Directing Business Processes with a Handheld

Feature Article | April 3, 2006 by admin

Not very long ago, sales representatives had to go to a lot of trouble to set up an Internet connection if they wanted to upload data to or download data from company computer systems. But when the consultants of Real Consulting now leave a project for the weekend, they don’t waste time worrying about how to inform the accounting department about their billable hours for the week. They have long since captured information on their working times, hotel bills, and taxi fares on a BlackBerry device and transmitted it to company headquarters – and the information is always up-to-date.

Success with self-experimentation

In a certain sense, the staff of Real Consulting experimented on itself to develop and test the company’s new product, Time & Travel Anywhere. The software allows users to capture billable hours and travel costs at any time and online. “The product from SAP, SAP xApp Mobile Time and Travel, was developed for a laptop. It uses screen templates that are inappropriate for a handheld because of their size,” explains Michael Fink, accountant general and the person responsible for day-day operations at Real Consulting, about the distinguishing characteristics of the SAP product.
The consultants and developers at Real Consulting no longer have the often burdensome commute to the office. Today, employees handle management tasks on the road with a BlackBerry Organizer, which the company was already using for e-mail and appointments. That means the employees can spend more time with customers.
At first, selected employees of Real Consulting tested the application for several months. To make sure that the application met the requirements of various departments, employees from all departments were later involved in the testing. Ultimately, consultants listed their billable hours and travel costs on a sales order. Developers posted their costs internally. For internal transactions, Time & Travel Anywhere accesses the SAP back end for time management or financial accounting.

Web Dynpro tailored to all handhelds

To guarantee the compatibility of the application with SAP software, Real Consulting used the SAP NetWeaver platform and Web Dynpro for development. The platform is based upon open standards like Java, XML, and SOAP, so companies can develop and quickly market innovative solutions. And using SAP NetWeaver as the development platform ensures the compatibility of new releases of Time & Travel Anywhere.
The consulting and development firm thinks of SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio as one of the main arguments for SAP NetWeaver. The development environment contains the tools to develop Web applications comfortably. The Web Dynpro development environment significantly shortened development times. For example, it enables the automatic generation of controls like buttons or tables based upon context information. With Web Dynpro, user interfaces can be designed quickly and run on various media: PC, laptop, and, above all, various types of handhelds. Developers are spared the effort of tailoring the application to various end devices – which would normally be the case if the company adopted other handhelds.
Web Dynpro uses the lowest common denominator of the various handhelds – a starting point for future improvements. In terms of handhelds, the developers at Real Consulting still have room for improvement with Web Dynpro for graphical controls. Real Consulting linked its Time & Travel Anywhere application to SAP R/3 Enterprise with SAP NetWeaver Portal, and the solution has been certified by SAP as “Powered by SAP NetWeaver.”

Options for applications in the process industry and in management

In addition to administrative tasks, Time & Travel Anywhere opens up the possibility of additional application scenarios with a handheld – regardless of the industry or company department. Getting information when they need it means users can react quickly. It’s important for a scheduler to know when production bottlenecks occur and what can be done to resolve them. When sales representatives negotiate with customers, they must have current data on the customer, orders, or statistics to argue their case convincingly. And the service department needs schedules and data on the employees, materials, and spare parts available to make its own plans. Such employees often do not have a laptop on hand when they have to make these decisions.
For essential business processes, it’s an advantage to supply employees with wireless, real-time information on their handhelds. “The process industry, in particular, has many service and maintenance activities that could benefit from solutions like Time & Travel Anywhere,” comments Peter Maier, who is responsible for the process industry at SAP.
Such applications can also improve management tasks. In this area, Real Consulting is developing a management cockpit application that formats data from SAP Business Information Warehouse on handhelds. Mangers would be able to access sales trends, cost trends, and contribution margin analyses as easily as they do data on personnel planning and development. Constant availability of relevant key figures in an essential basis for making quick and well-informed decisions. The initial tests with the analyzer of SAP Business Explorer were promising. A prototype should be available in the summer of 2006.

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