Stephen Lauer works as a scheduler at DB Telematik. Until recently, he had to fax the service paperwork he had assigned to individual service technicians with SAP R/3 to regional home offices. Kai Winter, a service technician, would personally pick up the papers there and then drive to the location of the service call. After completing his work, Winter would complete the confirmation form by hand and then personally hand in the document at the regional home office. The paperwork would then be driven to the central office where it was manually entered into SAP R/3. It was a time-intensive undertaking that also created high costs for travel and paperwork and ultimately delayed invoicing. Accordingly, DB Telematik decided at the beginning of 2002 to create a more efficient solution.
The technical solution was to be quickly available, provide high performance, and work economically – but also allow DB Telematik some freedom in the choice of communications technology (SMS, WAP, I-mode, HTML, Java, or XML) or network infrastructure (GSM, HSCSD, GPRS, or WLAN). Users should also be able to choose the mobile device (mobile telephone, smart phone, PDA, or laptop) so that they could access IT systems, such as the ERP back end (SAP R/3), databases, or groupware systems as online or offline clients.
Access via Middleware
Together with autinform, the long-time SAP consulting partner of DB Telematik, the company sought solution options and defined its requirements in April 2002. At the start of the project, a decision was made to install non-SAP middleware: Skyware by Condat. At the time, SAP Mobile Engine was not an option for DB Telematik because the company used an older release of SAP R/3 for which the required interfaces did not exist. In time, the use of SAP Mobile Engine would become a possibility.
Quickly Condat developed the client application and the interfaces to SAP R/3. By the summer of 2002, 300 service technicians could use the middleware during a three-month pilot phase and could define additional requirements:
- Adapting the client interface to the device-specific requirements of the Nokia Communicator 9210 – the sequence of fields, new fields, selection boxes, and entry formats.
- Adapting the list of procedures and possessing subprocedures
- Changing the confirmation process
- Optimizing the interface to SAP R/3 in light of actual, customer-specific data volumes and the desired performance
Once the additional requirements had been integrated, the project ended successfully with the training of 2,000 users on April 1, 2003. DB Telematik, autinform, and Condat, Berlin (the solution partner) needed only 10 months to turn mobile service management into reality.
The mobile solution now transfers order data and confirmations over an offline client. To receive orders, technicians use the client menu to select synchronization with the server. The selection downloads new orders onto the mobile device, updates changed orders, and transfers confirmations of orders from the client to SAP R/3. An order confirmed as “final” is deleted from the client after synchronization. Authorization and authentication, client-side plausibility checks, and easy entry via lists of suggestions make the solution secure and easy to use.
Calling and Receiving Order Data
Service technicians at DB Telematik GmbH use the Nokia Communicator 9210i. Technicians start the mobile service management application on the Nokia device to trigger synchronization. The application connects to the middleware server automatically over a radio network. “Technically, an encrypted HTTP request (HTTPS) is created; the request contains the user data (user ID) in a compressed XML format,” explains Klaus Marin, project director for mobile service management at DB Telematik.
The middleware server decrypts and decompresses the transmitted data and ensures that the SAP server assembles the order data that has been requested. The middleware is connected to the customer service function of SAP R/3 via SAP Business Connector. “SAP Business Connector enables HTTP/XML access to functions and data in the SAP R/3 system. It converts the middleware server’s queries into remote function calls (RFC), which then directly activate function modules in the SAP R/3 system,” continues Marin. SAP Business Connecter delivers the results of the function calls to the middleware server as HTTP and XML data.
The middleware server combines the resulting data from several function calls, encrypts them, and then transmits them over a radio network to the mobile device, where they are stored locally. In this manner, technicians receive all the data required for an order in a manageable way. The application then ends the network connection: the data is now available locally – independently of the network.
Confirming Service Data for Orders
Once the order has been completed, technicians enter the services performed into electronic forms on the mobile device. The application works with various types of services, including travel time, distance traveled, hours worked, and material used. The data is checked directly for consistency and plausibility. Technicians can confirm individual services or one (or several) completed orders.
Synchronization with SAP R/3 now starts data transfer in the opposite direction. At first, the data remains on the mobile device. Should an error occur, technicians receive an error message from SAP R/3. They can then correct the data on the mobile device and retransmit it.
ROI Within One Year
The mobile service management project is one of the first mobile business (m-business) applications in Germany – and it paid for itself at DB Telematik within one year. But for Klaus Martin, that is only one of the goals that the project reached. “For example, we profit from accelerated order processing because service technicians no longer need to travel to the regional office. In addition, the time between providing the service and invoicing for it is significantly shorter. In the past, confirmations usually required 14 days. Today, we receive 90% of confirmations within one day.” Improved planning for service technicians also fits seamlessly in the list of improvements. The incidence of errors is also reduced because there’s no media break between paper and the IT system. Up-to-date reports for management round out the positive balance of the application for DB Telematik.