One look at the iPad and most tech pundits say either it's the killer e-book reader or the next-generation game console. However, some recent middleware developments may make the iPad a player in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) segment.
The ERP label covers a wide range of tasks including the management of an enterprise's physical and software assets, fiscal and human resources and inventory. The server-based architecture connects everyone inside the enterprise as well as connections to workers and partners outside.
According to Tom Benson, founder of mobile middleware and solution provider Applaise, workers don't just want to be stuck in front of a terminal nowadays. The capabilities of the iPhone and other devices — and especially now the larger, more-capable iPad, will give enterprise developers opportunities for a more mobile direction for ERP clients.
Benson said most customers of ERP systems have trouble with user adoption and satisfaction. His background is in the medical market.
"We looked at what is happening in hospitals” says Benson “doctors and nurses are adopting the iPhone, voting with their feet, and now jumping on the iPad too. They’re using these tools for significant daily work, real patient and medical data management. We realized that these are enterprise data entry problems they are solving. The mobile paradigm, the Apple design with its effortless user interface, provides a new approach to computing on a corporate scale, with less detail and less micro-management of workflow, but with massive and enthusiastic user participation. It’s a completely different way of looking at enterprise computing."
While Applaise is pitching its "mobile productivity cloud" solutions, AT&T announced another middleware solution for mobile ERP at CTIA Spring 2010 in Las Vegas last week: A&T WorkBench for iPhone. According to the company, the client offers iPhone users advanced control and security features including authentication and encryption.
Here are some of the capabilities:
* Role-based deployment of web applications. * Enhanced IT controls for web applications such as policy management, mobile VPN, over-the-air updates and remote data lock/wipe. * Certificate-based authentication using SCEP (Simple Certificate Enrollment Protocol), which is aligned with iPhone’s over-the-air enrollment and configuration process. Ability to run multiple enterprise web applications simultaneously and toggle instantly between active web applications. * Enables employees to work with their critical data and applications offline and automatically update when they reconnect to the network.
The architecture is run with AT&T's middleware called Mobile Enterprise Applications Platform, which supports the iPhone (and naturally, the new iPad), as well as Palm OS, RIM BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile devices.
Now, my own doctor uses a terminal in the exam room that connects to the various departments in the HMO system. She orders tests and prescriptions on it. However, she's behind a box with a monitor on a cart, facing me at times, but still there's the techno barrier present. No doubt, a more mobile client device like the iPad, could get her closer to her patients -- or provide a more familiar paper-like experience.
While the hardware is elegant and high quality, it is the consistent iPad interface that could make a huge difference in ERP clients. As Benson above pointed out, companies can spend millions in a ERP or CRM solution, but its success comes down to everyone using it and using it efficiently. These systems are supposed to improve productivity, but that doesn't have to be the case.
After using the iPad now for a day, I've been impressed with its usability. The larger screen and the speed of the touch response make data and text, buttons and other elements very apparent to the user. This could be just what the enterprise might order.