Companies that want to keep up with the demands of a dynamic business environment must be able to rapidly extend their business processes to their mobile workforce — no matter how quickly the requirements of those business processes change. This requires IT departments to develop and customize more and more mobile applications to help meet the business's envisioned goals.
These mobile applications provide great value when they are designed to tap into the power of back-end systems. However, this alone is not enough for such an application to be successful. To have any lasting effect on the business's overall goals, mobile solutions must also be widely adopted by their intended users. The challenge then is for IT to provide flexible, mobile capabilities that meet business needs and entice users to take advantage of them — and to do so without a significant resource investment.
Previous Mobile Matters columns have introduced SAP's newest mobile solution, SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1; these articles have covered everything from its ability to alleviate typical mobile device pain points to a six-step migration strategy.1 Here, I'll explain the critical IT and business benefits of the solution's modeling and component capabilities, look at an example use case, and underline the importance of extending your business processes to your mobile environment.
SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 Brings Speed and Flexibility to Mobile Application Development
SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 comes with an application development environment that focuses on speed, reuse, and consistency. Its building blocks are modeling and component capabilities, which enable key integration with back-end systems and other important benefits (see sidebar).
Modeling Tools and Their Benefits
SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 provides IT with intuitive, wizard-like modeling tools — rather than requiring extensive manual coding — to specify and design a mobile application's characteristics and behaviors. (When I say IT here, I include business analysts under this heading; I'm not necessarily talking about expert developers.) These characteristics and behaviors include the kinds of data to be used, such as customer ID, order number, or part number information, and how this data will be presented to the end user — through a drop-down menu or button, for example. Let's now consider the IT benefits of this modeling approach:
- An intuitive development environment gives IT greatly simplified business logic programming and UI design (see Figure 1). This means IT can more quickly build custom, mobile processes to meet changing business requirements, freeing up time to work on more strategic business projects.
- Application development time can go from spanning months to days since modeling removes the need for developers to write code — which again frees up IT resources.
- The environment promotes a cleaner application architecture by eliminating errors formerly introduced by manual coding. This, in turn, reduces testing time and eases debugging.
- IT can quickly build and deploy mobile applications that are well integrated into SAP Business Suite (as well as non-SAP applications), ensuring that mobile applications are harmonized with those back-end applications.
- Development costs plummet now that IT can build customized mobile solutions by reusing previously built models.
The intuitive development environment of SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1
What does this all mean? It means speeding up the development process, getting mobile applications out to more people, supporting those mobile applications, and really extending custom business processes out to the mobile environment.
|Don't think about building mobile applications — think about how you're going to extend your business processes to your mobile environment.
Component-Based Architecture and Its Value
Along with extensive modeling capabilities (see sidebar), SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 also features a component-based architecture that allows IT to compose mobile applications by stringing together sets of components, self-contained entities that perform specific tasks — order entry, product catalog, or customer management, for example.
These components are also reusable across different mobile applications. Think of them as prepackaged sets of business functionality with a UI. For instance, perhaps you have five different applications, all of which involve placing customer contact information in your mobile device's contact list. With components, you can ensure this information will always look the same in a clean, layered architecture — allowing your users to work in a consistent, familiar setting and navigate expertly among the various applications.
Components greatly shorten the time needed to develop mobile applications, thereby directly reducing costs. Building an application from many reusable components also saves time since developers won't need to code the same functionality repeatedly. Debugging also gets easier with components because IT can isolate a bug and address it in a specific component across all applications rather than having to debug a complex, monolithic application.
Components can also be tailored for specific roles. If different roles use the same application for different purposes, for example, IT can deploy different variations of the application, each containing only the components needed for a specific task. This ensures that the application is small and nimble, meeting the user's performance expectations and making its intended user more likely to embrace it.
Now that we've discussed the building blocks of SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1, let's take a look at how the solution would apply in a business example.
SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 in Action: A Simple Example
Consider a manufacturing company with plants worldwide. To keep the equipment in their plants fully operational, maintenance teams must be alerted to any new work orders immediately. Service operators, in turn, need a flexible way to plan their inspection rounds, log their readings, and place service orders for the equipment.
To meet these various business demands, the company wants to create a simple service maintenance application to help mobile users view a work order and its related tasks. Using SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1, a developer can build this application using preexisting components, modeling any other necessary components, and stringing them together into the final application.
Now operators can sync their mobile devices at the office, enabling the mobile application to give them up-to-date information, like which equipment to check next (see Figure 2). Operators travel to their assigned locations, enter readings directly on their mobile devices, and report common issues — such as equipment failures or repairs needed — using a scroll-down checklist. They can then initiate maintenance orders and look up maintenance history for any piece of equipment. The application also shows key information, such as acceptable operating ranges for each piece of equipment. If an abnormal reading appears, the operator will know about it immediately. When operators sync their mobile devices again, the application triggers maintenance work and loads their next steps and rounds based on up-to-the-minute plant floor dynamics.
A sample custom application, based on SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1, alerts users of a new work order (here, the request of a quality check for electric pump 001)
SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 can be used in a wide range of industries — from oil and gas to health care — or in any situation where visual inspections are critical and remote monitoring is cost prohibitive. It can also support applications in manufacturing environments where remote monitoring and real-time responses and visual inspections are needed. Additionally, developers can design applications that best suit their company's business processes and environment, even without a constant Internet connection.
Using SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1, your business will be able to build customized mobile solutions and reap the benefits of faster mobile application development, freed-up IT resources, and reduced costs. IT can now quickly adapt to the changing needs of the business and its mobile workforce. And most importantly, business analysts and IT managers can work to truly extend key business processes to mobile users.
To learn more about SAP NetWeaver Mobile, please visit www.sap.com/platform/netweaver/components/ mobile/index.epx.
- The SAP NetWeaver BI and Portals 2009 conference in Orlando, March 24-27, 2009, for expert advice on how to maximize the benefits of your SAP NetWeaver platform for everything from mobile technologies and infrastructure to data extraction, transformation, and loading (www.sapnetweaver2009.com)
- "Best practices for planning, deploying, and maintaining mobile applications with SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.0" by Alexander Ilg and Karsten Strothmann (SAP Professional Journal, September/October 2007, www.SAPpro.com)
- Developing Mobile Applications Using SAP NetWeaver Mobile by Thomas Pohl, Ramprasadh Kothandaraman, and Venkat Srinivas Seshasai (SAP PRESS, http://store.sapinsider.wispubs.com)
Andrew Cabanski-Dunning (email@example.com) is the Director of Marketing for SAP NetWeaver user interface technologies. Andrew has 20 years of experience in enterprise applications, and for the last 10 years he has focused on portal, collaboration, information management, and mobile solutions. Prior to joining SAP, Andrew worked at leading companies including American Express and Intel.