As Lion Nathan looks for ways to implement wireless computing, it has completed a WAP trial and is considering a pocket PC pilot.
In February the brewing company gave Ericsson WAP phones to seven Auckland sales reps for email and to access a credit note application. The trial used Telecom’s CDPD Airdata service to connect to the office.
Lion Nathan MIS manager Darryl Warren says when the trial started there were hardly any WAP developers so two of the IS team took on the project. “They mainly did it for personal development. About 25% of it was in their work time and 75% in their own time.”
The biggest challenge was "WAPifying" the credit note application, which runs on Microsoft IIS and SQL Server and pulls credit details into the core business system. “For example we had to figure out how to integrate ASP [active server page] pages with WML [wireless markup language] pages.”
Additionally the WAP software development kits available at the time were buggy, says Warren, so it took about eight weeks.
The company used proprietary software from Phone.com for the phones’ browser. It can scroll horizontally and vertically, and show graphics. Warren says the WAP browser occasionally hung the phones which then had to be turned off. However, he was impressed by the Tegic T9 intelligent text-inputting technology, which comes with all WAP phones. “It’s a feature vendors don’t push,” he says, “but it’s quite amazing.”
For email the company paid $25,000 for a 25-user licence of US shrink-wrapped package called Interchange. This gave users access to their MS Exchange in-boxes and supports other mail systems such as Lotus Notes. It also supports LDAP (light directory access protocol) so staff could access the Lion Nathan directory.
“This was the most successful application,” says Warren. “It was well written and thought had gone into minimising transmissions. For example recipients’ details were only displayed on request.”
For security only certain IP addresses were allowed to access applications.
Over all the trial cost about $20,000. “We’re not unhappy with the outcome considering we were using generation one technology," says Warren. “WAP appealed to us because our sales staff are the most professional cellphone users in New Zealand.”
He says the small display was a limitation, particularly for the credit application, and the ability to use it depended on the amount of CDPD coverage. He adds that although transmission was slow it was fine for the applications used.
Now that the WAP trial is over, Warren wants to pilot Compaq’s version of the pocket PC, the iPaq with CDPD modems. “You can capture more details on a pocket PC and then do work, even if you can’t connect,” he says.