Portals for Field Sales Staff

SAP customers are increasingly mapping their traditional field staff sales scenarios online using a sales portal integrated into the SAP backend rather than only mapping them offline using SAP CRM Mobile Sales. The trend towards online solutions has been given impetus by transfer technologies such as GPRS or UMTS – which provide constantly improving wireless coverage – and the relatively high operating costs for mobile offline clients. Field sales staff use their mobile terminal to access the sales portal, which provides all the required applications and data, via a browser. If they work from home, the connection usually operates via ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), DSL (Digital Suscriber Line) or W-LAN.

Benefits of sales portal
Benefits of sales portal

Sales portals offer a wealth of advantages over offline clients. The two main arguments in their favor are lower operating costs and higher user acceptance. Since the portal solution is implemented on a central server, the IT department does not have to invest in roll-out and support for a shared application. What is more, unlike the offline solution, there are no synchronization problems because the data is not stored locally but entered directly in the central ERP software via the portal. The field sales staff therefore always have all the latest information at their disposal, irrespective of the source application – be it SAP solutions or external systems. The portal offers them a standardized interface for accessing different applications.

Mapping individual work processes

The HTML interface of the “mobile portal solution” can be adapted easily to the user’s workflow during implementation. This makes it easy for staff to use the software and reduces the investment in training. As for the hardware, basically all mobile terminals are suitable – from laptops to smart phones. The crucial factor is the complexity of the applications that the solution is to be used to implement. Laptops are ideal, for example, when quotes or orders containing several items are to be entered. If you only want to call up contact data, on the other hand, a smart phone is usually sufficient.
A role-based authorization concept enables business partners such as sales representatives to be integrated into the portal application, which creates crucial synergies. Each external employee only ever has access to the data from the backend system that is relevant for him. The risk of data theft is also lower than with an offline application because the information is not stored on the hard disk of the local device. This is a huge advantage when the end device is lost or a sales employee switches to a rival company, for instance. Integration in Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes nevertheless enables the field staff to access their calendar, e-mails or tasks.
The sales portal is easy to implement from a technical point of view. The infrastructural basis is provided by the SAP Web Application Server on which the portal solution is run. SAP NetWeaver Portal (formerly SAP Enterprise Portal) or SAP E-Commerce (formerly SAP Internet Sales) – which in turn are integrated in mySAP ERP or SAP R/3 – are used as the portal solution. The implementation usually takes three to five months, and the project work involved principally consists of analyzing the working processes of the field staff and mapping them technically.
However, online solutions stand and fall with the wireless connection used to transfer the data. They are therefore not applicable in working situations where no network is provided. These include the field staff scenarios for energy suppliers, for instance, in which counters are often read in cellars. Online solutions are not always suitable for the pharmaceutical and medical sectors either, because mobile telephony is banned in hospitals and clinics.

Hybrid solutions – the best of both worlds

It is also possible to implement hybrid solutions in which companies can combine the characteristics of online and offline applications for their field staff. For example, it is possible to provide access to dynamic data and enable management of complex tasks such as quote and order entry, or allow the display of reports from SAP Business Information Warehouse, while customer master data, which normally changes very little, can be provided offline. This means field sales employees have immediate access to the key information at all times. They are therefore not dependent on the availability or the speed of a network connection when they want to look up the address or telephone number of a customer quickly before an appointment, for example.
In that kind of scenario, SAP Mobile Infrastructure (SAP MI) is used alongside the portal application. SAP MI provides the Mobile Development Kit that enables customers to map the solution offline to meet the requirements of their field staff.

Users save time

Two companies for whom the IT services provider and SAP partner NEO Business Partner has implemented a sales portal are the globally successful building supplier Sto AG and the high-tech specialist SHARP Microelectronics. The field staff of Sto, a manufacturer of insulation systems, plasters and paints, uses a portal to access SAP R/3 and Customer Relationship Management online. Staff record the material requirements when they visit the building site, enter the quotes in the solution, and send it to their customers by e-mail.
At SHARP Microelectronics, NEO replaced a CRM solution from Siebel by introducing mySAP Customer Relationship Management and SAP NetWeaver Portal. The electronics supplier now benefits from a fully integrated flow of information and reliable data. Sales employees enter sales opportunities when they visit customers. These can then be used to generate quotes and orders (integrated document flow) thanks to the integration in SAP R/3. Previously, the data from the Siebel CRM application had to be copied manually into SAP R/3 because the systems were not integrated.
Sharp and Sto have both optimized their field staff processes by introducing the sales portal, which has enabled them to reduce the previous processing time and minimize the risk of input errors.

Jens Beier
Jens Beier