GRC
HR
SCM
CRM
BI


Article

 

SAPConsole: SAP's Missing Link for a Native Character-Based Radio Frequency (RF) Solutions

by Chris Schultz | SAPinsider

July 1, 2001

by Chris Schultz, Datavision-Prologix SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), July (Issue 3)
 

      In the latter part of 1999, SAP quietly introduced a product named SAPConsole to address the issue of supporting character-based RF (radio frequency) devices in a completely native manner. Since that time, there has been an incredible amount of interest in this solution.

      SAPConsole is a translator, and its main purpose is to translate SAP's graphical-based screens (SAP GUI) into character-based screens. It does not contain any business logic, external databases, or complex functionality. Rather, it is an alternative frontend to the SAP system.

      Simply stated, SAPConsole translates most SAP GUI screens to their character-based equivalents. And, like an SAP GUI session, SAPConsole connects you to SAP in real time.

Components of the SAPConsole Solution

      It is important to note that every component - the RF terminals, access points, Telnet server, and SAPConsole - serves as a "pipe" to the centralized SAP business logic and transactions that support the desired functionality.

      The RF terminals themselves are thin clients, meaning they contain only terminal emulation software and cannot operate without the connection to SAP - unless you design a "store and forward" component. Access points simply serve as an ethernet bridge, allowing the wireless terminals to connect to the hard-wired network via TCP/IP. The Telnet server allows each RF terminal to attach to the NT machine in a character-based mode (VT220 emulation). Selection of the Telnet server component is crucial since the server can offer several desirable features or be customized to solve additional RF-related issues.

      The technical requirements for an SAPConsole solution are listed in Figure 1.

Component Comment
Windows NT/2000 workstation or server attached to the network

Pentium III, 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, minimal disk requirements.

Estimate between 2.5-4 MB RAM per session, with the number of sessions limited only by RAM. You can utilize one centralized machine or several machines to host SAPConsole.

SAPConsole application, available on SAP GUI CD Release 4.6B or later

Needed to install SAPConsole and supporting DLL files on Windows machine.

Consists of sapcnsl.exe application, supporting DLL files, and SAPConsole Administrator control panel applet.

Telnet server that supports VT220 emulation

Any commercially available Telnet server that supports VT220.

Can add significant functionality to an RF solution. Average costs are about $5-$10 per client.

Any device that supports VT220 emulation RF devices include (in alphabetic order): LXE, Intermec, PSC, Symbol, Teklogix, Telxon
RF access point(s) Required if using RF devices.
Figure 1 SAPConsole Technical Requirements

SAPConsole Functionality

      The functionality of SAPConsole is often misunderstood. Since SAPConsole does not contain any business logic, all functionality is within the R/3 system and all development is accomplished inside the ABAP Workbench. The basic functionality of SAPConsole depends on which release of R/3 is implemented.

      For Release 3.1H through 4.6A, R/3 does not contain any functionality developed specifically for a mobile RF user. This does not mean that SAPConsole cannot be implemented. In fact, each component works exactly as described here. The missing piece is "SAP R/3 delivered" functionality - simply put, there is none. Custom "RF-enabled transactions" must be created or purchased instead. Fortunately, if you choose to explore this path, there are companies that can help provide that missing functionality.1

      However, with Release 4.6B, SAP R/3 includes a functional area known as Mobile Data Entry (MDE). As with most R/3 areas, it includes business transactions and the respective (IMG) configuration2 used to customize those transactions (see Figure 2). Currently, these transactions only offer LES (Logistics Execution System) functionality. Release 4.6B includes 22 MDE transactions, and Release 4.6C adds 26 more, including support for handling units. Although each transaction is operational once configured, SAP has incorporated numerous user and screen exits to allow extensive customization of each MDE transaction. Additionally, custom transactions can be added to enhance total system functionality.

Release Function
Release 4.6B and above Put Away (Confirm Transfer Order or Storage Unit)
Picking/Replenishment (Confirm Transfer Order or Storage Unit)
Material Inquiries
Physical Inventory Counts (in WM3)
Load Control (using shipments)
Release 4.6C only Goods Receipt using Inbound Delivery
Goods Issue using Outbound Delivery
Task Interleaving
Various Handling Unit Functions (Pick and Pack, Goods Receipt)
Figure 2 Mobile Data Entry Functionality

      Regardless of whether the transactions are custom RF-enabled transactions or part of the MDE function, they only differ from other R/3 transactions in one way - screen real estate. MDE transactions use only the upper-left quadrant of the screen. This method has been successfully utilized for years in the UNIX and mainframe environments, so application screens can be properly displayed on smaller-screen RF devices. Using the ABAP Workbench, a developer has complete control over screen content and size.

SAPConsole and Third-Party Alternatives

      Prior to the release of SAPConsole, RF support for SAP R/3 was addressed by third-party certified middleware systems. There are several technological approaches to RF middleware systems, and each one has its share of successes and failures. Is SAPConsole a replacement for middleware? For many companies, across almost all character-based RF applications, SAPConsole has turned out to be the best option available.

      Figure 3 highlights some of the main differences between SAPConsole and available middleware solutions (as a general category) that can be factors in deciding on an approach to RF support with an SAP system.

Issue/Feature Addressed by SAPConsole? Addressed by General RF Middleware Alternatives?
Real-time connection Yes. Real-time response. Most solutions are not real-time.
Continue processing
if SAP is unavailable
No, but there are some alternatives. Yes, if local database and synchronization mechanism are utilized.
Connection to other host systems (mainframe, AS/400, etc.) No. However, if legacy data is available in R/3, it becomes instantaneously available to an RF user. Some solutions offer this capability.
Technology costs Technology is included with the SAP system. Telnet Server cost is minimal. Potential for high middleware server and client license fees.
Development environment ABAP Development Workbench. Proprietary.
Printing support Numerous options. Native printing solution is available utilizing SAPScript. Numerous options. Could be proprietary.
RF device support Any VT220 device. Could be tied to specific manufacturer.
Support and maintenance Supported by SAP. Utilize the investment in SAP-trained corporate staff. Third-party support. Usually requires specially trained staff.
Testing Testing can be performed without additional hardware. Allows testing from SAP GUI. Needs operational middleware in place.
Upgrade path Follows same upgrade path as all other R/3 application modules. Can be complex, time consuming, and costly.
Scalability Using COM technology, customers can (using C++) write their own I/O engine and modify others. Can be complex, time consuming, and costly.
Form factor Customers can easily modify the information presented and size. Can be complex, time consuming, and costly.
Figure 3 Comparing RF Support in SAPConsole and Middleware Solutions in General

      Are there reasons for new projects to implement middleware? Every company has different constraints and requirements, and to say an SAPConsole solution provides all the answers is misguided. So, yes, middleware makes sense if your operations are 24x7 and the SAP R/3 system cannot offer 100 percent uptime. Material handling is another area where middleware enters the picture, and other examples could be added to the list. However, over the years, middleware implementations have had mixed results, so take great care during the decision-making process.

Maximize Supply Chain Performance with SAPConsole

As businesses scramble to fulfill customer orders, regardless of geographical boundaries and time zones, information delays will increase the chance of error and decrease customer satisfaction. How do you maximize supply chain performance? Real-time, accurate data transfer is a critical component in managing inventory across the entire supply chain, and handheld devices can be essential to this process.

Use a Wireless Approach for Instant Data Access

To provide better customer service and optimize warehouse activities, companies must have instant access to information about their resources so they can carry less inventory, fulfill orders faster and more accurately, and improve profitability. A key component is access to real-time information, and one way to achieve this is through a wireless network, and the bridge that receives and transmits radio frequency signals from the handheld device back to the network.

Lower Costs While Optimizing Resources

SAPConsole supports all major warehouse processes provided by SAP Logistics Execution System as well as all SAP R/3 modules. Because RF terminals communicate data directly to the SAP system, companies will increase ROI through the efficient flow of goods in the warehouse. Since SAPConsole is native to SAP, resources will be optimized, errors will decrease substantially, and workers will require less education. All of these factors contribute to a reduction of warehouse costs, and because SAPConsole is free to SAP R/3 users, total cost of ownership is dramatically reduced.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

Companies who have implemented SAPConsole within their R/3 environment are enjoying the ability to collect shop-floor data in real time including: plant maintenance inventory, goods inventory, picking, packing, warehouse storage, and physical inventories, among others. Additionally, SAPConsole can print barcode labels of purchase orders, packing and transfer slips, work orders, and any form needed, all of which can be easily scanned back into the SAP R/3 database. Barcode printing is by no means limited to mobile RF devices. SAPConsole supports printing to local printers and mobile RF printers that have IP addresses. The ability to collect, process, and validate information in real time is now a necessity for businesses to remain competitive, yet alone succeed.

Summary

      With native connectivity, real-time data updates, and an extensive library of customizable transactions, SAPConsole gives project teams a long-awaited and solid alternative to RF-based middleware. Additional functionality can easily be added to SAPConsole by utilizing existing company resources, therefore maximizing a company's investment in the SAP system.

      SAPConsole has many advantages over existing solutions, and its continually growing installation base is proof of further acceptance of this easily implemented character-based RF solution. As more information becomes available, companies are increasingly excited about moving toward a native RF solution - SAPConsole.


1 Datavision-Prologix is one such company, with experience in creating custom RF-enabled transactions for SAP R/3 Releases 3.1H through 4.6A.

2 The configuration is based on the R/3 system's Implementation Guide.

3 Warehouse Management component.


Chris Schultz is a senior member of the Datavision-Prologix SAP practice, specializing in wireless applications, including SAPConsole. He has hands-on experience with both middleware and SAPConsole implementations. Prior to SAP data collection, Chris spent 10 years designing software and integrating material handling/data collection systems. Chris can be reached at cschultz@datavision.com.

Datavision-Prologix provides wireless systems integration, enterprise-wide data management systems, mobile computing and wireless networking solutions. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Datavision-Prologix serves more than 3,000 customers in the healthcare, field force automation, warehousing, manufacturing, and education industries. A leading integrator of SAPConsole, Datavision-Prologix employs an in-house team of SAPConsole experts dedicated to implementing wireless barcode data collection within SAP R/3. For more information or to request an SAPConsole white paper, visit the Datavision-Prologix web site at www.datavision.com.

An email has been sent to:






More from SAPinsider



COMMENTS

Please log in to post a comment.

No comments have been submitted on this article. Be the first to comment!


SAPinsider
FAQ