On the Road

Oracle technology delivers rapid application development for the mobile enterprise.

By Philip J. Gill

September/October 2014

In today’s connected world, business happens everywhere. That’s why more and more organizations are realizing that their applications have to go with the business: from smartphones to tablets, enterprise applications are going mobile. This is where Oracle application development frameworks can help, by putting enterprise applications in the hands of mobile application users.

In addition to being the framework behind Oracle’s own packaged mobile applications and a powerful modernization solution, Oracle Application Development Framework (Oracle ADF) has provided a blueprint for the model-view-controller architecture of Oracle ADF Mobile, enabling organizations to create native mobile applications for a range of platforms leveraging existing expertise in Java and Oracle development frameworks. While Oracle ADF is a high-productivity, end-to-end development framework built on Java Platform, Enterprise Edition for enterprise applications, Oracle ADF Mobile has been an enterprise Java and HTML5–based framework for developing iOS and Android mobile applications from a single codebase.

Northumbrian Water
Headquarters: Durham, England
Industry: Water
Oracle Products: Oracle Application Development Framework, Oracle ADF Mobile, Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle SOA Suite, Oracle E-Business Suite 12, Oracle E-Business Suite Adapter, Oracle Database 10g, Oracle Database 11g, Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle Utilities Mobile Workforce Management

Texas Industries
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas
Industry: Construction materials
Oracle Products: Oracle Application Development Framework, Oracle ADF Mobile, Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle Database, Oracle E-Business Suite, Oracle Business Intelligence solutions

PowerSouth Energy Cooperative
Headquarters: Andalusia, Alabama
Industry: Utilities
Oracle Products: Oracle Application Development Framework, Oracle ADF Mobile, Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle WebLogic Server, Oracle Database

Oracle ADF Mobile was released in October 2012, and many organizations have used it to rapidly build and deploy mobile applications. In June 2014, Oracle announced Oracle Mobile Application Framework, which fully supports applications developed under Oracle ADF Mobile. (See the “Oracle Mobile Application Framework” sidebar for more information on this announcement.)

“Oracle continues to recognize the critical need for mobile enterprise applications,” says Joe Huang, senior principal product manager at Oracle. “With Oracle ADF Mobile and Oracle Mobile Application Framework, organizations have used—and will continue to use—their expertise in Java, JavaScript, or Oracle ADF to build mobile enterprise and industry applications.”

Opening the Spigots with SOA

Businesses in many industries are improving their operations by quickly developing and deploying mobile applications. One company doing rapid application development for mobile devices is Northumbrian Water, a water and sewage utility with 2.7 million customers in the northeast of England and 1.8 million customers in the southeast of England.

In 2012 Northumbrian Water determined that it needed to improve and organize its applications for better manageability and improved support. The organization uses more than 100 applications, from Oracle Applications such as Oracle E-Business Suite to many in-house applications developed with Oracle Forms and Oracle Database technologies. In addition, since approximately one-third of Northumbrian Water’s employees are mobile, providing them with mobile applications and access to corporate data was critically important.

Oracle Mobile Application Framework

In June 2014, Oracle unveiled Oracle Mobile Application Framework.

Oracle Mobile Application Framework simplifies the development of multiplatform on-device mobile applications. Features include support for multiple integrated development environments, including Oracle JDeveloper and Eclipse (through Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse); support for multiple development languages, including Java, JavaScript, and HTML; support for Apache Cordova plug-ins; and support for applications developed under Oracle ADF Mobile. Oracle recommends that new mobile application development be done with the new Oracle Mobile Application Framework.

“The new Oracle Mobile Application Framework offers an easy transition for Java developers to bring their development skills to the mobile world, leveraging their Java and JavaScript skills with the tools they already use,” says Chris Tonas, vice president of mobility and development tools at Oracle. “By integrating the mobile application developer experience on both the front and back end, we are helping developers deliver mobile applications to their organization faster and more efficiently.”

After discussions with Oracle, Northumbrian Water chose Oracle SOA Suite to help it rationalize its application portfolio as well as resolve some of the integration problems the company faced. “We are able to get cranky legacy applications to talk to each other in a very efficient way by using Oracle SOA Suite,” says Northumbrian Water Solutions Architect Ana Nicholson.

The company soon rolled out an iOS application built with Oracle ADF Mobile and using web services orchestrated with Oracle SOA Suite that allows Northumbrian Water managers to approve Oracle iProcurement requisitions from their mobile devices. Northumbrian Water’s Oracle ADF Mobile application development strategy has produced benefits across the organization.

“What we’ve done with Oracle ADF Mobile has been wonderful, not just from a business point of view but also from an information technology point of view,” says Mark Watson, lead architect at Northumbrian Water. “It’s helping get our personnel up to speed and familiar with new mobile technologies, composite web services, and more-modern application development frameworks.”

We just put the applications in our app store and our users with mobile devices consume them. . . . The time to market is a lot more rapid. ”–Mark Watson,
Lead Architect, Northumbrian Water

As a modern development framework and the core of Oracle ADF Mobile, Oracle ADF delivers modern application interfaces and modern development conveniences. “Oracle ADF gives a modern look and feel to our applications,” says Nicholson. “It offers rapid development with its framework, which has ready-made features that you just need to plug your business logic into.”

Managers at Northumbrian Water are now able to use the new mobile application to approve Oracle iProcurement requisitions from anywhere, at any time, as long as they have an iOS device. Managers can review and examine outstanding requisitions as well as approve new ones as they come in. In addition to putting its mobile Oracle iProcurement application into production, Northumbrian Water has also used Oracle ADF Mobile to create a mobile timekeeping application and rolled it out to 450 employees.

“The Oracle ADF Mobile applications we’ve deployed have been a great success,” says Watson. For Northumbrian Water, another business benefit of developing mobile applications such as its mobile Oracle iProcurement approval app and its mobile timekeeping app comes from the ease of deployment. “We just put the applications in our app store and our users with mobile devices consume them,” says Watson. “Upgrades and updates are fairly seamless, and you know they’re up and running in no time. The time to market is a lot more rapid than it is for traditional enterprise applications.”

Oracle Mobilizes Apps

Like most organizations, Oracle has made its applications mobile—from Oracle E-Business Suite to Oracle Cloud applications. And like many of its customers, Oracle has used Oracle ADF Mobile to do it.

Oracle’s application development teams have built new mobile applications using Oracle ADF Mobile for the same reason that Oracle customers have used it—because it provided a quick and easy way to natively deploy a rich set of back-end functionality to a range of mobile devices. Oracle has released more than 40 Oracle ADF Mobile–created applications in the Apple App Store alone for solutions such as Oracle Cloud, Oracle E-Business Suite, and Oracle’s PeopleSoft and JD Edwards applications.

“Oracle ADF Mobile technology has allowed us to very quickly build mobile applications for core Oracle enterprise solutions,” says Joe Huang, senior principal product manager at Oracle. “We’ve definitely seen a huge adoption of mobility, and we’ve leveraged Oracle ADF Mobile to very quickly build mobile applications for our solutions. With the availability of Oracle Mobile Application Framework, Oracle Applications teams will be able to release even more compelling applications that leverage the ever-increasing set of specialized device capabilities.”

Delivering on Time with Oracle ADF Mobile

Sometimes the greatest opportunity for creative uses of technology is in industries not traditionally associated with high tech. Take the case of building materials supplier Texas Industries (TXI), the largest supplier of cement in Texas, with more than 2,000 employees and annual revenues of close to US$900 million.

With Oracle ADF Mobile, even with a limited IT staff, we’ve been able to create good mobile applications—for different types of mobile platforms—which is huge for us. ”–Terry Marshall,
CIO, Texas Industries

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for automation to better serve our customers,” says Terry Marshall, CIO at Texas Industries. “The market for building materials is often commodity-based, so you really want to look at ways that you can differentiate your company from competitors, and we think mobile technology is one way we can do that.”

For example, you might not think of concrete as a perishable item, but it is. Timing is especially critical in the concrete business; a typical truckload of concrete has about a 90-minute shelf life—the concrete has to be delivered within this timeframe or it won’t be useable. On top of that, most construction involves the carefully coordinated delivery of many truckloads (sometimes more than 100) of concrete, as well as the coordination of the workforce at the job site to work with the concrete after it’s delivered.

That’s why the timing of the truckloads matters a great deal to TXI and its customers. It’s also why the organization developed a mobile application using Oracle ADF Mobile called ReadyTrac to help sequence concrete deliveries. Customers can use the app to do a variety of things, including get alerts when cement trucks leave the plant or when they arrive at the job site, monitor how much concrete has been poured and how much is on the way, search order history, and track truck locations.

“Our first Oracle ADF Mobile application took 10 weeks from beginning to end, and now we can roll out updates as well as a new application in 4 weeks. One week to build the application, 2 weeks for testing and user feedback, 1 week to release to the Apple App Store. True rapid application development with releases on a monthly basis!” says Bala Venkataraman, chief architect at TXI.

TXI initially used Oracle ADF to build an online customer portal, and then it moved on to use Oracle ADF Mobile to create enterprise mobile applications. TXI uses Oracle JDeveloper as the integrated development environment for its development, since Oracle JDeveloper supports both web and mobile app development. “The development process starts with identifying a datasource and creating services,” says Venkataraman. “After you build out your services, Oracle ADF Mobile becomes a platform for rapid application development.”

By using Oracle ADF Mobile, TXI was able to create native apps for both Apple and Android devices. The initial ReadyTrac application has worked so well that TXI has developed three other mobile applications.

“With Oracle ADF Mobile, even with a limited IT staff, we’ve been able to create good mobile applications—for different types of mobile platforms—which is huge for us,” says Marshall. “Oracle ADF Mobile gives us flexibility to deploy our custom apps to multiple platforms.”

More people are demanding the ability to capture and view data out in the field than ever before. . . . Oracle ADF Mobile is helping us overcome those challenges and get data to and from the field. ”–Kenneth Jones,
Business Systems Supervisor, PowerSouth

In addition, building mobile apps using Oracle ADF Mobile doesn’t require extensive expertise with native coding capabilities for the target platform. “To build mobile applications using Oracle ADF Mobile, you don’t need an army of developers, but you do need a good design sense, a good architecture, and a good understanding of your data,” says Venkataraman. “With Oracle ADF Mobile you don’t have to know Apple Xcode or the Android SDK; you actually write it in Java, and Oracle ADF Mobile writes the Apple or Android code for you. We can use one platform and one codebase and deploy it to the web, to an iPhone, to an Android phone, or to a tablet.”

Powering Up with Mobile Apps

Managing electrical power requires managing information about locations on the power grid, and mobile apps can help power companies do that more effectively and efficiently. PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, based in Andalusia, Alabama, is improving its business by managing location information with Oracle ADF Mobile.

PowerSouth is an electricity generation and transmission cooperative serving more than 900,000 customers throughout central and south Alabama and the northwest Florida panhandle. Like many organizations, PowerSouth currently runs a number of Oracle Applications, including Oracle E-Business Suite, and custom applications developed using Oracle Forms, Oracle Reports, PL/SQL, Oracle Application Express, and more.

In 2013, PowerSouth partnered with PITTS America, a Troy, Michigan–based company, to create its first two mobile applications—one for managing and maintaining information related to each substation, and the other to provide operational information to top managers, directors, and vice presidents.

PowerSouth decided to use Oracle ADF Mobile for the apps because the company wanted to be able to quickly, easily, and securely deploy enterprise applications to mobile devices such as Apple iPads.

“We needed to create mobile applications that would be easy to use and let us capitalize on our existing infrastructure,” says Kenneth Jones, business systems supervisor at PowerSouth. “For us, Oracle ADF Mobile was the way to go. I really like what it can do on a mobile device.”

For the mobile app related to substation information maintenance, the goal was to give field inspectors powerful and real-time tools for inspecting and maintaining the cooperative’s substations. In addition to capturing data about each substation, PowerSouth’s field inspectors can also take photographs and collect GPS information to document situations and equipment. The end result is that field inspectors can get their jobs done faster, with a higher level of detail, while collecting more-precise maintenance information.

The new substation information application runs on an iPad and communicates wirelessly using a secure VPN connection back to the organization’s Oracle WebLogic Server. It can also be used in an offline mode when no wireless signal is available. No user training is required for the apps, and they tie into PowerSouth’s existing infrastructure, so the company didn’t have to purchase any additional servers or other back-end hardware.

“We’ve been able to give our employees in the field a lot of information about each substation that they never had before, such as the previous month’s inspection,” says Jones. “It not only makes it easier to record the information, but it allows us to be more proactive on our maintenance of the substations as well as analyze trends over time.”

From Jones’ perspective, the need for mobile applications is only going to increase. “More people are demanding the ability to capture and view data out in the field than ever before. I believe there’s going to be a constant push over the next few years to make more data readily available in the field, and as an IT organization, we’ve got to be able to get it out there somehow,” says Jones. “Oracle ADF Mobile is helping us overcome those challenges and get data to and from the field, extending our enterprise applications to our mobile workers. For PowerSouth, using Oracle ADF Mobile has worked out really well.”

Next Steps

LEARN more about
 Oracle ADF
 Oracle ADF Mobile
 Oracle Mobile Application Framework


Photography by Samuel Zeller,Unsplash