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Developing a Customized Data Portal for BlackBerry Devices
By Jeff Goldman
Canadian IT and management consulting firm Sierra Systems has more than 1,000 employees in 13 locations through the U.S. and Canada, as well as a development center in Bucharest, Romania. The company's three main areas of business are management consulting, systems integration and managed services.

According to company technical director Ernie Miller, Sierra Systems has used BlackBerry smartphones for several years now. "I don't think there's any question that from a business perspective BlackBerry gives you security and integration with the mail system, which gives you the initial PIM integration that everybody needs -- their phone book, their calendar, and their email, which everybody lives on," he says.

Sierra's client-facing operations and support group, Miller says, has developed an information portal that merges data from a number of different applications, including a ticket system and a network management application -- but that portal has always been focused on providing as much as information as possible for viewing on a large screen.

To provide the group with the same type of information on their BlackBerry devices, Miller says, he turned to the Kryos Velocity mobile development platform. "The technology allowed us to take the back-end systems and present data easily in a consolidated way... so right now, the application that we've got pulls information and applications and processes into one place that we can view through one single business process," he says.

And the users, Miller says, are given access to information in a focused and prioritized manner. "If I launch my portal application on the BlackBerry, I get the portions of my ticket system that are important to me, I get the portions of the network monitoring system that are important to me, and I get information out of SharePoint and/or into SharePoint that's important to me, such as our approval process," he says.

Developing that type of focused solution, Miller says, required first determining which data was most crucial. "It's getting to our shared contact list that's always up to date, being able to integrate that with the BlackBerry and call out and decrease our SLA response times, and being able to look at our change management approval process... to quickly, at a glance, view those and approve them while on the move," he says.

Miller says the process of doing so was extremely valuable. "We were able to pare down some of the graphs, some of the charts, some of the tables down to the bare essentials and provide maximum value... this actually drove us to derive more value from what we actually had and figure out what was most important," he says.

The point is that what's useful on a desktop isn't necessarily appropriate for a mobile device. "We're focusing on what's valuable from a business flow perspective, not just exposing absolutely everything," Miller says. "If you expose everything, you've developed an entire giant application that probably hasn't added any value, especially because now you have to navigate through 17 layers to find what you need."

The Velocity mobile platform, Miller says, was key to enabling Sierra Systems to build the BlackBerry portal without requiring the assistance of BlackBerry development specialists. "We can focus is on what we know, which is the business value of the applications and what data is valuable to present -- not that we understand power management and data management and caching and all that kind of stuff," he says.

And the platform's ease of use, Miller says, has been transformative. "I can go to a developer who's never touched it before and say, 'I need this,' and generally, in one to two days I can have the initial screens up, and within a week I typically have a portion of the application flow that's valuable to me," he says.

The result, Miller says, is that users can access data immediately, when and where they need it. "When I'm meeting with my client, I'm able to [say], we pulled a thousand tickets today, or yesterday, or last month... and here's our current availability and uptime," he says. "At a glance, I'm able to pull those dynamically on the spot and present them to the client."

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