Mirifex Delivers a BlackBerry Interface for Legacy Apps
February 22, 2005 Alex Woodie
Mirifex, an Ohio technology consulting firm, is ramping up development of its Mobile Business Access (MBA) solution, which gives users access to enterprise data and applications from BlackBerries, PocketPCs, and other handheld devices. The forms-based application, which relies on a mix of Java and XML, has already enabled several OS/400 shops to replace manual processes and become more lean in their operations.
Mirifex started writing MBA several years ago when one of its customers, a “fractional” airline called Flight Options that offers 2,000 high-profile customers partial ownership in its fleet of 200 aircraft, asked Mirifex to help eliminate some inefficiencies in the way it was communicating with pilots. The problem was, the 1,100 pilots flying for the Cleveland, Ohio, airline spend the vast majority of their time in the air, which led them to rely on fax machines located at airstrips around the country to inform Flight Options corporate headquarters about everything from their flight itineraries and time sheets to fuel consumption and food costs. In addition to being a burden on the pilots, the reliance on fax was driving up Flight Options’ phone bill.
The solution was 1,100 BlackBerry wireless handheld devices running Mirifex’s MBA forms software, connected directly to Flight Options’ Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle database applications. Now, instead of faxing forms to Flight Options, pilots can fill in the fields of their MBA application, which is synchronized wirelessly with the database applications every 15 minutes.
The solution has cut Flight Options’ monthly phone bill by $8,000 and has made the company more efficient, says David Davies, CIO at Flight Options. “Not only has the company eliminated the faxes once sent to convey trip information, they have been able to redeploy this saved time to other important tasks,” Davies says in a case study available on the Mirifex Web site. “Operations Control Center staff can now put more emphasis on planning trips and managing customer requests.”
Mirifex has since implemented the MBA application at a number of other shops, some of them running OS/400 servers, says Chris King, architect of the MBA application. One of those customers, a $500 million parts distributor, is using MBA to deliver iSeries-based product information, pricing data, searches, and order status information to wireless handheld computers.
MBA is agnostic about the servers it accesses on the back-end, King says. The software includes two pieces, including a Java-based server component, and a forms template running on the BlackBerry or PocketPC device (the company is currently working on a version for Palm Pilot). If the back-end system that MBA accesses is written in Java, the software can use JMS queuing to synch up to the database. Other options for accessing data include HTTP Post and Get operations, XML, SOAP, or a Sockets connection, he says.
“We count on the AS/400 application, or whatever is on the back-end, to have some kind of input and output that’s not proprietary,” he says. “If it is, we have to design a piece of code that acts as an intermediate step.” About 80 percent of MBA works out of the box, while the other 20 percent typically requires some customization, which Mirifex, as a consultant with expertise in a variety of industries, is ready to provide.
In January, Mirifex announced that it joined the BlackBerry ISV Alliance Program, a program created by Research In Motion, the company that develops and manufactures the BlackBerry devices. Mirifex is aiming to generate interest in building BlackBerry front-ends to a range back-end systems, including OS/400 applications, Siebel Systems, SAP, Oracle’s J.D. Edwards and PeopleSoft applications, Microsoft‘s CRM, Navision, and Great Plains applications, as a result of joining the BlackBerry ISV Alliance Program.
“We’re really following closely along with RIM and aligning what we’re doing from a product development standpoint, so it fits well with the BlackBerry go to market strategy,” says Tom Merrill, Mirifex director of marketing. “MBA is specifically designed to link together legacy information and reinterpret that information and display it on a Blackberry.”
Merrill says Mirifex is working to make MBA more of a shrink-wrapped product and less of a services sell. The company is also working with IBM to integrate MBA with WebSphere Portal, according to King.