Wireless and voice applications company Xora on Monday unveiled the latest version of its software-based platform.
For some time, the company has been targeting enterprises with software that it says can wirelessly enable business applications built in the native environments of back-office systems; now Xora has added J2ME (Java 2 Platform, Micro Edition) functionality intended to give mobile professionals a way to work with their business applications even when their wireless device is out of network coverage or otherwise offline.
Xora is playing in a growing market of companies trying to build businesses by helping enterprises extend their existing business applications beyond the desktop. Its business model -- and to be sure, that of its competitors -- is to help its customers achieve a quick return on investment by allowing them not only to access applications from i2, SAP, Siebel, Oracle, Clarify, Lotus, Microsoft and the like on a wide variety of devices, but also to share data between those applications while on the go.
The idea, says Xora director of marketing Steve Peck, is that many enterprise employees spend a great deal of time on the road, yet still need quick access to the data in their server-based applications and the ability to manipulate it. Further, says Peck, those mobile workers want to be able to use whatever kind of wireless devices they have and want the data they receive to measure up to, but not exceed, the capabilities of their intended devices.
In order to do that, Xora gives individual users a desktop-based interface that lets them determine the kinds of data they want delivered to their devices. Thus, someone using a WAP phone may only want contact information for a customer, while others using Compaq iPaqs may find that they want and can handle much more sophisticated sets of information. Peck says the Xora platform allows users a great deal of control over what they will send to different devices, but also allows them to configure simultaneous data transfer for multiple devices.
Another element of the platform is its ability to send out event-driven messages and alerts. Peck explains that through the interface, a user could set rules that result in messages being sent to different devices depending on what time of day it is. Alternately, a user can tell the Xora software to generate alerts and send them to different devices depending on preset rules defining the level of urgency. Similarly, because the platform integrates information from multiple business applications, it allows for data coming from one application to trigger event-driven alerts and for responses to those alerts to trigger action in separate applications.
The latest version of the platform adds a Java component, which Peck says is vital for mobile professionals who spend a lot of time in geographical areas that are not well served by wireless networks or in factories where such service is not available. The idea, he says, is that while their mobile devices are offline, the mobile professionals would still be able to manipulate information already downloaded, as well as add new information, and to synchronize those changes with a central server once network coverage is restored.
Additionally, the platform supports IBM's voice server, which will allow users to navigate applications as well as manipulate data by voice.
The whole system works, says Peck, by having users create queries within their business applications on their desktop computers and then registering the queries with the Xora platform. Then, from their wireless devices, users would log into the Xora platform via a wireless Internet connection and have access to the business queries.
Xora faces a tough market, especially because it is getting a later start than some of its peers. Peck says Xora sees itself going up against companies like Everypath and Aether Systems, and says the company differentiates itself by its ability to link data from multiple business applications and through its understanding of the enterprise environment.
Everypath director of marketing Andy Wong argues that his company too is able to bring together data from varied applications and says that it has a big advantage when vying for business because of its experience and its roster of partners and customers. While Xora claims nine customers, Wong says Everypath counts at least 25, as well as tight partnerships with companies like Siebel and Accenture.
"I don't feel threatened by Xora," Wong says. "The fact that they've got nine customers is great, because this is still an emerging market. We want other players to do well, because the whole industry benefits from them."
But David Berndt, director of wireless mobile technologies at Yankee Group, says Xora faces a difficult path to success. While he says Xora's voice component differentiates it from its competitors, he sees this as a very tough time for a young company to try to get its business going.
"They're going to have to do some pretty amazing things to differentiate themselves," he says. "Putting whole new mobile initiatives in place right now makes a lot of CIOs' stomachs churn. If they don't see it as mission-critical, it's going to be put not only on the back burner, but back in the fridge."
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