Planes, phones & automobiles: Wap spreads its wings

Wap technology is not just reserved for the mobile phone, as Annie Gurton found at IBM's pervasive computing division

Wap technology is not just reserved for the mobile phone, as Annie Gurton found at IBM's pervasive computing division

So your globe-trotting executives want to change their itinaries in mid-journey and need to check that their revised schedules still fit with corporate policies. With IBM network operator Equant, end-users can buy British Airways tickets via their wireless application (Wap) Nokia phones.

The airline's global distribution manager Ben Leon says, "Using the Nokia 7110 Wap-enabled mobile phone, passengers are able to select BA flights chosen by their corporate travel department, so ensuring that flights booked adhere to their corporate travel policies.

"By integrating Wap with BA's existing distribution and fulfillment systms, including its Pay As You Fly scheme, BA's customers are able to ensure that their executives can book or change their flights from any location and conform to internal best practices."

Back on the ground, the latest Peugeot Citroen Xsasa Picasso, announced in September at the Paris Auto Show, features a number of intelligent automotive applications. It has mobile, Internet and on-board technology to provide online diagnostics, remote mechanical component checks, fleet management tools and a host of new driver-assistance functions such as stolen vehicle protection. The secure Internet-based telecommunications software device was developed by IBM.

Hidden benefits

David McKenzie, director of IBM's Pervasive Computing Division, says, "Cynics say that Wap promised much and fails to deliver but the reality is that there are many hundreds of fascinating applications out there already in use and delivering commercial benefits."

He sees Wap appearing in four main areas:

  • Mobile devices including phones and palm-helds for applications such as sports results and share prices

  • Telematics such as voice-activated systems for navigation or emergency applications and for cars to report their faults automatically to manufacturers and support technicians

  • The electronic home, with online shopping, interactive applications, security and for white goods, such as fridges, which have automated contents re-ordering or lifetime warranties with automatic performance monitoring by the supplier and engineers

  • Embedded technology which retains contact with the supplier or manufacturer and continually reports back through the product's lifetime.

    Most of IBM's Wap applications are developed with partners in all kinds of areas, from Nokia to Cisco and Intel, to small application developers. "By partnering with IBM, all parties are able to leverage isolated progress in research and development and can collectively deliver a range of added-value aspects to the customers," McKenzie says.

    The future of Wap applications and their take up is likely to lie with application service providers (ASPs) which use intelligent products produced by IBM and its hardware partners to devise software solutions. A great majority of Wap applications already have an IBM element, from fridges that communicate their user experiences to chips in optic dispensers in pubs and bars which record how much alcohol is dispensed and at what times, for better management and stock control.

    At IBM subsidiary Lotus Development, Wap is being used with Domino to deliver interactive employee incentives. McKenzie says, "Staff can access personal, online incentive schemes and select incentive awards using personal Wap devices."

    Performance specialist Maritz is using a Lotus Domino-based application to enable its customers to access an online incentive scheme that allows participants to create a secure personal file which they can access and interact with at any time and from any location.

    James King, Maritz marketing director, says, "Our Web Award Redemption Programme (Warp) delivers bespoke award collections, tailored to meet the exact needs and lifestyles of the participants. Users accumulate performance-related points that are redeemable against items including jewelery, electronic equipment and experiences such as a day racing a Ferrari."

    Wap extensions have been added to Warp making it easily accessible, so that participants can use their mobile phones to keep track of the number of points they have accrued and select or order their incentive award.

    "Before Wap we used brochures and catalogues to present incentives and ordinary post to keep participants aware of the status of their points. Now we have flexibility to change incentives without reprinting and redistributing the brochure and participants can check their incentive bonuses at any time," King says.

    The Maritz system was delivered by IBM partner Digital Union.

    But probably the most commercially interesting Wap applications are where it is embedded in supply-chain technologies. McKenzie says, "As the supply chain shortens and opens up, Wap can have a very powerful effect. Customers are reluctant to give away competitive advantage, but we are seeing retailers creating Wap links with warehouses from stores so that shelves are restocked automatically and quickly. The same information is passed to some suppliers to enable them to improve their delivery times. Wap is doing a lot to make competitive information available to those partners and customers who will know how to use it.

    "The benefits are that enquiries can be real time and automated, applications can be made far more flexible, and consequently businesses can be flexible too. Security is not perceived as a problem any more, and confidence in Wap is growing."

    Some IBM partners, such as Prism and Digia, are developing Wap applications that deliver an optimised supply chain, while others, like MobileLogic Macella Software, are developing applications which enable mobile workers to be better integrated with the central office so improving productivity.

    Because of the small size of the screens on Wap phones, pull technology is taking off. Users can see their e-mails and receive information they request, while push technology allows them to receive localised advertising and information according to their location. Technology is now coming through which allows Wap mobile phone users to publish content on the Internet. Products like M-notes from Airflash now permit both private and group publishing to the Internet and other Wap users.

    M-notes will make it easier for e-businesses to offer coupons and ticketing services, and advertise bargains and deals to its customers. McKenzie says, "The idea that Wap is faltering is completely wrong. For example, our Pervasive Computing Alliance is working with many large and small wireless development companies.

    "Already many applications are available on various IBM hardware, including AS/400, RS/6000 and Netfinity servers, plus the hardware of our many partners like Nokia. Wap is a booming industry, from applications which analyse sales force workloads to applications that optimise logistics and distribution.

    "We are saying to customers, 'If you have an AS/400 or RS/6000 then we can develop a Wap application which will improve your business'."

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