Wireless Middleware: Connecting VARs To Profits
For the wireless-savvy VAR or integrator, the middleware market shouldn't be overlooked.
As a VAR, integrator or software developer, by now it's likely you've uttered the term wireless middleware. Hopefully, it wasn't in a quizzical manner like, "What is this wireless middleware stuff anyway?" However, as wireless mobile computing has erupted in the enterprise, legions of software developers have clogged the middleware market. This makes your choice of a vendor for this technology difficult. Or, does it?
Think about how you choose the hardware you support and sell. Do you use unproven products that just "really look cool." Once you pull back the veil of glitz and hype on many new wireless middleware companies, you may find yourself in a coyote ugly-type of situation. In other words, you'll regret your relationship in the morning. "Many of these new companies are spending big bucks on fancy ads, glossy brochures, and splashy trade show appearances to look good on the surface," said Mark Gentile, CEO and president of Odyssey Software, Inc. (Rochester, NY). "Yet, it's still a new, unproven product from a young company." Representatives from both Broadbeam Corp. (Princeton, NJ) and VisionAIR (Castle Hayne, NC) echo Gentile's sentiment. Of course, this stance is no surprise coming from three established companies in the wireless middleware market. Nevertheless, with the increased likelihood of this technology creeping into every VAR's lexicon, their argument is a sound one.
What Lies Ahead For Wireless Middleware
Any type of middleware is often referred to as the glue or plumbing between two applications. The value of this software is evident in a wireless scenario where it is used as the connector for displaying enterprise data (e.g. customer relationship management [CRM]) on a PDA's (personal digital assistant's) small screen. But, the wireless world is changing at a dizzying pace. New devices, faster networks, and methods of data/voice transmission will all affect the ability of wireless middleware to do its job. "This all means that middleware, which works with all of these technologies, must keep pace," stated George Faigen, chief marketing and strategy officer for Broadbeam Corp. "When someone says, 'why do we need middleware?', I ask them to tell me how they are going to handle all of this technology migration on their own without it. They quickly get the point."
According to Gentile and Nancyfaye Autenzio, VP of marketing and business development for VisionAIR, one of the future changes this technology is bound to see is a shift away from proprietary solutions. "The acceptance of standards including Java and XML (extensible markup language) will be the norm," Autenzio declared. Gentile was even more specific. "What's driving this shift is a set of XML-based technologies called XML Web Services, which enable applications to interoperate via standard Internet protocols," he explained. "This is an exciting time in the industry!"
Don't Force-Feed The Technology
As exciting as it may be to Gentile, some VARs and integrators just don't "get" this technology. Furthermore, a lot of end users still view wireless technology, in general, with a wary eye. Both of these reactions are understandable. This is, after all, cutting edge stuff, and sometimes a person can be overwhelmed with all the bells and whistles, thus forgetting the technology's primary function. For example, "With wireless middleware, VARs commonly make the mistake of starting with the technology instead of an end user's business need," Faigen explained. "Many VARs started with WAP (wireless application protocol) and tried to apply it to their customers' businesses. Unfortunately, the 'I have a hammer and everything looks like a nail' mantra generally results in failed implementations and no follow-up business."
The Installations Are Out There
Of course, no one wants failed installations. And, you want to make sure there is a market for wireless middleware before investing your time and hard-earned money. However, just as you probably already have heard about this technology, so too, have you probably heard of its successes - and failures - in some markets.
"A lot of the early commercial deployments targeted B2C applications like banking and online trading, but most of these failed to provide a measurable or acceptable ROI," Autenzio said. "The latest success stories tend to revolve around making mobile workforces more productive. This typically means wringing efficiencies out of the dispatch, scheduling, and work order management processes. In some cases, it means integrating these applications directly with supply chain management systems." Both Faigen and Gentile listed burgeoning wireless middleware applications such as field service, route sales, transportation and logistics, healthcare, asset management, inventory control, and public safety.
Profits And "Cool" Devices
So, the applications are out there, but can you make money selling this technology? Like any new product, the answer to the question depends upon your level of commitment.
"By choosing the right wireless middleware, VARs can rapidly gain economies of scale with their development and implementation resources," Autenzio commented. "This allows them to easily reuse the same deployment platform in a multitude of applications and verticals - thereby lowering deployment costs and increasing ROI for themselves and their customers."
Once again, Gentile was enthusiastic when discussing the opportunities for VARs in the wireless middleware market. "There are many new challenges, from designing a good mobile user interface (e.g. small screen, stylus input, no keyboard), to wireless remote data access connectivity," he explained. "Establish yourselves as line-of-business or enterprise mobility experts, and your customers will reward you for it. Plus, the devices are cool!"