Mobile Internet for On-the-Go Workers

Vienna, Va.-based Relay Technology hopes to cash in on a new craze

As the mobile work force grows, employees are increasingly expected to have all the information that is available at the home office on the road as well.

Earlier this month, AT&T, Basking Ridge, N.J., launched a new service called AT&T Mobile Workforce Networking, which offers a private, high-speed network for access to company data. The service combines a customer information management system traditionally used by salespeople with other corporate data, creating an intranet.

The system also allows mobile workers to read and transfer e-mail and upload information. The service costs $359 a month for each user.

"[AT&T's] leadership in the convergence of communications and computer technology makes it the obvious choice in the next era of sales and mobile work force automation," said Bob Land, CEO of Adaptive Strategies Inc., Cherry Hill, N.J, which runs a mobile client/server service. But AT&T is hardly the only player in the potentially lucrative world of remote online access.

A local company, Relay Technology Inc., Vienna, Va., which has for years sold mobile communications products for client/ server, this month entered the mobile Web access market with Relay/On-the-Go.

Relay's newest offering is a step beyond desktop "caching," the process of storing World Wide Web pages and being able to view them from remote locations. Relay's system lets users access active Web pages, which means they get all changes and updates.

There are two types of target workers, said George Pappas, vice president of marketing and strategic relationships at Relay. One is the worldwide professional who often travels on airplanes and is usually a manager.

The other kind of worker, who Pappas calls the regional professional, is a manager, sales or support person who often travels in a car. Both, he said, are prime candidates for using their product.

The worldwide person is likely to do research on the Internet or his company's own intranet, making the most of his travel time. The regional employee would primarily use his company's intranet to give sales quotes and other information to potential clients while on the road. Both may go online to check competitors' work and communicate with their home office.

In addition, the system lets people create a personalized cache of Web pages. A user can request that he automatically receive updated Web information every time the page of a certain competitor changes, for example, or monthly updates from a certain division in his business. That lets the employee monitor information without having to actually search for it.

Besides doing research online, users can send and receive faxes and send files with the Relay system. "People don't have time when they are traveling to make a lot of phone calls," pointed out Pappas.

Businesses find that given the right tools, employees can be even more valuable outside the office, Pappas said. "Companies have figured out that when they give you a laptop they can get more use out of you," said Pappas.

The industries that especially would benefit from Relay's system are banking, insurance and health care, said Pappas. Current customers include Bank of America and Prudential Insurance. The Relay product costs $100 per user, with a minimum of 25 licenses, and a 20 percent annual maintenance fee. The system so far is not Macintosh-compatible, although Pappas said if the company gets a large Mac contract request, it would seriously consider creating a Mac version.

Pappas said Relay expects its new offering to be integrated into corporations' computer systems by some of the companies that specialize in that work. The systems integration market, many industry experts have said, fits perfectly with Internet and intranet worlds. "As soon as [in-house computer] people get comfortable, there's a new thing they have to learn," said Pappas.

Relay has some big competition from workgroup collaboration software providers, such as Lotus, whose Lotus Notes has become the industry standard in the area. The company is one of many that had sinking sales in a certain area and then launched Internet or intranet initiatives to revitalize the business. Pappas credits Ted Joseph, Relay's CEO who came to the company in 1994, with realizing that the company's current products wouldn't sustain its growth.

Now that it has a new strategy in place, the company is looking for an infusion of capital. Pappas said an initial public offering or investment is likely. The region has lately been attracting more technology money, he said. "The Washington area has been growing in venture capital. People from Boston are moving here," Pappas said.

Regardless of what kind of computer network that companies have, they need the ability to link mobile workers and maximize time, now more than ever before. "Everyone in business needs to move faster than they used to," said Pappas.

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