Mobile Line Of Business

Richard Jones (MVP)

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So,  I've been on a mission,  to show that we can port our mobile portal application suite over to iPhone.    We've long been using a Windows Mobile delivered portal that takes Sharepoint, Dynamics NAV and a host of other line of business system (LOB) and delivers them to our mobile workforce.

The core of our business at Anglia Business Solutions (www.angliabs.com)  is to allow our consultant's, sale staff and support engineers to work remotely.    For any service based company our lifeblood is accurate time sheet recording billing and customer/prospect intelligence via CRM (customer relation management).    Being a Microsoft Dynamics partner we of course achieve all this by using Dynamics NAV and SharePoint.    

So just by way of interest I took Joe Hewitt's,  IUI (http://www.joehewitt.com/iui)   set of style sheets and Javascript to see what I could come up with.   Bearing in mind the back-end for this system is just a bunch of web-services.   Hooking up a new front end, proved pretty straight forward.

The first screenshot shot shows the logon mechanism.  We use a cookie to remember username and all the user must do to logon is to key a PIN.

Portal2 Note, the nice UI.    User is verified in AD.   PIN is looked up in a table,  with all values encrypted.

Note for security if the user fails pin 3 times, we drop back to requiring full domain login.

The whole portal is delivered via a website protected by an SSL certificate so all traffic is encrypted.

 

Portal1 Once logged in a we have a main menu of operations,  such as news, timesheet (including mileage claims, expense recording),  leave booking and CRM.   We have over 10 modules that we have built up over time,  which we may decide to port if there is demand for this system.

We have nice animation between screens which gives us the professional feel.

 

Portal3 One of the nice things we can do is integrate with device features.     This is illustrated with showing mobile CRM.   In the screenshot we show that we can click to show a map of driving directions to a customer or prospect as well as being able to call or email straight from the mobile CRM application.

So what have we found after this porting exercise.     Looking positively,  iPhone's slick interface does make mobile LOB, look really nice.    We built what you see above effectively just building a new front end on an existing set of business objects sitting ontop a core Microsoft set of technologies.     The whole solution was also built with Visual Studio 2008,   so all the benefits of intelli-sense and the first rate development experience was available to us.

However what's very clear is that we were building for the iPhone's interface the website looks great on the device,   kind of ok in Apple Safari and un-usable on Internet Explorer.     The Windows Mobile alternative although delivering a more vanilla user interface works nicely cross browser.    I guess cross-browser was not the objective here,  but it did make debugging and tweaking the UI a little time consuming.

A few things that were a bit annoying such as lack of v-card, vcal which would be nice to have.   I think if memory serves me correct is also a limitation of Windows Mobile too.    I also found that I kept on needing to make my controls work in a nice AJAX way.    I'm fairly new to AJAX programming so I found anything but the simplest partial page reload a little hard to get my head around.

ASP.NET pages, carry with them some inherit 'good' stuff for handling callbacks etc.   this was a fair challenge to get nicely co-existing with the excellent IUI Javascript that was sitting behind the page templates I used.

It would be great if from a web-application we could determine the device's location so that we could search for say, customers within 20 miles of where I'm standing.

Render times on the device really varied.    With windows mobile we pretty much code for lean and low user interfaces to make use of the worst possible Internet bandwidth.    All the glitz of the iPhone's UI take (well they did me) you down the route of trying to build something stylish and slick.    Great of course when you have the full 7.2mb (or whatever we get these days) of bandwidth on 3G or fast WIFI, but really rubbish on a crowded train with slow and congested GPRS.

So there you have it.   A set of mobile LOB applications using core Microsoft technology delivered securely for use anywhere.   All we really did in this exercise was to add a couple of (rather good) style-sheets.

A final footnote,   yes I am a Windows Mobile MVP  but it was really interesting to see how core line of business can be ported across.   But yes,  I do feel a little bit guilty :-)

 

posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2008 8:59 PM