AS/400 has the remotest idea

Given that the words are abroad that the number of remote workers is increasing - aside from wondering whether this is the case,...

Given that the words are abroad that the number of remote workers is increasing - aside from wondering whether this is the case, and who these people are - just what is available in the AS/400 space to cater for any demands such a situation throws up?

A rag-bag of ideas springs to mind:

wireless-to-host technology;

mobile intranet;

laptop computers;

wireless application protocol (Wap) enabled internet access to enterprise applications;

lan remote access for dial-up users;

connecting Windows users to mid range hosts using standard lan protocols, or via the internet.

The common thread is the potential to link remote workers to AS/400.

According to research from IDC, there are currently over 10 million mobile professionals worldwide, with some 1.2 million teleworkers in the UK (see panel). The company defines a mobile professional as 'anyone who travels away from the office at least 20 per cent of the time'. To date, these mobile professionals have had difficulty in obtaining on-demand access to browse corporate information, something enjoyed easily by corporate colleagues. The typical mobile worker has had to wait until he/she can gain access to a high-speed connection to check for the latest corporate information.

Paddy Falls, co-founder and ceo of iOra says: 'Our product - iOra Mobile Intranet - solves the problem of mobile workers not having current business-critical information when they are away from the office by transparently providing a secure, up-to-date copy of the corporate intranet on their laptop.'

The spin is that corporate content providers can now ensure new information - such as revisions to corporate policy documents, sales kits, and competitive information - are all delivered to mobile users. Mobile (sales and technical) staff no longer need to manually download and save newer versions of sales presentations, price lists, or other documents - iOra's product is claimed to automatically and transparently keep the laptop content up-to-date, transferring data over the internet up to 100 times faster than with other solutions.

Nigel Follett, head of e-commerce ventures and founder of the Outsource Group, says: 'Office workers are already reaping the benefits of easy access to intranet based information. With iOra's offering, mobile users can obtain the same level of accessible information.'

Says Falls: 'The problem facing many companies is that their critical information is currently locked behind firewalls, and it's difficult to ensure their mobile staff are working with the same information. Now, these people can be in a hotel, on a plane, on site with a customer - and still be up-to-date with changes in company information. For any organisation relying on mobile salesforces, support engineers, consultants at customer sites, or keeping executives informed as they move from location to location, that's a lot on offer.'

The company has already notched up three successes - in the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and insurance sectors. AS/400 can be involved in customer configurations, says iOra. The core offering is based on a Windows NT server.

Over at BOS, and its telecom subsidiary Lynk, md Dave Culley says: 'The internet has become more prominent with more companies believing in it now. We're seeing much activity in AS/400 remote communications for all sizes of companies. We provide connectivity solutions between AS/400 and PCs and lans, whether local or remote. Our Lynk subsidiary also recently launched the TeleLynk family of voice over IP solutions for SoHo applications.'

BOS offers Jadvantage, its Java based software solution, which provides AS/400 to desktop, TN5250e, GUI emulation on PCs or network computers and printing facilities via any standard browser. The advanced server for SAA product connects up to 5,000 Windows users to up to 250 mid range hosts via the internet, or by using standard lan protocols.

The TeleLynk VoIP gateways are modular H.323 compliant boxes that convert any PC on any IP network into a gateway computer that may be connected to any corporate PBX telephone system, or directly to PSTN lines, via standard analogue or digital connections. With the kit on offer, the savings ramifications for companies hooking up remote workers are mind boggling, to say the least. 'Free calls take on a new meaning.'

Now, do you want real-time access to AS/400 based enterprise applications from a mobile phone or hand-held computer using Wap (wireless application technology) techniques? Intentia is promising this, integrated into the Movex enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Three beta test sites are running in Sweden, all three in the manufacturing arena, and involving after-sales service operations. Movex runs mostly on AS/400.

Linus Parker, Intentia's md in the UK, says: 'We can offer online real-time Wap access today, which opens up the mobile era for enterprise applications. We're beginning with the Swedish trials with applications for field service teams who can manage their own work schedules and make new appointments if priorities change. They can use mobile units to communicate direct - that's status, service requirements, and fault reports information, or ordering spare parts, or updating costs. Movex Wap reads and updates the AS/400 based database in real time.'

Other applications have also been earmarked by Intentia for exploitation, to provide customers with increased service levels. Parker points to sales teams being able to check stock levels, undertake product configurations and order processing, all in real time. Finance staff can check the status of debtor days and cash flow.

'We are expecting the technology to make a big impact on business, by encouraging a real-time work anywhere, anytime, any way culture,' says Parker. 'We're also expecting the impending release of hand-held devices combining personal digital assistant attributes with larger screens, and a mobile phone to increase usability substantially. When broadband communication is rolled out extensively, we're expecting an explosion in content, together with both audio and video input from mobile phone users.'

Jon Winsett, Seagull UK country manager, says: 'We offer a way to connect web-enabled wireless devices to business applications running on S/390 and AS/400 platforms.' The devices, including mobile phones and PDAs, can connect to the internet using Wap. This February, Seagull joined the Wap forum (www.wapforum.org) which now has 200-plus company members. The Wap forum was founded by Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, and Phone.com. There are expectations of 100 million mobile devices being Wap-enabled by 2003.

Seagull provides wireless-to-host connectivity through Java host session connector and J Walk and WinJa product lines. New software dubbed 'Williamsburg' is intended to automate the creation of XML and Java interfaces for S/390 and AS/400 applications, enabling companies to integrate core business systems with web sites, portals, e-communities, etc. 'Expect products soon,' says Winsett.

The moral of this piece appears to be remote workers and AS/400 can fit together rather well, which is another plus point chalked up for the little box. l

Facts and stats

Boasting 99.97 per cent uptime, AS/400 is the world's most popular multi-user, commercial business computer with 700,000-plus systems installed in over 150 countries. AS/400 is a key business system in 95 per cent of the Fortune 100 industrial companies, and 85 per cent of the Fortune 500 and second tier companies. There are some 30,000 applications written for the AS/400. Last October, AS/400 was awarded VARBusiness Magazine's 'most valuable player' award for mid-range servers in the magazine's 'annual report card'. IBM beat HP, Sun, and SGI in a poll of 3,800 value-added resellers, receiving the highest single rating for product quality.

With IDC pushing out stats on 10 million mobile professionals globally, the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) at the University of Sussex, Brighton, reckons 4-5 per cent of the UK workforce, or 1.2 million, are teleworkers. That number is expected to double by 2003. The European Telework Organisation (ETO) meanwhile says there are over four million teleworkers in Europe, up from two million in 1997.

Inexpensive telecomms and widespread usage of computers have enabled the possibility of relocating work to near anywhere. The IES in its report 'Teleworking and globalisation' answers many questions not addressed by traditional econometric tools and methodologies. IES defines a teleworker as 'a person who works at home or uses their home as a base at least one day a week using both telephone and computer'. In the wealth of fact in the report, the IES determines 52 per cent of all teleworkers are employees, 47 per cent are classified as self-employed, and 1 per cent as paid family workers.

The banking, finance, insurance, and business services sector accounts for 34 per cent of teleworkers, compared with 15 per cent of the total workforce, says IES.

There are no known figures to hand which relate to what processor a teleworker, mobile professional, or remote worker will link up with. But as the main feature describes, the AS/400 is adding another string to its bow, along with its mainstream competitors, through flexing its muscles in this space.

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