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Wireless Technology Without Reinventing Your Business

by Peter Wesche | SAPinsider

April 1, 2001

by Peter Wesche, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), April (Issue 2)
 

Around the world, IT professionals and management on all levels are being asked the same challenging questions:

  • Does our company have a strategy regarding wireless computing?
  • Is this technology ready for deployment, or is it too early?
  • Can we integrate wireless applications with our existing enterprise solutions?
  • Will it be affordable? How can we calculate the ROI?
  • Should we focus on wireless automation of enterprise communication, or on using mobile business information to better serve our customers?

     At the same time, service providers for the new economy - telephone companies, cellular carriers, Internet service providers, etc. - are struggling with the same types of questions:

  • How should my company play into this new technology?
  • Can the company survive without deep involvement in 3G1 networks?
  • If we offer Internet portals today for desktop technology, do they have to evolve into portals for personalized, mobile, and "tiny-access" handheld devices, too?

     With new devices popping up every few months, difficult choices in development environments, and different ways to deal with the requirements of mobile applications, it has been difficult to see a clear path for bringing advanced wireless services - including data and voice - to the market. mySAP Mobile Business changes all this.

     mySAP Mobile Business is SAP's methodology and technology that brings selected mySAP.com content to the wireless network. It allows IT professionals to move their enterprises to this new technology with a high degree of simple, incremental implementation, while at the same time protecting the company's current technology landscape, investments, and skills.

     By using a proven standard architecture, mySAP Mobile Business allows an enterprise to fully concentrate on the benefits of wireless technology: personalization, usability, and return-on-investment. For application service providers (ASPs), the openness and architectural flexibility of mySAP Mobile Business also provides a great opportunity to deliver wireless services to those mid-tier and niche enterprises that are still hesitant to deal with wireless technology on a larger scale.

The View from Here: The Rich Future of Wireless Computing

Wireless computing is the natural follow-up to the Internet. It builds on current technologies and practices, and it will eventually grow to reach practically everybody. Just look at what's being said about the present and future of wireless computing.

     By the end of next year, virtually all wireless phones will eventually become "smart phones" incorporating some form of Internet browser. Companies are now specializing in and even dominating this area, and phone manufacturers and analysts are providing stable forecasts for the spread of wireless devices accessing the Internet - to the point where these devices will exceed conventional wireline devices, such as PCs, by 2003 or 2004.

     The numbers and types of users of wireless technology has grown dramatically (see Figure 1). The number of users of smart phones is expected to grow to more than 200 million by 2005.

Figure 1 The Growth of Wireless Technology and Types of Users

     A common concern is the variety of approaches to enabling wireless technology visible around the world. Bluetooth technology for wireless integration of devices is one of the important buzzwords in this arena. Another is WAP - the Wireless Application Protocol.

     Bringing the Internet to mobile devices is exactly the purpose of WAP, as it has been defined by the industry-led WAP Forum.2 The WAP Forum cooperates with the Internet standardization body W3C,3 so that WAP has some of the characteristics of a true standard. Future evolution of WAP is clearly going to be the basis for wireless connected devices in a wide area network.

     In addition to phone devices, PDAs (personal digital assistants) are gaining a growing market and high respect (even cachet!) with professional users. These devices are linked to backbone systems, either via wireless networks or through the cradle synchronization technology that has been available for a number of years.

     When it comes to the business world, analysts agree that the ranks of mobile users will only increase. The Yankee Group expects the number of remote and mobile employees is likely to double by 2004, driven by increasing corporate support of mobile scheduling, collaborative applications, messaging, file transfer, and database and personal information access. Forrester Research predicts that more than 60 percent of all ERP users will be mobile by 2003.

     Marketplace portals are also part of the scope of PDAs today, as are employee self-service applications and travel management solutions. These types of solutions will be deployed to more than 50 percent of the installed SAP base by the end of 2002. There is also clear evidence that smart "superphones" will be merging smart phone technology with PDA standards in OS and application capabilities.

     Given these findings, it is now the time to extend standard office applications using the most promising scenarios for enterprise and collaborative solutions, and to enhance workforce productivity across the enterprise, especially in the areas of customer relationship management and customer service.

     Of course, some challenges remain: the need for a standard architecture for wireless technology, the lack of "trusted" wireless deployment standards, and the different "regional" approaches. And while there is a need to embrace wireless technology, most organizations find that their business content is provided by a proven environment that has been deployed over the last decade, and is regarded as a de facto standard for client/server business computing.

     The wireless age requires a new architecture that deals with various subsystems and macro-architectures, and presents a sound, easy-to-deploy, holistic approach: the Standard Architecture for the Mobile Enterprise, or SAME.

The Benefits of the mySAP Mobile Business Architecture

SAME is a platform-independent framework that enables mobile devices, such as palmtop computers, PDAs, and laptops, to run business applications offline and synchronize data with any SAP system (for example, SAP EBP,4 SAP Customer Relationship Management, or SAP R/3) via a standard Internet connection.

     SAME runs on both Microsoft and Java client platforms. This "two-lane" approach also allows true enterprise computing, since device decisions and consequences for the supporting architecture cannot always follow a one-vendor strategy.

     With this dual approach, device competition will not seriously affect the enterprise application architecture, and better investment protection can be expected.

     The SAME framework (see Figure 2) provides the following benefits:

Figure 2 The mySAP Mobile Business Architecture

Platform Independence

SAME is fully based on Java or Microsoft technology, so it runs on any platform that supports Java or the Microsoft .NET initiative. Currently, Java Virtual Machines are available for Windows CE, EPOC32, PalmOS (2001), and, of course, for any laptop operating system.

User Interface Represented by Built-In Browser

SAME is able to generate any kind of plain standard markup language (such as HTML) to allow for standard browser frontends. Therefore, a proprietary browser is not required to be installed on the device.

     Furthermore, the customer can easily change the "look-and-feel" of the application's user interface by simply changing HTML templates. Standard visual development plug-ins are also available.

Identical Programming Model for Desktop and Mobile Device

SAME supports two future programming models, ASP and JSP, to guarantee maximum compatibility with existing and future applications. In addition, SAP's installed base of the ITS (Internet Transaction Server), including Flow Logic applications, is supported.

Easy Switch Between Online and Offline Mode

For applications that function both online and offline, SAME allows you to run them in either mode. This feature allows for easy post-processing of submitted data in case of errors.

One Gateway for All Mobile Scenarios

SAME fully supports the mySAP Mobile Workplace and, therefore, perfectly integrates with all other types of scenarios, such as pure online scenarios or online-on-demand services, such as the SAP Handheld Service application. It includes the caching technology needed for offline browsing.

Built-In Data Storage and Synchronization Features

SAME offers a wide variety of application program interfaces (APIs) for storing data locally on the device and synchronizing data with an SAP system. Therefore, application developers do not need to handle any device-specific dependencies.

Open, Forward-Looking Technology

SAME includes a full application server platform for mobile devices, which allows you to develop any kind of browser-based applications. The only limitation is the available memory space. Synchronization with an SAP system is via a standard HTTP Internet connection.

Elements of SAME

SAME consists of four major parts:

  • Mobile Workplace for WAP and PDA
  • Web Server Plug-In
  • Components for data synchronization (SAMESync)
  • WAP infrastructure

SAP Mobile Workplace for WAP and PDA

As an integral part of mySAP Workplace, the SAP Mobile Workplace allows for a seamless use of the personalization and role-based concepts of mySAP.com enterprise and collaborative solutions. In addition to this conceptual and management benefit, the SAP Mobile Workplace contains device recognition technology that allows it to render the HTML content in a device-specific way. With this capability, it can publish any suitable information or content (including transactional content) to the mobile device in an acceptable format, according to the display and dialog capabilities of the device.

     It is now possible to implement powerful scenarios for a mobile device with very little development effort. There are no complexity restrictions, except hardware of the mobile device (e.g., memory), and no programming-specific restrictions.

     The Web Server Plug-In is located on the mobile device and enables you to run an offline scenario on the mobile device. This offline programming technique used is an Offline Application Building Block, such as JSP or ASP. In fact, several Offline Application Building Blocks can be implemented.

     The SAMESync Layer enables you to easily synchronize data on the mobile device with the SAP system and vice versa. The data exchange is completely handled by the built-in synchronization components and supports both XML/ SOAP as well as the HTML forms exchange. Both can be sent via the WAP server technology included in the Mobile Workplace.

WAP Infrastructure

As mentioned above, WAP is a standard for wireless technology. WAP-enabling a device means that it has a micro-browser that is wirelessly connected to the Internet via either a dedicated gateway server, the WAP proxy, or the WAP server (see Figure 3). In contrast to standard Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, WAP implements a specific protocol stack and a dedicated markup (presentation) language called WML, to handle such issues like low bandwidth, tiny screen sizes (form factors), and monochrome screens.

Figure 3 Data Exchange for Desktop and Mobile Devices

     Web browsers communicate with their respective Web servers using the HTTP protocol, and exchange HTML data. In contrast, WAP-enabled browsers receive WML data in a binary encoded format from a WAP server. The WAP server is establishing the connection to the Internet, and "speaks" HTTP. It requests a URL and receives the document. The binary encoding mainly serves as a means of compression, but is also used for encryption.

     Native Internet standards such as HTML, HTTP, TLS,5 and TCP6 are inefficient over mobile networks, and require large amounts of mainly text-based data to be sent. Standard HTML Web content generally cannot be displayed in an effective way on the small-size screens of pocket-sized mobile phones and pagers, and navigation around and between screens is not easy in one-handed mode. HTTP and TCP are also not optimized for the intermittent coverage, long latencies, and limited bandwidth associated with wireless networks.

     WAP was created to solve all these problems: it utilizes binary transmission for greater compression of data and is optimized for long latency and low-to-medium bandwidth. WAP sessions cope with intermittent coverage and can operate over a wide variety of wireless transports, using IP7 access where possible and using other optimized protocols where IP access is not possible.

     As an integral part of the mySAP Workplace, the WAP infrastructure has been tested by SAP to provide easier implementation of the SAME framework for the wide area wireless setup. SAP is currently working with major phone providers to create the best solutions for each customer.

Future Directions

Along with SAP's application development and role definition, a continuously growing number of mobile roles will arise from industry-specific and cross-industry application areas.

     Some areas where SAP is focusing on innovation of wireless technology include the following:

  • To make the best use of specific device capabilities, specific projects will be launched to provide best-in-class Mobile Solutions.
  • The relevance of voice control for better interaction with the device is obvious. SAP is in the process of evaluating several innovations that would handle advanced voice recognition for better user support.
  • Touchscreen technology also needs to be included in the overall concept of mobile solutions.

     Nothing today seems to be as much on the move as mobile business. Although the advancements seem to be confusing and create new questions along with opportunities, mySAP Mobile Business provides concepts to deal with them as they arise. The cornerstone of SAP's mobile business solution is a solid and stable architecture - SAME - that allows the enterprise to "go wireless," wherever people, process, and business scenarios demand it.

     SAP and mySAP.com solutions will continue to play their roles in providing the right infrastructure for advanced wireless technology, so that embracing mobile technology does not mean reinventing your business.

Mobile Roles from SAME Allow Employees to Access What They Need, Wherever They Need It

In these relatively early stages of wireless technology, applications must be tailored for the small screens of today's phones and PDAs. The more the application is able to make use of user roles and location information, the bigger the benefit to the user.

     A selection of mobile roles that are part of mySAP.com are:

  • Field service engineers. Service technicians usually feel hindered by large laptops. At the same time, they must be able to manage their schedule and time sheets, to requisition the parts needed on their calls, and to report details of a visit. For all this, a mobile device is the perfect tool, especially when this device can also handle notification via alerts.
  • Salespeople. Interviews with salespeople reveal that they look to mobile devices to create orders, check customer and contact data, and check availability of goods on-the-fly. MiniApps that provide sales support, check sales order status, and make "soft" customer data available are key to successful CRM handheld applications.
  • Employees. With a travel management scenario, employees throughout the company can create travel bookings over a WAP-enabled cellular phone in the SAP R/3 system. Using an online connection to the "Amadeus" flight booking system, employees can create a flight request, view the flight's status, scheduled flight time, aircraft number, departure and landing time, and confirm their flight. Such functionality is valuable not only for checking flight schedules, but also for rearranging flights online. Functionality planned for the future includes detailed hotel information, updates on availability of hotels and cars, and detailed overviews of employees' travel plans.
  • Managers. Reporting is a key function of every manager. In some cases, immediate availability of a small set of key figures is important, so there is a scenario for quick-and-easy access of data stored in the mySAP Business Information Warehouse (BW) via a WAP-enabled phone. This can be combined with the BW functionality of alert reporting, and therefore support sales managers with information stored in BW.

Peter Wesche received his degree in mathematics in 1978 and worked in management and program development in the retail and import/export industries. In 1987, he joined SAP AG in Walldorf to develop a retail system. With the introduction of the R/3 system in 1990, Peter took the position of development manager for the new SAP Retail product. In 1995, he took the position of Director of Product Management. Since mid-2000, Peter is responsible for solution-building for mySAP Mobile Business.


1 Third-generation technology. For example, 3G devices might incorporate the Internet, multimedia messaging, and multi-mode radio.

2 Under the leadership of manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, and phone.com (formerly Unwired Planet) among others. For more information, visit www.wapforum.com.

3 The World Wide Web Consortium. For more information, see www.w3.org

4 SAP's Enterprise Buyer Professional Edition.

5 Transport Layer Security.

6 Transmission Control Protocol

7 Internet Protocol.

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