Overcoming the Top IT Challenges of Mobile Business

February 13, 2008 by Hansen Lieu, Arvind S. Pawar

For many companies, the perceived benefits of going mobile – streamlined business processes and increased user productivity through fast, round-the-clock access to enterprise applications and data – have often been overshadowed by the IT challenges of mobile business, including scalability, device management and security.

Larger organizations need to be able to deploy mobile applications to more than just a few hundred users. Once mobile devices are no longer tethered to the network, it’s not a simple feat to maintain and manage all of them. Last but not least field access to business applications can carry great risk; mobile workers often run applications that contain sensitive data – but without the safeguards of an in-office system landscape.

But these challenges don’t deter the demands placed on IT to develop and deliver more and more mobile business functionality. Business teams want specific, customized mobile applications – and often need different ones for each line of business. IT teams must resist buying a one-off solution that has no flexibility to accommodate the requirements of multiple lines of business, or they will face the consequence: numerous mobile platforms, each with varied capabilities and different limitations.

Robust and easy to use platform

Instead, IT organizations are looking to standardize on one mobile platform and make it enterprise-wide. Only then can IT face mobile business challenges head on and provide business users with the scalability, flexibility, and security they need.

SAP has solidified its mobile technology footprint with the release of SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 – a robust yet easy-to-use mobile platform for companies looking to develop and deploy mobile applications across an enterprise. This major update to SAP NetWeaver Mobile boasts many performance-enhancing features – especially for IT teams. These enhancements are a direct response to what customers tell SAP are the most pressing mobile pain points.

Quickly distributing data to more mobile users

The new release of SAP NetWeaver Mobile rapidly delivers data to mobile users while offloading backend business applications and freeing up backend servers – all thanks to a new intelligent engine, called the data orchestration engine, that routes data and transactions to the appropriate mobile user using customer-configured rules.

This engine automatically distributes just the information mobile users need by queuing data changes as they occur. When users come online, these changes automatically download to their mobile devices. Rather than sending a complete record every time a field changes, the engine sends only the net change, helping to speed updates to users’ devices.

Consider a back-office administrator who changes the contact phone number on a sales order. In this case, a field salesperson doesn’t need to receive an entirely new sales order – so the data orchestration engine will transmit only the new phone number. This helps to shorten synchronization cycles, minimize distribution time, and reduce load peaks on servers – especially when there are many users synchronizing their mobile applications simultaneously. Now thousands of mobile users can synchronize concurrently.

User-specific events can also trigger data distribution. If a salesperson is assigned to a new account, for example, the engine will distribute all relevant information about the new customer to that salesperson’s mobile application.

Ensuring backend systems keep pace with performance demands

To accommodate the increasing number of mobile users and their expanding performance expectations, companies have typically added more servers or hardware for additional power in their backend systems. Now, SAP NetWeaver Mobile stages user data in a middleware server to support large mobile landscapes and reduce hardware requirements.

When mobile users synchronize their devices, the middleware server immediately delivers staged data. For example, when a service technician checks for new service orders, all assigned orders will already reside in the middleware and can replicate to the mobile device immediately.

Replicating unstructured data

Accessing unstructured data from the back office used to require that a company invest in third-party tools. Now, with SAP NetWeaver Mobile, users can replicate PDF files, images, and other documents for an improved user experience, without any need for such third-party solutions.

A service technician, for example, can access a technical manual in PDF format from a mobile device. Or a salesperson can show a prospective customer a promotional brochure from his handheld. It’s simple: Unstructured data is now replicated down from the middleware server.

SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 is designed to eliminate the traditional disconnect between mobile workers and enterprise applications.

Ensuring sensitive data’s security

SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 brings many improved security features. Not only is the data on mobile devices encrypted, comprehensive security logging also takes place. The system automatically logs incorrect passwords and the number of days without synchronization for security assessment.

A “remote wipe” capability is also available. If a user loses his or her mobile device, or if a password is compromised, an administrator can trigger all SAP data on the handheld to be erased when anyone tries to contact the network using the device.

Monitoring multiple devices

In SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1, a central management console allows administrators to monitor and manage all of their mobile users within a single application. Administrators can easily distribute software, monitor application usage, configure and patch devices, and troubleshoot — all from one central UI.

Administrators can also set alerts based on models or rules they define for the application and the mobile user. For example, the system can generate an alert after any user fails to synchronize more than five times. This empowers an administrator to troubleshoot and immediately take appropriate action without involving the mobile user directly.

Simplifying application development

Within SAP NetWeaver Mobile, SAP now offers the Mobile Web Dynpro framework, a model-driven approach to mobile application development that enables drag-and-drop composition within a graphical development environment. Now developers can easily assemble and deploy composite mobile applications within a significantly shortened development cycle. This, in turn, reduces development costs. The Web Dynpro framework can also be wielded to enhance mobile UI development. Developers can use a component-based architecture to improve development, versioning, phased upgrades, and deployments.

The new major release of SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 delivers solutions for the most common IT pain points of going mobile. Eliminating the need for one-off mobile solutions or homegrown applications, SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 accommodates mobile user demands through one strategic platform, empowering IT to improve mobile performance and reduce costs.

Customers who have not yet implemented SAP NetWeaver Mobile, should start with the 7.1 release. Exisiting SAP NetWeaver Mobile customers, should stay tuned for a future column on when and how to move to SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1.

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