Wireless Tools to Make Biz Apps Mobile

Sonic and Xora recruit handhelds to facilitate e-commerce interactions

Sonic Software Corp. and Xora Inc. are developing wireless capabilities that help companies connect their business-to-business applications to wireless devices such as PDAs, cell phones and pagers.

The big-ticket promise with wireless B2B access is that traders, suppliers and shippers in a supply chain will be continually available to respond to opportunities and problems through wireless event notification.

Sonic will go to beta at the end of the summer with SonicAir, a wireless messaging infrastructure built on the companys Sonic MQ e-business messaging middleware server. SonicAir will transmit wireless messages and guarantee that they are delivered only once, said President Greg OConner. Sonic is working with GE Global Exchange Services, of Gaithersburg, Md., and Commerce One Inc. to develop software that allows both companies to extend their B2B initiatives to wireless devices.

"Commerce One is going to guarantee that GXS isnt going to order 20 tons of steel more than once" because of duplicated orders, said OConner, at the companys headquarters in Bedford, Mass.

Both GXS and Commerce One, of Pleasanton, Calif., are building wireless prototypes over the summer, and the software will be available in the fall, OConner said.

Separately, Xora, which develops software that provides remote access to enterprise applications, late last month announced its Xora Platform 3.0, which links back-office software to Web-enabled wireless devices such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and pagers. The Mountain View, Calif., company plans to roll out a supply chain event notification application in the platforms next release, although officials didnt say when that will be available.

Xora Platform 3.0 provides wireless access to a fairly broad range of enterprise applications, including ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM (customer relationship management) and supply chain management. A voice recognition component allows field service workers to access those back-end applications through a dial-in system.

The idea behind the back-end integration is that an order management department, for example, can receive an actionable alert via a wireless device. The alert comes with a link that a user can click on to be connected to the appropriate system to see what a problem is and why it occurred.

That back-end connectivity is facilitated through an interface to each applications API, Xora officials said.

World Commerce Online Inc. plans to offer its customers—a large flower consortium in Holland, an agricultural consortium in Israel and Germanys largest fruit and vegetable broker—any Web-based application it provides as a wireless technology using Xora technology. Keith Money, executive vice president in charge of global marketing at WCO, of Orlando, Fla., is not anticipating an open-armed response from all WCOs customers.

"Most customers are still trying to get their hands around business change processes," said Money, who added that he expects to have Xoras technology implemented in the next 90 days. "Its a very overwhelming time for brick-and-mortar [companies]. When you bring in wireless, they have to have people inside to champion [the technology].

"If theyre looking at multiple standards, it can be overwhelming," he said. "Were taking a components-based approach, where [a company] can take one application and grow with it."

Similarly, Montreal-based Intertape Polymer Group Inc. is adding wireless capabilities to its ERP applications for 125 sales representatives and 10,000 customers. To date, salespeople have been outfitted with Palm VII PDAs and can access information on orders, order processing, change orders, shipments and pricing. None of Intertapes customers is using wireless devices to track the companys inventory yet, though enabling at least half—if not all—of them is CIO Jim Jacksons plan.

"The goal is to push out to customers a lot of the customer maintenance functions like name, address, fax, phone and contact information that are so difficult to keep maintained in our system," Jackson said. "We want to give both sales and customers the ability to update [that information]."

Jackson said he is figuring out how to wireless-enable a mini-CRM system for Intertapes customers.

"The next key element is vendor management inventory," he said.

Intertapes transition to wireless B2B has been relatively quick (the order status and shipment component was done in four months) since it used Ironside Technologies Inc.s eWireless service in conjunction with the consolidation of back-end systems from five companies it had acquired.

Ironside eWireless is a platform- independent wireless service that connects suppliers with buyers, giving buyers the ability to access B2B functionality such as real-time order status and dynamically calculated inventory levels via any wireless-enabled device.

Jackson conceded that a company with legacy systems could be looking at a time frame at least two or three times longer than Intertapes.