GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Converting applications for wireless access
Employees do not have to learn programming to create screens.
New wireless government applications are beginning to arrive on the market just as hand-held wireless devices, such as Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) enabled cell phones, are becoming more affordable. The applications serve the needs of many government entities, including public works, tax collection and public safety departments. Law enforcement officers, for example, can use wireless applications to conduct criminal background checks in the field.
Because of their decreasing price and improving technology, wireless devices will be used by 25 million people in the next five years, according to Strategis Group, a Washington, D.C.-based telecommunications consultant. However, most government agencies have been moving slowly to take advantage of wireless devices, mainly because they have to purchase applications in addition to the devices, and because most wireless government functions require multiple devices to perform.
That could be changing, however. A new generation of graphic user interface (GUI) tools is reducing the time required to migrate government applications to wireless devices.
Typically, host-based applications can be converted for wireless access in a few days using the new tools, which makes it easy to provide information to employees and residents outside government offices. Also, with the new tools, IT employees can eliminate unnecessary screens, fields and graphics from the host application, and they can convert complicated host screens into multiple wireless screens without changing the host application or software. The multiple screens keep information together in a logical order and prevent users from scrolling up and down and side-to-side to view all of the information.
In addition, employees do not have to learn programming or scripting to create wireless screens. The new tools automatically convert elements of host screens into wireless form and let employees drag and drop elements, including clickable hot spots and links, to create interactive wireless screens. Employees also can reorganize workflow, reset tab orders and hide fields on each wireless screen to make the applications easy to use.
The process of customizing government applications for wireless devices using new GUI tools is similar to the process of customizing host applications for use on the Internet. The main difference is the smaller size of wireless screens compared to standard PC monitors. To help employees make sure wireless screens appear correctly on Palm Pilots, for example, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm provides a downloadable tool that mimics the behavior and appearance of the screens on PC monitors.
Once the wireless screens are created, employees load the wireless applications on Web servers that interface with the host applications. The servers generate a browser-based HTML interface to the host. The host then sends the HTML to the government’s online service network where it is compressed for low bandwidth wireless transactions and sent to the hand-held device. After the end-user makes a selection on the hand-held, the process occurs in reverse.
When it comes to wireless-to-host Internet connectivity, the pivotal issue is the speed and ease with which the host application can be adopted for use on the small screens of wireless devices. In the next several years, as government agencies work to become more efficient, and as real-time connections to legacy information become more important, hand-held wireless devices will become a compelling government platform. That will be truer as the performance of wireless technology improves and higher bandwidths become available.
Yampel is president and chief technical officer of New York-based ResQNet.com, and Eskenazi is the company’s vice president of marketing.