SAPConsole’s history begins in 1999, when SAP introduced a solution that connected barcode scanners directly to the warehouse management system. The concept proved successful – from the very start, SAPConsole has been hardware-independent and as a frontend solution, bridges a major gap by converting information from graphical user interfaces (GUI) into character-oriented formats (VT200, ASCII) used by the then popular handheld devices. Since then, different types of devices, with different technologies and operating systems, have found their way into warehouse environments. These now include systems with a graphical display and running on Windows 98/2000/XP operating systems. These versions execute SAP transactions directly using the SAP GUI. However, applications using Windows CE are now becoming increasingly popular, too. This operating system, which was developed especially to meet the needs of mobile devices, offers Windows .Net functionality. SAP has reacted to this by making the browser compatible as a communication platform for use with warehouse transactions. This corresponds to the overall SAP strategy of increasingly using browsers as the graphical user interface.
Connection to Wireless LAN
In its enhanced version as WebSAPConsole, SAPConsole now also provides HTML codes that can be displayed via browsers and creates HTTP connections that are perfectly suited to wireless LAN environments (see diagram). Conventional telnet servers are no longer needed, except for applications with character-based formats. WebSAPConsole is supported by web services such as Microsoft IIS and SAP Web Application Server. As SAPConsole now enables transactions to be executed with a number of different display technologies, it is particularly suited to companies that have several types of scanner devices. This allows a smooth transition from the older, character-based devices to the newer, graphical devices, while ensuring that existing investments in radio frequency transactions are protected. Users demand this, because the devices have proved extremely robust and as a rule, have a life of around 10 to 15 years.
Voice recognition and voice output
WebSAPConsole can react to your spoken commands, because it is set up to work with VoiceXML documents. It is necessary to differentiate between speech output and speech input; output and input are achieved using special programs that are either installed on the device itself or on a server in the network. Speech output converts the VoiceXML document into a synthesized voice, which the warehouse employee hears through a headset. An instruction could therefore be “Remove material 4711, 14,” for example. To confirm the instruction, the employee says “Confirmed, one-four” into the microphone, and the number 14 appears in the confirmation field of the screen that the employee is currently processing.
The voice recognition systems that are available for this application include speaker-independent and speaker-dependent software products. The people concerned need to undergo a short period of training before using speaker-dependent products, in order to provide the system with a particular vocabulary. This increases the rate of recognition and enables the system to handle any number of languages and dialects. These voice processing programs are not SAP products, and can be purchased from SAP partners.
SAPConsole has proved itself as a frontend solution, and continues to play a relevant role:
- No synchronization with a middleware database required because there is a direct connection to the SAP System.
- The solution is hardware-independent; no proprietary protocols required
- SAPConsole does not require additional software to be installed on the mobile device.
- The transactions run on the SAP System. As a result, users can test functions before they physically install mobile devices.
SAPConsole now contains a new and enhanced package of functions. Specific warehouse requirements from customers, industries, and markets can now be implemented with Task & Resource Management (TRM). This offers far more types of transactions than the original version and enables modifications to be made more easily. Every display in TRM can be structured as a physical screen, and assigned a corresponding function module, which updates the relevant data. This combination can be used a number of times in the various warehouse management transactions simultaneously. For example, a pick confirmation for a warehouse shelf could be used in many different picking operations.
In practice, today’s warehouse management needs solutions with mobile devices that can cope with a wide variety of functionalities. A few examples can be quoted here. First, the hardware should provide access to the hardware resources such as printer interfaces or special laser scanners with a large capacity, or the use of function keys, for example. These transactions relate to the hardware on site, but not directly to the functions in the browser. The browser also requires a few functions that support the supply chain application, such as acoustic signals during the scanning process, in order to suppress the standard input window if the field for data input is waiting for scanner input data. The browser must also understand the hexadecimal, non-printable characters such as separators for combined barcodes, for example. In addition, many companies need to be able to lock applications other than the intended one, or to block access to prohibited internet addresses. All these functions are supported, with some of the functionality provided by the hardware manufacturer, some by WebSAPConsole.
Supported by SAP NetWeaver
To support the continued use of these devices, SAP will migrate SAPConsole to Web Dynpro. With Web Dynpro, browser applications can be modeled and structured according to the needs of the end users (for example in HTML, WML or text). Subsequent conversion for SAPConsole is not required. The applications designed with Web Dynpro meet professional requirements and provide support for input, multilingual requirements, and user-friendly troubleshooting.
A further step is the integration in SAP Netweaver. If these functions are available as standard in SAP NetWeaver, the complete mobile infrastructure including Mobile Engine supports this type of browser use. NetWeaver and Web Dynpro therefore bring together all the mobile applications that there are in SAP and makes them available on the same technology. Developments relating to modern RFID radio technologies for goods identification (radio frequency identification) are likely to become an integral part of SAP NetWeaver and thus the supply chain applications as well.