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Three Reasons to Revisit Mobile Technology

by Ravi Kalakota

August 11, 2009

Mobile applications and infrastructures have disappointed in the past, but SAPMobile Infrastructure (SAP MI) improves the technology. SAP MI and its suite of mobile applications work with a wide range of devices, on- or offline to your ERP system.

Perhaps your company has evaluated and rejected mobile implementations. Or maybe your company is using mobile applications, but they have not met with expectations. In either case, a new mobile infrastructure and application suite from SAP offer three reasons to revisit your use of mobile technology:

  • New ways to address lack of accurate, up-to-date data from the field

  • New ways to provide workers with access to information

  • New ways to improve tracking, maintenance, and service of corporate

A component of the SAP NetWeaver platform, SAP Mobile Infrastructure (SAP MI) provides a technology platform for mobile applications that is platform-independent and based on industry standards such as XML, Java, and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

SAP MI smoothly delivers access to business-critical enterprise systems in both connected and disconnected computing environments. For instance, a package delivery firm that operates globally cannot assume that connectivity will always be available. SAP MI allows you to deal with various connectivity scenarios and works in either an occasionally connected or online mode.

It supports the latest, most popular devices such as smart phones and handheld, laptop, and tablet computers so that you aren't locked into a specific device or operating system. SAP MI also ensures that the mobile applications running on those devices integrate well with back-office applications.

SAP NetWeaver serves as the technical foundation for a suite of prefabricated, customizable mobile applications, referred to as SAP Solutions for Mobile Business. SAP Solutions for Mobile Business includes applications such as SAP Mobile Asset Management, SAP Mobile Sales, SAP Mobile Service, SAP Mobile Procurement, and SAP Mobile Time and Travel as described on page 66. It also provides capabilities for Mobile BI and Mobile Warehouse Management.

Mobile Asset Management

One of the most compelling applications of SAP's Mobile Asset Management solution is taking place at Frankfurt Airport. As the owner and operator of Frankfurt Airport, Fraport oversees 420 buildings and facilities. One of Fraport's responsibilities is the maintenance of 22,000 fire shutters that can seal vents within seconds in the event of a fire.

Working with SAP, Fraport equipped maintenance workers with bar-code IDs and handheld PCs from SAP partner Psion Teklogix. The IDs ensure that the work is done by the employee assigned to it, and the handhelds fitted with an RFID scanner record the results of his or her maintenance. (Is the fire shutter in place? Is a readable RFID tag visible?) The mobile devices contain all the work order information and are used to identify fire shutters, to perform maintenance work, and to document the results of maintenance.

After employees finish their maintenance assignments, the company retrieves the information from the devices using a docking station, uploads it to the SAP applications, and evaluates it in predefined time intervals. The data is available to Fraport as soon as it is transferred from the device, with no need for manual entry.

After mobilizing its maintenance process, Fraport has seen increased safety at the Frankfurt Airport, a streamlined maintenance process, close-knit process integration, cost savings, traceability, and transparency.

The SAP Solutions for Mobile Business Suite

SAP Mobile Asset Management (MAM)

Allows plant maintenance technicians, auditors, and warehouse personnel to reconcile assets, change their status, capture their location, and perform regulatory compliance checks from inside or outside of the office. Field technicians can collect timely information about an asset's condition to update back-end systems. Often, these employees depend on bar-code readers on handheld devices to reconcile lost assets with current inventory, decreasing revenue leakage from unused, expensive parts and equipment.

SAP Mobile Sales

Allows salespeople to access their contacts, call reports, forecasts, and more on PDAs. Salespeople can view and modify key customer information - tasks, accounts, contacts, and opportunities - anytime, anywhere. In more sophisticated implementations, salespeople can also retrieve time-critical transaction information or access inventory, product, pricing, and other information from ERP, CRM, and other systems.

SAP Mobile Service

Allows field service technicians to log all of their activities using mobile devices during service calls. The technician can view a list of all visits, and for each visit either perform the necessary activities - diagnosis, repair, invoice issuing, or cash collection - or update the customer's status with a reason code indicating why the service could not be performed. Customers benefit from this real-time exchange of information as evidenced by the decreasing call-to-resolution time.

SAP Mobile Direct Store Delivery (DSD)

Keeps mobile employees and partners fully integrated with supply chain and DSD operations. It gives delivery personnel tools to service customers and manage relationships. DSD models help consumer - packaged-goods manufacturers, for example, deliver the right product at the right time.

SAP Mobile Procurement

Empowers mobile staff to manage the entire procurement function, from price comparison to ordering. Mobile procurement capabilities give field technicians access to their company's online supply catalog, where they can search the service parts inventory, compare pricing and product features, and order the parts they need based on up-to-date inventory information. The technicians also benefit from the convenience of one-click purchasing features when ordering parts within predefined online catalogs.

SAP Mobile Time and Travel

Gives mobile employees access to applications used to track time-and-billing stats, payroll, and other HR information. Typically, these initiatives depend on mobile Internet access (so the employee can log on to the system from anywhere) and on single sign-on so employees do not have to memorize multiple passwords to use the application.

Mobile Direct Store Delivery

A large beverage bottling company deployed 28,000 handhelds equipped with direct store delivery (DSD) capabilities to its field sales representatives, delivery drivers, and vending machine service staff. The objective is to quickly and effectively respond to a comprehensive range of customer requests.

DSD helps improve logistical performance and efficiency (via integration with mySAP SCM) and better monitor, analyze, and integrate data in near real-time from sales to settlement (via integration with the CRM and ERP systems). With DSD, the company hopes to identify and acquire new customers, manage price lists, and market opportunities (via integration with CRM).

Mobile Procurement

Bell Canada has automated the procurement needs of its 4,000 field technicians, who can now instantly access workflow tools and more than 55,000 online catalog items regardless of location or device, in both connected and disconnected environments.

As a result of its mobile procurement initiative, Bell Canada maintains more accurate records of spare parts databases through the tracking of inventory levels. The telecom provider has already seen a huge reduction in paper-based administration and manual data entry. Its ultimate goal is to cut its emergency parts orders and overall parts inventory, saving millions of dollars.

Mobile Time and Travel

IT services company Atos Origin extended its SAP solution with the SAP Mobile Time and Travel application. Atos Origin's 45,000 field consultants can quickly deliver project information and time and travel costs to headquarters, saving time and paper costs. By gaining faster, deeper insight into projects and costs across its widespread operations in 45 countries, Atos Origin is optimizing workforce utilization and customer service while expediting invoice processing and improving profit margins.

Boosting Productivity

Delivering the information employees want, when they want it, boosts productivity. Improving white-collar employee productivity in today's leaner organizations is a universal priority. It is forcing many companies to improve administrative processes such as reading and reviewing documents, updating and assigning tasks, monitoring projects, generating reports, and participating in workflows. Tools like SAP MI and SAP Solutions for Mobile Business can and are delivering accurate and timely field data, giving workers access to the information they need, and improving the tracking and maintenance of corporate assets.

Dr. Ravi Kalakota is the CEO of E-Business Strategies, a technology research and consulting firm. He is the co-author of several best-selling books in the area of e-commerce, e-business, enterprise services architecture, and offshore outsourcing. Most recently, he co-authored Mobilizing SAP: Business Processes, ROI and Best Practices (Mivar Press, 2005).

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