A New WML Strategi from BusinessLink

Capitalizing on the power of Wireless Markup Language (WML) devices, ADVANCED BusinessLink is adding another dimension to AS/400 communication with a new feature in its Strategi middleware that allows for two-way interactive communication between an AS/400 and a user.

Using WML-enabled devices (phone, Palm Pilot, handheld device), Strategi provides users with the ability to interact with an AS/400 in real-time. It takes the information from the Internet and uses WML to convert it into text that can be displayed on the small character-oriented screens of these devices. Unlike one-way pagers that only allow users to access information residing on the AS/400, Strategi also enables users to submit information that can be stored in real-time on the AS/400.

"Strategi gives users the ability to interact with the AS/400 in a manner that was not previously available," says Chris Lategan, CEO of ADVANCED BusinessLink. "We provide conversational, interactive two way-communication that is unlike anything the AS/400 has seen."

WML-enabled devices are equipped with a mouse-like feature, giving users the ability to scroll down until they find the proper information. This way, the user can request a large amount of information instead of having to do separate transactions for each.

Lategan says there are two specific groups that ADVANCED BusinessLink is targeting with the new module of Strategi. The first is AS/400 sites with mobile workers, from sales reps to service technicians. Using any WML-enabled device, a sales rep can access a list of customers they have to visit and even click on a button if they need directions. After going to a customer's location, the sales rep can do a product availability lookup and then press a button to have the AS/400 generate and e-mail a quote containing the specific products of interest.

Once the customer makes they're decision, the sales rep can press a button and the order can be completed. A sales rep can also place orders while on the road. They simply push a button that dials the client's number and then go through the same process. The rep is notified of customer's receipt, calls the customer to confirm and uses the phone to place the order.

The second area is AS/400 e-commerce sites that want to move beyond the traditional means of purchasing online. By implementing Strategi, e-commerce sites have the ability to offer their customers another way of ordering. As long as the customer has a WML-enabled device, they will be able to order products without being online. "Sites like Amazon.com, NWA.com, Bank of America, etc. have all built handheld device initiatives recently despite having very successful Web sites," says Lategan. "They're motivated by the need to provide access to their product/services when customers are away from the desktop."

According to Lategan, ADVANCED BusinessLink made the decision to add this newest feature to Strategi when Sprint made their new phones WML-enabled. "When that happened, we decided to go ahead," says Lategan. "We're looking to take advantage of an emerging marketplace."

Lategan says there are many reasons why he expects Strategi to gain popularity. Besides empowering mobile workers with two-way interaction with an AS/400 and allowing e-commerce sites another way to service customers, Strategi is very easy to install, requiring only a WML-enabled device. "Installation takes less than 10 minutes," he says. "Typically, existing AS/400 applications can be extended to provide wireless services in a few days." ADVANCED BusinessLink also has a services team to design wireless interfaces and provide training and implementation.

Although WML-enabled devices are just entering the mainstream, there are indications that they will quickly pick up momentum over the next couple of years. A study by the GartnerGroup (Stamford, Conn.) says that that over 95 percent of new mobile phones shipped in 2004 will be WML-enabled.

"We have clients in 22 countries and when we started to talk to them about using handheld devices as a Web platform they became very excited about it," says Lategan.