IBM brings location awareness to MobileFirst apps

Enterprise apps built with IBM’s MobileFirst management and development platform can now be made more aware of their surroundings.

The new capabilities, included in an upcoming MobileFirst update, could give app users more information about their location and let enterprises more granularly tailor their apps to user needs, said Mike Gilfix, vice president of IBM’s MobileFirst platform.

MobileFirst is IBM’s package to build enterprise mobile applications that tie directly into the data and business logic of backend IT systems.

The software is targeted at those organizations that don’t have sufficient in-house IT or development staff to fully build and support apps. About 75 percent of organizations have a backlog of up to 20 mobile apps that they plan to build, but haven’t yet, according to a survey commissioned by IBM and conducted by OutSystems.

MobileFirst is designed to address common challenges enterprises face when building mobile applications, such as setting up security controls, establishing conduits to back-end data sources, and analyzing the app’s usage to better understand the users.

One new module, called Presence Insights, provides a set of location services, which can track a user’s movements inside a building. For example, data from multiple users can be aggregated to show traffic flows through a retail store or through a conference site.

Such information could be used to see where shoppers go when they enter a store. Such information can be used to help determine where to place products. It could also be used by concert venues to redirect attendees to the snack vendors with the shortest lines.

Another new module, the Cloudant Data Layer, provides a synchronization mechanism that assures the mobile units have the same information that resides in back-end databases. Historically, synchronization has “been a huge pain for developers to write,” Gilfix said.

The software came from IBM’s purchase of Cloudant a year ago. It includes advanced locational functionality, such as the ability to synch to the closest database, which can be handy for globe-trotting workers who need information quickly.

Global cosmetics manufacturer Shiseido is using MobileFirst to build software for tablets that sales clerks will use to help customers choose the most appropriate products.

The software will provide information about Shiseido’s cosmetics, as well as general make-up tips. It will also collect information about questions that are being asked, which will give the company more information about trends and areas that need improvement. “You get tons of interesting analytics,” Gilfix said.

IBM did not disclose pricing for MobileFirst. The new modules will be available by the end of April.

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