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Biz Apps Boost BlackBerry

By Jim Wagner     Feedback

Developers Sybase and PeopleSoft are cramming more functionality into the popular little handhelds.

Enterprise software developers Sybase and PeopleSoft rolled out applications designed to make navigating the popular BlackBerry handheld device a little bit easier for business users.

The BlackBerry -- a device manufactured by Research in Motion (RIM) that can download e-mail, surf the Web and act as a phone -- still has all the limitations imposed by a handheld's processor and the small screen size.

The launch of advanced products for its BlackBerry product line is good news for RIM officials, who are currently embroiled in a patent infringement case with NTP. In August, a judge ruled against RIM but said the company could continue selling BlackBerry devices in the United States and avoid a $53 million fine until after the appeals process.

Despite strong sales of its wireless device, analysts at the time of the ruling said it might impact its customer base at a time when more competitors are charging into the space, such as PalmOne, which announced its Treo 650 smartphone e-mail-savvy device Monday.

Getting information quickly and efficiently from the BlackBerry has been a challenge software developers have been working to solve, especially for people who use the device on a daily basis to do their jobs.

PeopleSoft developers released an embedded Java application, PeopleSoft Enterprise Sales for BlackBerry, which it said eliminates manual processes and duplication while increasing sales and team collaboration.

The biggest benefit of the new software is the automatic synchronization options available: The sales rep can set the BlackBerry to automatically save contact information, calendar events and tasks to their workstation and corporate network, no cradling involved. Using "trickle synch" technology developed by RIM, the software only updates new information when the user has an Internet connection.

Since the software is embedded into the system, the sales software is always running, whether the user is online or not. When the BlackBerry is in range again, it automatically updates itself with information from the corporate network, keeping only the information specific to a particular sales rep in its memory. Thanks to RIM application program interfaces , the software is compatible with Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and Novell Groupwise.

Steve Roop, PeopleSoft vice president of customer relationship management (CRM) product marketing, said the application is the first in years designed to help the sales rep in the field, and the first that really addresses user need.

"The number one reason CRM projects have failed the last five years is because of user adoption," he said. "If the sales reps don't see the benefit to their job of the application, they're not going to use it, or they're going to do the minimum required to keep their boss happy."

Sybase, on the other hand, came out with software designed to make navigating on the BlackBerry easier, courtesy of its subsidiary, iAnywhere Solutions.

The Answers Anywhere middleware platform is the result of Sybase's acquisition of Dejima earlier this year. Dejima has been used for years by companies like Salesforce.com, which ties the "natural language" search capabilities of the software into their own enterprise offering.

With the iAnywhere software, users can make a query to the database using the traditional search methods of a Google or Yahoo engine, using either the BlackBerry keyboard or voice. Officials said the product is already in use with telecom carrier Orange France, which provides it as a location-based service.

Antoine Blondeau, iAnywhere senior director of business development, said natural language technology has been in use for years, but in a limited fashion.

"None of them are specifically addressing the mobile and wireless market," he said. "We are."

The middleware offering comes in three flavors: messaging edition, the user edition, which performs the service on BlackBerry devices using SMS ; enterprise edition, the Web- and e-mail-based search capability for desktops and mobile devices; and developer edition, which lets enterprise developers make and deploy customized applications of the Answer Anywhere software.

Sybase's other product launch, mFolio, is also aimed at making navigation on BlackBerry screens easier. Using a "screen-scraping" technology that whittles out everything but the needed information, mFolio lets users make a content capture of a Web site.

For example, a person can go to Weather.com and grab specific ZIP code information to make available on their BlackBerry screens without the vertical and horizontal scrolling needed to view a normal Web page. While officials say they don't have plans to maintain a database of content captures from its user base, companies who sign on to the service can make their own, readily available, database of localized content.

This article was originally published on October 26, 2004
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