Rethinking apps for wireless use

Don't let bad application design squash attempts to mobilize corporations.

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When it comes to the success or failure of mobility-enabling an enterprise application, paying attention to application design could make all the difference, says Todd Berner, a managing director at Dimension Data, a systems integrator in Reston, Va. "The GUI [for handheld devices] needs to be more driven by the workflow and activities of the user," he says. "This is not the traditional way of thinking about these applications."

Ease of use was foremost on mind for The Bekins Company when it decided to wireless-enable truck drivers for its HomeDirectUSA division. Knowing the drivers weren't PC-literate, "we went through painstaking effort in our application design, so there's hardly any decision-making for the drivers," says Randy Valentino, CTO at the Hillside, Ill., company.

When a Bekins agent picks up his handheld device to enter or access information, he is guided through each process via a wizard-like design built into simple screens, Valentino says.

Application design also factored heavily into the wireless project at Marshfield Clinic, in Marshfield, Wis. Years ago, the clinic designed physician applications with minimal keystrokes - an ease-of-use factor it needed to take into account for the wireless application, says Carl Christensen, CIO at the clinic.

So when using their wireless PC tablets, Marshfield Clinic doctors typically select from drop-down lists that have been carefully arranged to be simple to find and follow. The tablets also feature enlarged toolbar buttons and support for an "active stylus" that lets the doctors enter handwritten messages, annotations, instructions and signatures.

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