“Transferring handwritten information to the SAP System using the Tablet PC”

Thomas Arend
Thomas Arend

Herr Arend, what is behind the Tablet PC?

Arend: In 1999, SAP was already marketing software solutions for mobile users, namely SAP CRM Mobile Sales and SAP CRM Mobile Service. The solution is available for laptops, notebooks or PDAs. What customers did not previously have was the hardware that combines the user-friendliness of a PDAs with the high performance of, say, a laptop. This hardware is now available in the form of the Tablet PC, which is currently offered by more than 10 vendors, and is operated using a pen on a sensor screen. Microsoft recently introduced its own operating system, the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. This enables all Windows applications to be operated using the tablet pen, and replaces the touch screen technology.

How does the SAP CRM Mobile Sales applications breathe life into the possibilities offered by the Tablet PC?

Arend: First of all, versions 3.0 and 3.1 of the existing SAP CRM Mobile Sales application are compatible with the Tablet PC and Windows operating system. The sensor pen can be used to navigate in the same way as a mouse. “Handwritten” data is entered in the Tablet PC using Microsoft’s “Input Panel”. Because of this intermediate step involving the Input Panel, however, this data input is not yet seamlessly integrated in the SAP System – this will be the task of future versions. However, the advantage is already clear today: the practicality of a PDA combined with the power of a laptops.

And what’s coming next?

Arend: Handwriting recognition will be integrated in Version 4.0 of SAP CRM Mobile Sales, which will be launched in the summer of 2003. First, users will then be able to use the pen to write in any of the input fields, using their own handwriting to enter the data. The system recognizes the letters, numbers, and whole words immediately, and inserts them at the selected point – for example, it enters the information in the relevant input field of the SAP System. Second, the new functions also allow “handwritten” notes to be added to the business data. In addition, the version will contain a simple digital signature.

Why are these functions so important?

Arend: The tablet pen does not just enable users to navigate quickly and easily. Customer comments on the individual products or prices, which are “handwritten” on virtual sticky notes, can be used as a reminder feature for the field sales staff. Users are also in a position to conclude contracts – by using digital signatures. The contract data is stored and can be printed out or processed further. This avoids media breaks in field sales activities. As always in such cases, errors can therefore be reduced and time saved, leading to an increase in productivity.

What other functions might there be in future?

Arend: Customers do not just want simple navigation through business data, documents, text and input fields, but also through pictures and graphics. In future, it should be possible to edit images by hand. Navigation using spoken commands is also conceivable – that is, by means of voice recognition. This function already exists in an internal demo version. However, it will not be introduced on to the market until there are concrete requests. In addition, SAP’s solutions support all kinds of navigation and communication options with the system. Users can communicate with the system “multi-modally,” that is to say, via different input and output channels, depending on the device type. Depending on the situation, users themselves can decide whether they would prefer to use the keyboard, mouse, track point or touchpad, pen or voice to navigate, enter data, or access information. We therefore provide them with an efficient way of working.

Why is important for SAP to market solutions for the Tablet PC?

Arend: Both existing and potential customers are inquiring about applications for the Tablet PC, and are letting us know what they want. We react to these requests – for example with the functions in version 4.0 of SAP CRM Mobile Sales.In addition, sales figures show that the Tablet PC has been well received on the market. According to information from the market research company IDC, 150,000 items were delivered in the US in 2002, a figure that had leapt to 675,000 at the beginning of 2003. That’s already five percent of the total market. The sales figures from Europe are also reflecting this trend. While it is not yet clear whether the Tablet PC will win through on the mass market, there is reason to be optimistic – and SAP is certainly prepared.

What does this mean in real terms?

Arend: With our CRM solution, we are paving the way when it comes to functions for the Tablet PC – and these functions are targeted mainly at field sales staff. In addition, the SAP GUI is already compatible with the Tablet PC. Therefore the mySAP Business Suite also runs on the Tablet PC. Users in materials management and plant maintenance can also benefit from the new opportunities and use them profitably. This is particularly true for users in the consumer products and pharmaceutical industries. We are therefore investigating all mobile solutions to ascertain their suitability for the Tablet PC. However, market demand will determine which functions for the Tablet PC will ultimately make it on to the short list.

Why is SAP the only vendor – according to experts – that is making full use of the opportunities offered by the Tablet PC?

Arend: In my opinion, this is due to our many years’ experience with a solution for Mobile Sales. In addition, thanks to our close partnership with Microsoft, we were able to study the features of the Tablet PC at an early stage. It was therefore a simple step to the idea of making SAP CRM Mobile Sales compatible with the Tablet PC. The positive feedback in initial tests with our customers has confirmed that we took the right route.