Boring Is Beautiful
Posted: 02.05 - By V. Wade Contreras


et’s face facts: Middleware will never be the sexy subject for corporate types to schmooze about over at lunch. Leave that to the latest gadgets—your Treo handhelds, Pocket PCs, super-sleek laptops. It won’t even be the article that readers thumb to first when they pick up their favorite tech magazine. But for enterprise IT people in the know, it’s something to get revved up about.

One reason middleware is not a great conversation starter is it’s an elusive topic and can encompass myriad functions. But look beyond the technical side, and middleware holds the promise to fundamentally streamline the way enterprises do business. “It isn’t always exciting, but it’s an underlying technology enabling all kinds of solutions in the enterprise,” says Stephen Drake, a researcher at IDC. “If you look at case studies and ROI from companies deploying mobility, that’s the real red meat of this market—making workers more efficient and increasing productivity.”

Last November IDC’s mobile middleware report said that in the move to mobilization taking place across large businesses today, “mobile middleware remains the core software solution to enable this mobilization.” It went on to predict growth of the mobile middleware market from $424.4 million in 2003 to $1.3 billion in 2008. These are numbers that can’t be ignored. Neither can IT managers ignore the value proposition of solutions that can increase worker productivity and operational profits by offering deployment, security, management and support of mobile resources.

Below we profile some top players in the mobile middleware space and describe their current offerings. It still might not make mobile middleware a buzzword, but it may get your enterprise on track to quietly reap its rewards.

Starting from the Top

No discussion of mobile middleware would be complete without covering iAnywhere Solutions, a Sybase subsidiary. In 2004, the company was number one in market share at 9.8 percent, according to IDC. It also added mobile device management to its portfolio by acquiring XcelleNet.

The iAnywhere mobile solution, M-Business Anywhere, focuses on delivering Web content and applications to mobile devices, especially handhelds. Ojas Rege, senior director of engineering for iAnywhere, says that from iAnywhere’s standpoint, the biggest challenge companies face in mobilizing their applications is complexity. “Every company has invested so much time and energy in building their desktop-based applications, that thinking about how to bring those to a mobile device can get very overwhelming,” he says.

One way iAnywhere cuts down that complexity, says Rege, is by allowing applications to work on multiple client operating systems. It also allows its customers to develop applications for small devices using Web applications, which is simpler and more cost-effective than other development environments, such as C and C++. Web applications are easy and cheap to maintain because tweaking the program doesn’t require changing code on the client, says Rege. You simply change the application on the server, and it’s amended on the client device on next sync.

One place iAnywhere has demonstrated its technology is through Salesforce.com, a hosted CRM system with almost 200,000 users, which licenses the iAnywhere technology for its Offline Edition application. Rege says the key failing point for CRM systems is poor adoption rates due to inefficient, clunky field reporting systems. iAnywhere lets Salesforce.com users access large databases of customers and contacts on a handheld device, and call reporting can be done immediately after a call—no waiting for a laptop to boot. “We’ve seen again and again that when you add a well-designed handheld technology in front of a CRM system, the adoption rates of that system go up very significantly,” he explains.

Forward Motion

While Research in Motion (RIM) ranks just behind iAnywhere in mobile middleware market penetration, it is primarily due to its hardware, not software, solutions. So, for the moment, RIM is perhaps not as relevant to an examination of mobile middleware software leaders. But it would be a mistake to count them out. For one thing, RIM is the undisputed leader in mobile e-mail delivery. If RIM can capitalize on the success it’s had with its BlackBerry device as it moves more into the software arena, all bets are off.

Don’t think it hasn’t realized this. RIM sees the importance of designing a solution that works with more device types and has addressed this with its BlackBerry Connect offering. Partnerships with Nokia and palmOne, as well as the new Java-based BlackBerry Enterprise Server version 4.0, portend a stronger software push from RIM going forward.

Number Three with a Bullet

Number three on IDC’s list of mobile middleware heavyweights is Intellisync, which had a busy 2003 and 2004, including multiple acquisitions and some rebranding, drawing on Synchrologic’s mobile platform and Pumatech’s brand name to better position its portfolio. It also outpaced its peers with a 24.1 percent growth rate in 2002-2003.

Part of Intellisync’s strength comes from its market position as one of the few large pure-play mobile middleware vendors, and its niche falls somewhere between the two ends of the mobile middleware spectrum, according to Rip Gerber, chief marketing officer for Intellisync. On one end are “point solutions” being offered by small vendors, which offer only wireless e-mail and are struggling to remain relevant. Most of these small vendors are trying to compete with RIM, the leader in that space, and while wireless e-mail is the killer app, there’s not a huge market for a solution offering only e-mail. “That’s the ticket to the dance,” says Gerber, “but what the enterprise is looking for is a full suite of solutions.”

On the other end of the spectrum are the big players, such as IBM and Microsoft, which see the market for mobility and turn to a company like Intellisync for its technology. Intellisync’s flagship product is its Mobile Suite 6, a wireless push e-mail and PIM synchronization tool that enables users to receive e-mail, calendar, contacts and updates on Palm OS, Pocket PC and other mobile devices. The Data Sync tool mobilizes enterprise applications, and additional tools handle file and Web content distribution, as well as systems management and security.

As far as competition, Gerber points to RIM and iAnywhere. Yet he notes some interesting market dynamics surrounding the three companies. iAnywhere, Gerber says, licenses Intellisync’s technology for its mobile solution, while RIM is both a competitor and a customer of Intellisync. All this lends credence to the conclusion IDC reached; namely, that going forward, power alliances in the market will become the norm, as they allow suppliers to offer the complete mobility solutions clients demand.

Extending Options

In 2003, Extended Systems grew almost 30 percent within the mobile middleware market and hit $21.8 million in mobile middleware revenue, up from $16.8 million in 2002. The company continues to expand on its OneBridge Mobile platform by delivering support for BlackBerry devices running Java as well as specific components such as its OneBridge Groupware and its OneBridge Mobile Secure option. OneBridge Groupware is Extended’s mobile e-mail solution, which continues to pick up momentum. OneBridge Mobile Secure, which was rolled out in July 2004, provides security components and functionality as organizations deploying solutions out to mobile workers begin to realize the critical nature of security and administration. Such functionality includes device-side encryption, password protection, authentication and monitoring devices, and the ability to disable lost or stolen devices. Today, Extended Systems has more than 70 applications that run on the OneBridge Mobile platform; going forward, it expects to grow by adding more.

Though Aligo wasn’t tops in revenue in IDC’s market analysis, it was mentioned as a company to watch. Aligo’s flagship product, OmniPlatform, has lured big-time customers such as Sun to OEM deals, but the bulk of its mobile clients are in the small to medium service industries, such as heating, air conditioning and plumbing. Aligo’s customers are often looking to mobilize critical business processes that don’t have an existing internal IT application, and Aligo offers out-of-the-box solutions for this. Its WorkTrack solution, for instance, automates paper-based timecards.

Support for multiple data sources and applications is a vital mobile middleware capability. It lets a company tie together multiple applications, such as CRM, FFA and FSA, and ensure smooth interaction between the applications. You can take a customer name from Siebel, product information from SAP and billing info from something else, and integrate all that onto one screen on a PDA. The final piece of the puzzle is that the middleware must support any device a company might use.•

Wade Contreras is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

 


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