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Wireless Data:
    Its Bright Future is More than Talk 
    (Broadbeam Corp., 1/2002)

    by Douglas Dixon

Company Background
Wireless Middleware  -  Going Wireless
The Book  -  Marketing The Book
References

   

We are living in the midst of a wireless revolution, as we transition to the always-connected lifestyle. We already have accepted the value of mobile phones for both personal and business use, to help us keep in touch with friends and family, and to help mobile professionals keep in contact with the home office and customers.

But beyond wireless voice connections is wireless data access, which can have a more powerful, and even disruptive, impact on business. We are beginning to see this kind of potential, when the FedEx driver scans our package on pick-up so that we can track its progress over the Web, or when a Sears repair technician can use a wireless terminal to order parts and schedule a service call on the spot.

These are major applications deployed for Fortune 500 companies. But how can smaller companies evaluate the potential of wireless-enabling their businesses, to extend the enterprise to provide access to the mobile workforce? How can you understand wireless technology, and evaluate the potential applications for your business?

This is the challenge addressed in the new book, "Wireless Data for the Enterprise: Making Sense of Wireless Business" (McGraw-Hill, October 2001), by George S. Faigen and Boris Fridman of College Road-based Broadbeam Corporation (www.broadbeam.com).

Broadbeam is a "middleware" company, providing the software and systems expertise to connect enterprise applications to wireless networks, and then bring wireless data to portable hand-held devices.

Faigen, chief marketing and strategy officer, and Fridman, founder and board chairman, wrote the book to describe the possibilities of wireless in business, explain what is possible with today's technology, and then lay out guidelines and issues for understanding how to wireless-enable businesses and enterprises. "We wanted to make sure readers understand the value of mobile computing," says Faigen.

The book argues that wireless sometimes can be a disruptive force for a business, changing business processes and entire markets, as FedEx did with tracking packages. For FedEx, being able to track packages even when they are not in a building also offers the added benefit of attracting new business. "When a new customer calls up with an additional package," says Faigen, "it's a fantastic opportunity to show service, and to ask, 'can I get your regular service?'"

The book includes case studies of early adopters of wireless like FedEx that demonstrate the economic benefits of bringing wireless data to mobile workers. Broadbeam has worked with FedEx Ground for the past three years. In fact, all the companies discussed in the book happen to be Broadbeam customers, but the book underplays the connection. "We wrote the book to be a piece that we could hand out," says Faigen, "but not so it would not shout as a Broadbeam advertisement. McGraw-Hill wanted a book that would be agnostic."

Company Background

Broadbeam was founded by Boris Fridman in 1992 as Nettech. The name was changed to Broadbeam in June, 2000, for two reasons, says Faigen; "It did not exactly fit where we were going, and in the world of the Internet we did not own Nettech.com."

Broadbeam currently employs about 45 people, about 16 of them developers. It has an office in Richardson, Texas with developers from an acquired company, and a sales office in Windsor, UK. "We have been through five buildings in 10 years," says Faigen.

Broadbeam is privately held, and has been venture-funded since March 1997, when it received its first investment of $650,000 from Early Stage Enterprises of Princeton. In June 1998 the company sold an additional $3.5 million of Preferred Stock to Early Stage, Keystone Venture Capital of Philadelphia and Greystone Venture Partners of Chicago. In 1999 the company closed a Series C round totaling $10.875 million of which, $2.2 million was purchased by strategic partner Itochu Techno Science of Tokyo. A Series D round closed in October 2000 totaling $29 million with ABS Venture Capital leading the investment.

Broadbeam's customers include over 500 businesses and 170,000 mobile users. "Five hundred people are using our software around the world to write applications," says Faigen, "and close to 200,000 users are running their business every day on our software." Broadbeam claims to have "the most widely deployed wireless data software platform worldwide."

"Most of our customers are Fortune 500-type customers," says Faigen, "because they have ventured out into the wireless world first." Broadbeam's products and services are used by BellSouth Telecommunications, Telia, Worldcom, FedEx Ground and Sears, among others. Companies using its mobile application development platform include Oracle, PeopleSoft, Sybase iAnywhere, ADP Claims Solutions Group, FieldCentrix and UPS Logistics. Broadbeam also was the first wireless platform provider to support handheld Palm VII and Windows CE devices.

Wireless Middleware

Broadbeam was founded "as a systems integration house," says Faigen, "always on wireless data." One early customer was SeaLand in New Jersey, which needed a way to track containers in a yard that spanned hundreds of acres.

As systems integrators, Broadbeam developed custom solutions for its customers. "Around 1995 we codified the software and packaged it," says Faigen. "It still requires some integration. It was a base tool from which we could start a project with a customer."

"We develop an intrinsically wireless platform that helps an application navigate the wireless airwaves," says Faigen. Developing software for wireless requires a different approach than for desktop applications. "Application develops get used to writing an application that assumes all the roads are paved," he says. They assume guaranteed networked connections, consistent transmission times, and reliable power.

In the wireless world, connections can be lost as you drive under a bridge, and messages can arrive with widely varying timing as you move between towers. There is also the complexity of all those different kinds of network technologies to deal with, and wildly varying user devices to display information and take user input.

"We build the platform that understands the diversity of devices," says Faigen, "phones, PDAs, laptops, and the variety of networks around the world." This is the concept of software middleware, allowing developers to "write to a layer and let somebody else worry about that stuff. We are the stuff that takes care of all the problems."

Broadbeam's product line is based on the Axio wireless data software platform. "Axio is our umbrella brand," says Faigen. Using Axio, users can access enterprise applications and Web content from both browser-based devices, such as phones or PDAs, or intelligent devices capable of operating offline, such as Pocket PCs or laptops.

The Axio wireless software platform is based on the ExpressQ mobile messaging server, which maintains a persistent network connection across all the temporary disruptions of wireless. It also includes connectors to various enterprise applications, including the E-mail Link product to connect to Internet E-mail, Web Link to the Web, and MQ Series Link to the IBM MQ Series mainframes.

Going Wireless

You have to think wirelessly," says Faigen, "and consider that the mobile user has a very different experience. You cannot just take your desktop experience and make it mobile."

After all, "when you go camping, you don't take your bed with you." Similarly, "you do not want to take everything that you have at your desk with you. It's a trade-off, to provide you the necessary function when mobile." And the problem includes the design of the device, the display screen, the input capabilities, and how luggable it is.

Broadbeam offers a full range of solutions, from the packaged product to design and development services. "FedEx bought the application," says Faigen. With other customers, "some have application developers, and we train them, some say build it all for me."

While other companies are jumping on the wireless middleware bandwagon, "we are the ones with customers," says Faigen, "paying customers." Other companies "focus on technology that's not going to work." Another major problem is that "sometimes start-ups think one customer is a market." But Broadbeam's philosophy is that "until you discover the customer demand, don't build products."

"We are technologists at heart," says Faigen, but "we stifle our technology interests until we can prove to ourselves that there is market that wants to use it."

Working with customers, the key for Broadbeam is to find "some initial starting point: to catalog what I have, help me assess where my business is." The bottom line issue is how do you get a return on investment with wireless, how do you find the right initial project, "get the sweet spot to start with." Because, says Faigen, "if I start with the hard thing, I'll have nothing to prove to my senior management that this was a good investment. We're always looking for that early win, to prove the technology, and that has a measurable ROI."

"Humans when mobile are a challenge," says Faigen. "We are getting smarter about thinking mobile, but have just started down this path. We help customers understand how to do it right the first time, and avoid the pitfalls"

"That's what we tried to do in the book," says Faigen, "to make the journey easier."

The Book

The book is intended to "deliver a definitive blueprint for thinking about and implementing technologies required to go wireless." It is especially addressed to businesses with mobile workers. "What we have not done in our society is to think about the non-building employee," says Faigen. "We focus computers on people who sit in buildings all day. For the mobile worker, voice is a start, but voice doesn't help that person do business processes that everyone else can do at the home office. They need the business processes, on the screen."

The book begins with a glimpse at the future, with a day in the life of a mobile professional on the road in Tokyo. It then reviews the history of the development of wireless data, and looks at current technology and trends for the future.

The next section of the book provides five extensive case studies of wireless pioneers. Each case study looks at the experiences in deploying the technology, and the lessons learned and bottom-line return on investment. The benefits can be quantified in terms of business costs, in customer satisfaction, and in efficiency, "the job is done more adeptly," says Faigen.

For the London Ontario police department, the ROI included less paperwork, more accurate and faster information reporting, and a 30 percent reduction in voice traffic. "Voice is highly unreliable," says Faigen, "the numbers do not come across well."

For Northeast Utilities in Connecticut, the ROI included not only dispatching utility trucks more efficiently and updating maps more rapidly and accurately, but also savings in consumables. Not having to print large maps for the trucks will save 38 tons of paper, and toner cartridges too, resulting on a savings of $400,000 over five years. Even better, without all those heavy maps in the trucks, "they can buy cheaper trucks, with less heavy shocks," says Faigen, "and replace them less often."

The middle of the book explores the technology and options for middleware software and wireless networks and devices, both by explaining the technology, and by providing questions and answers and checklists for understanding how they can be applied to business applications.

The final chapters of the book provide guidelines for creating a wireless business, discussing issues for choosing technology components, and moving step-by-step through the design, implementation, piloting, and roll-out process.

Marketing The Book

The 288-page hardcover book also has been of great benefit to Broadbeam. "We wrote the book to be able to thump on desk of a prospective customer," says Faigen, "and basically say we wrote the book on wireless data. Now that I've got your attention, let's talk about how we can help."

"It differentiates us from everybody else who writes white papers," says Faigen. "It allows us to establish a position as thought leader with our customers as well as with our channel partners. And the subtext is that you want to work with us."

"The fact that McGraw-Hill published it is also helpful. We wrote the first few chapters and sent them out to five publishers, and three said they wanted to publish it. That told us we were in the right space."

"We promote with it at trade shows," he says. "People come over and say 'let's talk about the book. Why did you write it?' We're kind of entering their mind. After we have pierced through the barrier of why should I talk to you, we find it leads to much more interesting conversation. We start with business reasons, then circle back to technology. It's like selling a Hawaii vacation: You show the pictures of the destination, get the person excited, and then talk about seat assignments."

"It always comes to the why," he says, "you lead with the why."

References

Broadbeam Corporation
    www.broadbeam.com

Wireless Data for the Enterprise: Making Sense of Wireless Business
    by Arielle Emmett (Editor), George Faigen, Boris Fridman
    Hardcover - 288 pages (October 9, 2001)
    McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing; ISBN: 0071386378