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Introducing Project Mobile Fast Track: A Quick and Easy Approach to Mobilizing Your Business Processes

by Hansen Lieu | SAPinsider

July 1, 2006

by Hansen Lieu, SAP Labs, LLC SAPinsider - 2006 (Volume 7), July (Issue 3)
 

Consider a sales rep out in the field who needs to make a line-item change to a purchase order, or an HR manager who wants to approve a travel request while attending a conference. The trick here is how to extend your company's working business processes and applications to that rep or manager's mobile device quickly and easily.

Traditionally, mobile-enabling your business applications requires addressing several challenges, including:

  • Adapting applications to the user interface of mobile devices — Smaller screens introduce design limitations, as does developing a standard screen that's optimal for the unique behaviors of a multitude of mobile technologies.

  • Hooking up different services in the back end — Leveraging available BAPIs and Web services, if they even exist yet, requires expertise and the proper tools.

  • Developing the mobile applications themselves — Traditional approaches to making business tasks mobile take a lot of expertise, time, and coding.

To address these challenges and enable business analysts and power users — not just seasoned developers — to extend applications and processes to mobile users (see Figure 1), SAP is introducing Mobile Fast Track (MFT), a project that delivers a design and development platform specifically for creating mobile business scenarios. With MFT, the typical development work involved in creating a mobile application can be replaced by a quick start in which one or two services are put to work to provide just what an information worker needs for a crucial task.

Figure 1
An HR Manager Can Seamlessly View and Approve a New Travel Request Through a Mobile Device's UI

In the following sections, you'll preview what MFT offers, how it works, and how its model-driven environment can help you meet your mobile users' needs — without a lot of development expertise.

What Is Mobile Fast Track?

Project Mobile Fast Track provides the tools, content, and methodology for creating versatile, industry- and role-specific business scenarios for mobile information workers. The MFT design and development platform is a plug-in that customers install on SAP NetWeaver and use with SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer to develop mobile applications (more on Visual Composer in the next section). MFT will be delivered with template applications that address common mobile needs across industries, centered on simple scenarios such as:

  • Workflow requests — Executing PO changes, leave and travel requests, credit approvals, or any other workflow that includes an approval process

  • Service requests — Updating service orders and confirming completed orders for subsequent invoicing, for example

  • CRM — Updating customer master data, viewing a sales quote, or creating a new lead

  • Asset management — Performing scheduled or unplanned maintenance or reporting breakdowns to trigger the creation of a service call, for example

The MFT platform and applications complement current SAP mobile solutions and expand the reach of enterprise applications. In MFT's initial release, business analysts and developers with little familiarity of SAP technologies will now have the building blocks they require to devise lightweight applications and extend them to their mobile users.

How It Works

Mobile Fast Track aims to simplify the development complexity traditionally involved in mobilizing business-process capabilities. It does this with a model-driven, pattern-based development approach — centered around SAP NetWeaver Visual Composer — that can be repeated and reused on multiple applications and mobile devices.

Visual Modeling to Hide Backend Complexity

With the use of Visual Composer, SAP's model-driven development environment, Mobile Fast Track makes development nearly as simple as drag and drop.1 Through Visual Composer, MFT provides a layer of abstraction from the technologies underlying your business processes. So instead of designing an individual screen or technical component, you're designing a process that takes user input and results in output from a system.

Think of MFT as an advisor that walks you through the creation of mobile applications using predefined templates, or patterns, as building blocks. With this pattern-based approach, you are modeling how the application will behave — and the interaction it will require — simply by stringing together various patterns and hooking different interaction components to your business applications.

For example, one important pattern in MFT is called Track Single Object. Once you select this template, simply choose the relevant BAPI or Web service from a list in Visual Composer and drag it onto the central modeling pane (see Figure 2). These listed services represent actions that can be requested by the application.

Figure 2
Business Analysts and Developers Can Use Visual Composer to Find the Appropriate BAPI or Web Service for Their Mobile Application

Let's use the example of the travel request we mentioned earlier. In this case, you could use the Track Single Object pattern and select the "ZGET_TRIP_DETAILS_V2" BAPI or a corresponding Web service to call the details of the travel request. Then select what input fields to display in the UI, model the order in which you'd like them to appear, and repeat the process for the service's output fields.

Patterns to Promote Reusability

Once you decide which objects you'd like to use and what you want them to do, you can then select from a set of reusable pattern templates that address common application styles and behaviors. There are patterns for requesting approval, changing information, or displaying search results, for example.

Patterns give you a head start, but remember that nothing is set in stone. Once you have assembled an application, you can adjust the patterns as needed to automate a mobile business scenario from beginning to end.

And that's all there is to it! After completing these simple steps, the application's screen layout is pregenerated and you can deploy the application.

Predefined Settings to Roll Out Mobile Applications to Multiple Devices

The secret of model-driven, pattern-based development is that as much complexity as possible is hidden from the developer. But another extremely important facet of mobile development is the idea of reusable mobile applications — once an application is modeled, it can be used on many popular enterprise-oriented mobile devices (see Figure 3).

Figure 3
Once an Application Is Modeled, You Can Deploy It on Many Popular Mobile Devices

For example, MFT pregenerates the screen layouts of mobile applications and determines how they will look in the handheld's browser (see sidebar), automatically taking into account the different devices your users will be working with — a BlackBerry's track wheel or a Pocket PC's touch screen, for instance. MFT takes away all the underlying complexity and allows users to get up and running with reusable mobile applications, even without knowing how to develop in the Web Dynpro environment.

Choosing a Browser That's Optimized for Mobile Devices

MFT applications can run on the SAP-supplied Mobile Business Client or on the device's native browser. While native browsers handle most scenarios quite well, the Mobile Business Client — because of its integration with SAP NetWeaver and the back end of SAP applications — offers better performance, a richer user experience, and integration with the phone capabilities of the device. On the server side, MFT applications are optimized to run on the Mobile Web Dynpro for Java component of SAP NetWeaver as opposed to native browsers, which run from a Web server. As a result, Mobile Business Client offers quicker response times, as it optimizes the content sent between the client and the server. Additionally, the rendering of the screen is performed on the client and not the server, further enhancing the end user's experience.

A Services-Based Foundation

MFT could not exist without the foundation provided by SAP NetWeaver and enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA).2 It's through enterprise SOA that MFT can hook into all the different processes and services that users need to access on the road.

By providing development tools, services-based access to applications, and infrastructure on handhelds and servers, SAP has created an ecosystem for mobility, a mobile version of enterprise SOA that will unlock the creativity of developers, business analysts, and power users.

Continuing on this enterprise SOA path, MFT will allow the construction of more and more complex applications by simply layering these smaller services and scenarios together. With this approach, SAP, partners, and customers can create template applications and enterprise services tailored to a variety of mobile needs across industries and processes.

Conclusion

Employees need access to critical business information and applications — whether they're in the office or not. But "going mobile" doesn't necessarily mean having to reinvent the wheel. By starting with a simple design and development environment, Project Mobile Fast Track opens up the possibilities for mobile-enabled business processes, giving business analysts the opportunity to design their own mobile applications, whether it's to connect with a sales partner or update inventory about a needed part.

With the visual, pattern-based, reusable modeling capabilities that MFT provides through SAP NetWeaver and Visual Composer, your mobile-enabling projects can move as quickly as your field teams do. Companies can begin to look for the release of the Mobile Fast Track design and development platform by the end of the year.

For more information on mobile-enabling your existing applications, please visit www.sap.com/solutions/mobilebusiness.


1 For an introduction to Visual Composer, see "Visual Composer — A Model-Driven Development Tool for Enterprise Portal iViews" in the October-December 2004 issue of SAP Insider (www.SAPinsider.com).

2 Enterprise SOA — also known as enterprise services architecture (ESA) — is SOA plus enterprise services, Web services with additional enterprise-level business meaning.

 


Hansen Lieu is a Senior Marketing Manager for Mobile Solutions at SAP. He has over 13 years of experience in the IT industry in various roles, from consultant to product manager to marketing manager. In the last six years, he has been focusing on building and marketing mobile applications and technologies for enterprises. As a marketing manager at SAP, he drives the evolution of SAP mobile solutions with input from customers and partners. He also works with product teams to bring new products to market. He can be reached at hansen.lieu@sap.com.

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