Friday Jan 29, 2010

Using Mobile Devices with Oracle E-Business Suite

It's been a wild and crazy week here in EBS Development; my workload seems to have tripled overnight.  In a desperate attempt to protect my inbox, here's a quick article that answers some common questions around the use of smartphones and other mobile devices with the E-Business Suite. 

Before I go into the details, though, it's very important to note that this particular area is evolving extremely rapidly.  If a search engine has brought you to this article long after its initial publication, you should check this blog and other Oracle sources carefully to confirm our latest position on mobile device support for the E-Business Suite.

Support for iPhones and iPads

Apple's seems to have had a good week with their iPad launch.  Even before that, interest in using iPhones with the E-Business Suite seems to be extremely high.  Oracle offers several official iPhone apps that are related to the E-Business Suite, including:
Apple has indicated that all existing iPhone apps will work transparently on the iPad as well.  I'm sure that the Oracle teams who currently produce iPhone apps will be only too-pleased to justify their purchase of iPads to do these certifications.

Using smartphones and mobile devices with EBS self-service apps

Some E-Business Suite products offer web-based screens that can be accessed by standards-compliant browsers.  These products have HTML-screens, are built using OA Framework, and are sometimes referred to as "Self-Service Web Applications" (SSWA).

We officially certify and support these web-based products in Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i and 12 with:
  • Various Windows desktop clients running Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8
  • Various Windows desktop clients running Firefox 3
  • Mac OS X desktop clients running Safari 3
We do not conduct any formal certification tests of the latest smartphone or mobile device browsers with the E-Business Suite.  To be explicit about this, we do not currently test the E-Business Suite with:
  • Mobile Safari running on iPhones
  • Internet Explorer Mobile (formerly Pocket Internet Explorer)
  • Opera Mobile
  • Firefox Mobile
  • BlackBerry Browser
  • Other mobile device browsers
If a mobile browser is standards-compliant (e.g. passes the latest Acid test), it might work with the E-Business Suite's self-service HTML screens.  However, if you experience any issues with a mobile browser that cannot be reproduced on a certified desktop browser, our recommendation would be to use a desktop browser instead.

Using smartphones and mobile devices with EBS Forms-based apps

Some E-Business Suite products run in Oracle Forms.  These Forms-based products require the use of Sun's Java Runtime Engine (JRE) to run.  We test the Sun JRE with Windows-based desktop clients.  We do not test any mobile Java clients with E-Business Suite Forms-based products, and I would be rather nonplussed if I received any reports of this configuration actually working.

If you encounter any issues with mobile-based Java clients that cannot be reproduced on a Windows-based desktop client, our recommendation would be to use the latter client, instead.

Using standards-compliant mail clients to approve Workflow notifications

Oracle Workflow is a key part of the E-Business Suite's technology stack.  It can be configured to send emails (via SMTP) that notify E-Business Suite users that certain EBS transactions are awaiting their approval.  E-Business Suite end-users can respond to those notification emails by clicking on a link in those emails, or responding with an email containing certain keywords in the body of a reply.

We test Workflow and E-Business Suite notifications using Windows desktop based email clients such as Microsoft Outlook.  We do not currently perform any tests of Workflow notification emails with mobile devices such as iPhone Mail app or BlackBerry Email.

We would expect standards-compliant email clients to be able to handle Workflow notification emails properly, including email clients on mobile devices.  Some mobile email clients are unable to handle standards-based emails, and other email clients may truncate long Workflow notification emails.  These issues may prevent certain email clients on mobile devices from handling Workflow notifications properly.

If you encounter issues with Workflow email notifications on smartphones or mobile devices that can't be reproduced on a conventional Windows desktop-based email client, our recommendation would be to process Workflow notifications on the latter.

On a side note: technically-inclined readers might be interested to hear that we're aware of at least one web-based email client that does not comply with RFC 2368 in its handling of new line characters in mailto URL encoding.  Web-based email clients with issues like that will be unable to handle Workflow notifications properly.  If you encounter issues with web-based email clients that cannot be reproduced on a conventional Windows desktop-based email client, our recommendation would be to process Workflow notifications on the latter.

Your feedback is welcome

As I mentioned above, it's very important to note that this particular area is evolving extremely rapidly.  This article represents a snapshot of our current certification and support position, but this position reflects the relatively small demand for mobile device support today (at least when compared to desktop-based users). 

We're always monitoring demand for new requirements, so your feedback has the potential to influence our priorities for mobile device support.  You would be amazed at how important decisions about product strategy can be influenced by a small amount of direct customer feedback. 

If your organization plans to support the use of smartphones or other mobile devices with the E-Business Suite, we'd be very interested in hearing from you.  Post a comment here, or drop me a private email with details about:
  1. E-Business Suite release and products in production (e.g. "Oracle E-Business Suite Release 12.1.1, running iExpenses, HRMS, and Financials")
  2. Who will be using mobile devices with EBS, and in what scenarios? (e.g. web-based EBS products, Workflow email notifications)
  3. Numbers and types of mobile devices to be deployed
  4. Deployment schedule
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The preceding is intended to outline our general product direction.  It is intended for information purposes only, and may not be incorporated into any contract.   It is not a commitment to deliver any material, code, or functionality, and should not be relied upon in making purchasing decision.  The development, release, and timing of any features or functionality described for Oracle's products remains at the sole discretion of Oracle.

Full disclosure:  I own shares in Oracle and Apple.  This article is intended to describe our current certification and and support position and is not an endorsement of Apple products.

Wednesday Jun 03, 2009

Hands-On with Oracle's iPhone Apps

The last time Steven covered the iPhone was November 2008, which is roughly 1948 in Internet time. Heck, the App Store had less than 9,000 apps in it back then and it's now just around 40,000 apps. Oracle has been enabling our enterprise solutions for that platform and many of them impact EBS administrators, so we'll summarize them here.

E-Business Suite Specific Applications

Screenshot of Oracle iPhone Expenses app Steven noted that Oracle Business Approvals for Managers is now Available for the iPhone. That really is a cool solution. Using Oracle Workflow for expense reports, purchase order requisitions, human resources vacancies, and HR job offers, Release 12 end-users can perform approvals on the fly in a native iPhone app, including drilling to detail on each notification.

Our SOA technologies allow us to add on new user experiences like the iPhone UI, but architecturally it's just like a Rich Internet Application. Because of this, we can use the same infrastructure to support Oracle Business Approvals for Sales Managers for the Siebel CRM platform with all the same advantages. The E-Business Suite version had been downloaded through the App Store over 12,000 times as of March 2009, so this must be old hat for some of you.

Also, integrated to Approvals or standalone, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition users can now access reports and alerts through Oracle Business Indicators. Indicators will be increasingly useful to E-Business Suite shops as they take up the Oracle Business Intelligence Applications.

The BI Apps deliver ETL, integrated security, schema and metadata, reports, dashboards and more for E-Business Suite 11i10 and R12 instances, as well as the other Applications Unlimited stacks and even third-party applications. The Indicators app has seen over 43,000 downloads in its first 7 months!

Screenshot of Oracle iPhone app Business Intelligence Indicators

A New App: Maintenance Workbench for Oracle Enterprise Asset Management

New with E-Business Suite Release 12.1 is the Maintenance Workbench application for Oracle Enterprise Asset Management. The Workbench app allows a field user to pull up nearby assets using the iPhone's GPS, integrating Google Maps information for navigation, and then allowing the execution of work orders on the phone. Manage your asset-intense operations? There's an app for that!

Accessing EBS Self-Service with Safari

You know -- because E-Business Suite has been an Internet-only solution since, well, since shortly after there was an Internet -- I forget sometimes to mention that all of the Self-service or Oracle Applications Framework/JTF user interfaces function pretty well on Mobile Safari.

Quick tip - remember to enable pop-up windows, which is off by default in Mobile Safari. We use them for LOV lookups.

In testing Managers, I created that expense report in iExpenses on the fly, and when I needed to turn off the Personalization profile option for OPERATIONS user, I did that right from the iPhone. You get a lot for free around here, huh? Here’s iSupplier because I thought it was more interesting…

Screenshot of iSupplier running on iPhone Mobile Safari

Oracle CRM iPhone Apps

Screenshot of Oracle iphone app CRM On Demand Mobile Sales Assistant

Oracle's Application Integration Architecture provides prebuilt integrations for the Apps Unlimited products, built on a standards-based Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) platform. One interesting product here is a Process Integration Pack that integrates Oracle's hosted multi-tenant Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform with Oracle E-Business Suite. Oracle CRM On Demand Integration Pack for Oracle E-Business Suite (Opportunity to Quote) allows E-Business Suite shops to adopt CRM for their field sales forces, and we're supporting that through several iPhone user interfaces.

I've had a chance to play with Oracle Mobile Sales Assistant against our test CRM On Demand instance, and it's great. The replication of data is near real-time. You can seamlessly switch between local iPhone contacts and CRM On Demand contact information. You can even update tasks offline when you should be sleeping on the airplane - all big wins.

The CRM On Demand apps are rounded out by a dedicated application for managing Sales Forecast information. You can get more info on that here.

And lest we forget, the CRM On Demand folks also support the BlackBerry - but that's a different blog entry.

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