Mobile applications avoid media breaks and reduce the workload of the field services staff work in many ways. Users can create digital service reports at any time and in any place, enter data offline and transmit it to corporate solutions (such as SAP R/3 or mySAP Customer Relationship Management), call orders from the back end, or view customer information. Data is entered only once, and high-quality data is available to all authorized users. Service employees are better informed, and they can give their customers accurate information.
At the same time, mobile applications accelerate work processes. For example, a damage report can be created much more quickly if it already contains specific data (customer address, possible error codes, and context-sensitive dropdown boxes to populate fields in advance) and is available on a mobile computer. Service personnel also save time when their applications can tell them about the supply of spare parts in their truck. They don’t have to search their vehicles repeatedly to see if they have a required part. Mobile solutions are quickly becoming indispensable – especially in the manufacturing industry (where traditional customer service is an important source of revenue) and for the plant maintenance needs of energy suppliers.
Reaching the goal with a few clicks
Companies take full advantage of mobile business primarily when operating an application doesn’t create any additional work for field service employees. Accordingly, the application’s user interface and navigation must be oriented to a company’s work processes. The more that service technicians have to click through screens just to enter a small amount of data, the less enthusiastic they will be about working with a new solution. They can’t concentrate on their real work when they’re trying to operate software, and the benefit that a company can achieve with mobile business is lost. That’s why ergonomics is increasingly becoming a decisive consideration when companies purchase a mobile solution and an important success factor for the acceptance of such solutions in user departments.
Ergonomic applications handle essential process steps with a few clicks. The software can be operated intuitively and without extensive IT knowledge because it meets the expectations of users and is structured logically according to the flow of their work. For example, when technicians begin their work in the morning, the application should optimize their routes based upon their orders and suggest the best possible sequence for their visits to customers. The technicians simply need to confirm the time and mileage of the company vehicle because the application already “knows” this data from the close of business on the previous day. The application should enable users to create orders offline. After all, if a customer wants something for which the technician doesn’t have an order, it’s not very good customer service to stop working because of missing paperwork. An application can help in this situation when it can copy the previous order so that the technician does not have to reenter customer master data. The technician simply enters the new items into the order and can continue with maintenance or repair.
Reliability and speed in mobile operations and data synchronization are also decisive for the ergonomics of a software product. The end device – a PDA, laptop, or tablet PC – must also have an ergonomic design. Important criteria include weight and portability, storage options, and the size and resolution of the display. To ensure the highest level of usability, individual components must be optimally tuned to each other. Early prototyping of the application that supports the selection of end devices can help here.
SAP Mobile Infrastructure creates flexibility
SAP offers various solutions for mobile business. SAP Mobile Asset Management was developed especially for asset maintenance and customer service. It delivers all the processes and data needed for mobile processing of service orders. SAP Mobile Asset Management uses defined assignment logic to assign exiting service orders from the SAP R/3 back end (such as plant maintenance or customer service) to the appropriate technicians. When employees synchronize their end devices with the server, all the data relevant to their needs is automatically downloaded. They can access all the required information and still deal with a thin quantity of data.
NEO Business Partners has developed an enhancement model for SAP Mobile Asset Management (and its utilities-specific version) that adjusts the solution’s user interface to the workflow of a given company. The enhancement model is now being tested for SAP Mobile Sales. NEO handles this service during implementation projects. The enhancement changes nothing in the release of SAP Mobile Asset Management.
The enhancement is enabled by the platform-independent runtime and development environment of SAP Mobile Infrastructure (SAP MI), which is based upon SAP Mobile Asset Management. SAP MI is a component of the SAP NetWeaver platform, which is based upon open standards like Java, XML, and SOAP and uses the model view controller (MVC) architecture standard. It separates applications into three layers: data storage, flow control (logic), and presentation. The architecture opens applications to enhancements and modifications. Existing interfaces can be replaced with new ones that meet the individual requirements of user departments. And the new interfaces can also consider a company’s corporate design.
The user-interface enhancement concept strictly adheres to MVC architecture. In other words, it is programmed “clean” so that SAP developers in the company’s IT department can make their own enhancements.
A new interface in four steps
During the design and implementation of a mobile SAP solution with a tailor-made interface, NEO concentrates on the workflows of field service users. It follows the maxim of covering 80% of processes with 20% of the dialog.
Solution development usually lasts from three to six months and occurs in four phases. Users are involved from the very beginning. In the first phase, NEO uses workshops with field service employees to analyze the business processes that employees wish to handle with the application. Building upon that foundation, the second phase creates a navigation diagram for interface modeling. It defines the individual dialogs and navigation paths. In the third phase, NEO creates a prototype of the user interface using HTML pages and static elements. The prototype is derived from the navigation model and already shows the new application’s important dialogs with static data from SAP R/3 or mySAP ERP. After two or three iterations with the user departments, the final processes are described precisely.
When the prototype is ready, the question arises of which SAP technology should be used to realize the mobile solution. For example, will it use SAP MI with SAP Mobile Asset Management, a homegrown development, or SAP Mobile Service for Handhelds (with mySAP CRM)? One decisive criterion here is the end devices that will be supported. For example, SAP Mobile Service (with mySAP CRM) is appropriate only for fat clients, not for PDAs. The company must also decide which functions, processes, and data will be available offline, which determines if SAP R/3 or mySAP CRM must be integrated. To help in the decision-making process, NEO offers a comparison of mobile SAP scenarios. It uses a weighting procedure to evaluate mobile SAP solutions according to a company’s requirements to determine the best solution based upon objective parameters.
Finally, the solution is implemented upon the basis of Java Server Pages or native Java applications. As a rule, data is generated almost completely from the back-end systems so that all uses are documents.