Mobile applications are a quickly emerging section of the overall mobile market. These applications are made up of software that runs on a mobile device and carry out specific tasks for mobile phones and Pocket PCs. The focus of this paper is to describe the business advantages and limitations of the Best Buy Geek Squad’s wireless Pocket PC mobile devices and how they overcame those limitations. Additionally, describe the software development challenges of wireless mobile devices and how Medstar Health and Unifi met those challenges.
Lastly, identify the advantages and limitation of companies using software packages already unavailable for use with wireless devices.
Best Buy Background
For many of today’s businessman, Pocket PCs have become like another appendage. While there are some definite advantages to carrying a Pocket PC, it’s easy to overlook some of the obstacles associated with conducting business on them. The Geek Squad is an ancillary of the Best Buy Company which is headquartered in Richfield, Minnesota.
The company offers a variety of computer-related services for both residential and commercial customers. Geek Squad agents provide both in-store, on-site services, as well as, Internet, and additionally also provides 24-hour telephone and emergency support. Best Buys agents are equipped with Sprint PPC-6700 Smart Devices, a Pocket PCs/cell phone combination that run on Windows Mobile 5.0.
Advantages and Limitations
There are many advantages to the Geek Squad Agents using the Sprint PPC-6700 Smart Device. One advantage is that these devices have full access to Sprint’s EV-DO third-generation cellular network, and have complete Web browsing capabilities. When an agent is on the road and needs directions to his next job, he can quickly access Google or Yahoo maps and easily navigate to his destination, rather than having to fumble around with a map or to call back to Best Buy dispatcher’s. Additionally, agents can use their wireless devices to log onto Best Buy’s order system where they can obtain price quotes, process payments, complete transactions, and generate receipts for the customers. As with most devices, the Sprint PPC-6700 does have a down side. The problem the Geek Squad agents are having with this device is the small slide-out keyboard. The small keyboard limits their ability to type quickly and accurately, therefore wasting precious time.
Along with battery life, text input is one of the most difficult problems for post-PC era electronic devices. First and foremost, the problem is one of physical size, followed by the opposing needs of speed and familiarity. As wireless data services explode onto the market, the need for efficient text entry in small devices is becoming ever more intense, yet fundamental tradeoffs limit the viable options. Best Buy solved its problem with the Sprint PPC 7600 with the use of handwriting recognition software. Handwriting recognition is a method by which a computer system can recognize letter, characters and other symbols written by hand in ordinary handwriting. This type technology is generally used on devices such as PDA and Pocket PCs where a stylus is used to write on a screen, after which the computer program converts the handwriting into digital text. Geek Squad agents can hand write notes that go directly into Best Buys order system to be used a reference for later transactions. The next time a customer calls in with a problem, the agent can quickly pull up his notes for quicker and more reliable customer service. Prior to this technology, agents would have to wait until they got back to the office to enter the customers information into the system. According to one agent, it saves them 10-15 minutes that could have otherwise been spent helping a customer or traveling to the next job. Although this is a big improvement, Best Buy is not fully content with the limitations of the current handwriting recognition software. They are now testing voice recognition software will permit agents to open and close programs with voice prompts allowing for quicker and better customer service. Voice recognition is a computer technology that uses audio input for a means of entering data instead of the using a keyboard. Speaking into a microphone delivers the same result as typing words physically with a keyboard. Voice recognition software is constructed with a database of identifiable words or phrases. The computer program matches up the voice audio signature with the equivalent entry in the database. Although, changing speech into text might sound simple, it is enormously difficult. The problem is starts with an almost infinite assortment of speech patterns and accents, compounded by the tendency for people to run words together or the use of slang words.
Software Development Challenges
Mobile systems and mobile applications have gained a lot of attention both in research and industry over the last years. The market share of mobile devices is constantly growing. More and more, users expect their mobile devices to provide functionality similar to the one they know from their desktop computers, but also to provide additional, mobile device specific functionality, like location based services. However, software development for mobile devices is still cumbersome and a methodology geared towards supporting the development of such mobile applications is still lacking.
One key factor for the commercial success of mobile devices is the quick development of software applications. On the other hand, developing mobile software can be especially difficult since applications need to be conscience of and adapt to changing resources such as battery life and bandwidth. At one time it seemed like there might have been some standardization and a common platform might emerge, but most attempts have stumbled, and ultimately fallen short of the ideal they set out to accomplish. None of these methods were directly at fault. They simply satisfied a set of needs at a moment in time in the evolution of mobile devices that made the best of prevailing hardware and network limitations. The problem for each of them has been the speed of evolution of mobile capability.
It is true that handheld mobile devices are still limited by screen size, lack of a full size keyboard, and limited bandwidth. But there are already plenty of handheld devices with bright readable screens capable of fast and watchable video, 3D graphics, touch screens, accelerometers, compasses, and GPS capability. Most mobile devises have decent audio capability, many for music and ringtones, and of course they should all have decent enough audio for phone use. The functionality is in place for some outstanding state of the art applications and for smart developers to exploit. However, there is little uniformity as hardware manufacturers strive to get the best out of their devices and network operators do likewise with their networks and the tweaks they often demand from the handset providers.
MedStar Health is a non-profit healthcare organization that is facing similar software development challenges. MedStar’s IT department supports thousands of nurses and doctors, who use a multitude of mobile devises such as Pocket PCs, PDA, Blackberry’s, and Palm Treo’s. Since there is no clear cut leader in mobile technology, it is hard for MedStar’s IT Department to push for a standard device. Because MedStar’s nurses and doctors are not forced to use a standard device, it is difficult for their IT Department to keep up with new mobile devices and ensure they are compatible with the company’s applications. To overcome these challenges, MedStar thought outside the box and worked with vendor to tailor applications that would work on a wide range of devices. MedStar chose to work with Siemens Medical Solutions and came up with a software solution that allows medical practitioners to access their patients’ information through Siemens Invision mainframe using any of their mobile devices. This type of thinking by MedStar’s IT Department allowed the company to meet its goals without having to sacrifice any functionality. Many times off-the- shelf applications will not meet the needs of a customer and may require some tweaking by the manufacturer to accommodate its customer’s specific needs.
Management Information Systems
A management information system is a system or process that provides information needed to manage organizations effectively. As with the case of Best Buy and MedStar, their overall strategies were affected by MIS. Best Buy chose to use standard mobile devices and off-the -shelf applications to meet both its customers and employees needs. Whereas MedStar, decided it was better for them to develop specific software to overcome their challenges. Neither way is right or wrong, it just depends on your specific situation and needs.