop, outlining what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it.
IBM's WebSphere CEA Mobile Widgets are designed to speed up businesses processes by bridging voice and Web communications. Through the widgets, the speed of such transactions as filling insurance claims and retail sales can be increased by 25 percent, according to IBM.
In addition, Lotus Notes Traveler-IBM's collaboration software for mobile devices-can now run on devices powered by Google's Android mobile OS. It already runs on such wireless devices as Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones, Nokia Symbian phones, Windows Mobile devices, and Apple's iPhones and iPads.
One of the areas the 3,400 IBM employees in the company's new Mass Labs will be working is enterprise mobile computing, according to officials. Projects IBM engineers are working on include the IBM Network Science initiative, which is looking at enabling networks to be self-configuring and self-healing for improved performance and reliability. The goal is to put greater intelligence into both business and consumer networks, enabling them to automatically reroute traffic and self-optimize when needed.
Mail Triage is a prototype developed by IBM researchers that enables users to more quickly manage their e-mails across different devices and to quickly identify which e-mails need immediate action and which can be put off until later.
In the health care space, engineers are looking into ways to enable a patient's vital signs to be transmitted to a central location via a mobile device to help caregivers evaluate and predict such problems as heart attacks. It could also lead to routine doctor visits being conducted remotely.
IBM also is looking into ways for businesses to take data from telecom providers to reach more potential customers and is looking at possible future payment systems for mobile devices.