The Roots of Enterprise Mobility Run Deep

If you think enterprise mobility is a relative new phenomenon you might be surprised to discover that its roots run deeper than one might think. Many companies have been using industrial wireless mobility devices, with bar code ERP-connected software, to manage their business and supply-chain operations for over thirty years.

Industrial hardware vendors like Intermec, Motorola, and many similar companies have been providing wireless mobility hardware and software solutions since the mid-1980’s. Those early devices had proprietary text-based programming languages, like IRL (Intermec Reader Language) that allowed for the creation of very simple programs for basic supply-chain transactions. Bar code technology was in its infancy in acceptance as the standard for identifying products.

Those early enterprise mobility devices in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had limited functionality and capabilities for four reasons: (1) Chip technology has clunky, expensive, and power-hungry. Those early devices had variations of the 8080 chip design, which were the heart of early text-based PCs. Battery-life for the early portable wireless devices might go 4-6 hours. (2) Operating systems were primitive and also proprietary by each vendor and CPU. Those early vendors like Telxon, Symbol, and Intermec  hoped that their proprietary marketing schemes and hardware deigns would lock customers into using only their systems and programming tools. That strategy didn’t work out as well as they hoped. (3) Wireless and wired connectivity was problematic and expensive. There were VHF and even a few UHF wireless networks offerings in those early day before the recent advent of WiFi and robust cellular networks. And, (4) software data integration into Enterprise environments was cumbersome and ODBC standards were in early stages of development. 

Despite these shortcomings, wireless enterprise mobility devices became increasingly popular with corporations that faced the prospects of supply-chain mandates. There were two stand-out projects that helped shaped the early acceptance of mobile enterprise technology:

(1) The US Department of Defense LOGMARS (logistical marking) project in the 1980’s mandated that defense contractors add unique bar code identification labels to every product purchased. There were two notable results from this project: Unique ID label standards were formalized and mobile hardware was ruggedized to withstand repeated drops on concrete for field utilization. This project impacted literally thousands of contractors to use bar code technology. Soon, these contractors realized that the labels they were applying for the US Government could also be used for their own internal enterprise tracking use as well. 

(2) The automotive industry, in a major shift in manufacturing practices, moved to a “just-in-time” techniques for their parts suppliers. The hundreds of parts used in building a car would only arrive at the assembly factory just-in-time for their usage. The only way to provide enterprise visibility of the arrival and movement of these parts internally was through the use of enterprise automated data collection technology. Using a label standard still employed today, AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) labels provided an automotive industry standard that all automotive suppliers employ. And, the need for immediate visibility of arriving products led to significant improvements in real-time enterprise data  software integration. 

It is hard to imagine today, but until very recently “batch” computer operations were common place. Enterprise main-frame and mid-range software programs ran overnight to refresh tables and programs for management usage. Inquires and look-ups were hours or days-old information at best. Still, batch information was a vast improvement over manual paper methods were information was perhaps weeks and months old. Can you imagine what an Internet environment would be like if this were still a predominately batch computer world? Do a Google inquiry and then wait a day for the answer??

The primary evolution impetus of today’s enterprise mobility can be traced to the introduction of smart devices which were first brought to market about seven or eight short years ago. The first mobile enterprise apps were primarily focused on delivering email outside the enterprise’s four walls.  Palm and Blackberry devices were the popular rage in the early 2000’s and they helped forge a new demand and need for corporate enterprise apps. I have both devices gathering dust n a drawer with other forgotten, now out-dated technology.

Fast forward to today with the now three-year old introduction of tablets, smarter-devices (like Android, iPhone), and full-featured mobile operating systems (like Android, iOS, Windows CE) with native, embedded graphic and video technology and one can easily understand why there is such an interest in extending and expanding the footprint of real-time enterprise software. There are new classes of enterprise users that mobile apps can assist.

What was merely a dream 15-years ago with enterprise mobility technology is now common place. Where will we be in another 15 years? Stay tuned.


Author: HorneMobile

World Traveler. Novelist with a day job. SME on supply chain solutions. SME on supply chain mobility. SME on Enterprise ERP solutions.

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