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A Maemo Mobile Trade Client for Business Systems

Igor O. Semenov

In short term, the project develops a demo application that automates the work with a trade business system (TBS) in a mobile way exploiting the distinguished potential of Nokia Internet tablets and service-oriented architecture (SOA). In long term, we focus on an approach for integrating at a tablet the TBS functionality that a user needs to work within business processes regardless of her location and poor Internet access. This project is not for porting known applications (e.g, PC-, laptop-, or PDA-based) to a tablet. In contrast, we propose a pure mobile solution that enhances the existing TBS features and accelerates the recent SOA-based trends in this area.

TBS includes accounting (fiscal, taxation, personnel), support for trade, logistic, and some other business processes. An example TBS is ``1C: Enterprise 8. Trade Management'' (1C company, Russia). Users are trade agents, storekeepers, managers, etc. A typical TBS maintains a central data base (CDB); users retrieve and store business data, view reports, and produce documents.

When a business process needs traveling (outside a company building), a user has to take a lot of source data with her, collect new data from clients (typically, in paper form or in text files at PDA or laptop). Then---after returning to the building---she or another employee updates the data in the CDB. This approach leads to extra work, to mistakes when reading user's notes, and to unnecessary delays in the business process. There exist PDA-based solutions but they are restricted to a certain TBS and not so flexible as SOA-based ones.

Based on the SOA concept, the interface with CDB uses a set of services, typically web-services integrating the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). Recent solutions, however, are not pure mobile. Access the company TBS may be restricted within its LAN because of security reasons. Although a protected protocol like HTTPS can be used, the focus is on Internet browsers for PCs or laptops, hence a workplace is required when a user is outside. Summarizing, (i) a workplace at a third-party is insecure, (ii) deploying own secure workplaces at all points of interest is expensive, (iii) a laptop as a workplace is better than PC but it is not a pure at-hand tool compared with any mobile device (weigh and size barriers).

Our project targets a tablet-based solution. Web-services implement the TBS---tablet interface. All data that a user need for her business activity (a partial copy of CDB) are stored locally in a mobile data base (MBD). A part of TBS functionality moves to the tablet; a user retrieves and stores business data, views reports, and produces documents as if she is in the company building. The CDB---MBD synchronization happens when needed (e.g., new data are collected) and possible (e.g., Wi-Fi is available). For many functions no immediate network access is required since MBD substitutes CBD temporarily. Clearly, electricity is available at most client locations, hence the battery is not a very restrictive factor. Therefore, our application demonstrates a new type of mobile trade clients. Note that PDA has not enough capacity and features to implement such a client.

At the first phase, the project will produce a demo application for the MAEMO platform. We focus on TBS ``1C: Enterprise 8. Trade Management'' web-services. Our design, however, is flexible and configurable to other web-services (with the similar functionality). The primary user is a trade agent who visits clients (they are geographically distributed), provides them with related advertisement and other information on goods, collect clients' orders and comments, and then forward the data to the TBS for further processing. The web-services support XML data. MBD is an XML database implemented with LiteSQL, and allows SQL-requests. User interface is close to ``1C: Enterprise 8'' but adopted to a tablet display and mobile usability requirements. Web-service communications use SOAP with either an open (http) or protected (https) data transfer. Authentication is based on public/private key pair, and the OpenSSL library implements data encryption.

Although the project first-phase scenario is simple, it captures the key mobility issues and allows further extensions for other types of users and the required functionality. Examples include making photos of clients and goods, constructing routes for visiting clients (GPS-based enhancements are also possible here), notifications from TBS about new clients, goods or special offers, immediate reading commercial codes using camera, providing information on closely located goods when a user walks in a warehouse.