SAP Mobile Computing
1. What is Mobile Computing and SAP all about?
Remember the last time you returned a rental car? The agent scanned you back in, and printed your invoice on the spot. That is Mobile Computing. This ability to interact with a system remotely has now been extended to include SAP.
2. Where might a company use it?
Warehouses are a great example … use it to track the flow of parts/product – and do your next stock-take using a hand-held bar-code scanner. Airline companies can use it to track luggage, Shipping companies can use it to track parcels, Oil and Gas and Utility companies can use it for field equipment maintenance.
3. How does it work?
You need a hand-held device (preferably with a bar-code scanner), a RF (Radio Frequency) LAN, some middleware, and of course your SAP system. The RF Network has a limited reach (for example 2,000 ft in open space, and 250 ft in a typical office/retail store) … but is expandable by installing additional RF LAN hardware. The middleware, in any event, is able to retain data should the mobile device go out of range – and resume the connection correctly once the mobile device returns into range.
4. What is the value proposition?
The value proposition is that the cost (of the hand-held devices, the RF LAN and the middleware) is less than the benefits accrued due to the additional accuracy, speed, flexibility and freedom that mobile computing delivers. In our view most companies could probably find some parts of their business where mobile computing would pay handsome dividends.
5. Do you have to write additional code?
Yes. Additional code is required on the hand-held device for the input and output screens. Whether this can always be ABAP is unclear, but it seems to be what the some of the vendors are suggesting.
6. What operating systems do the hand-helds use?
We saw both Microsoft Windows CE and 3Com Palm Computing operating systems demonstrated on hand-helds at SAPPHIRE’99.
7. Who are some of the vendors?
We noticed one hardware and middleware vendor – Symbol Technologies – and two other middleware vendors – Abaco and ATS Continuum - at SAPPHIRE’99. Other hardware vendors we have heard of include Intermec Technologies and Telxon Corporation.
8. What kind of hardware is available?
Symbol Technology seem to have some really cool stuff. Their SPT 1700 is a combination Palm Pilot and Mobile Computing device. Their NetVision Data Phone is actually a combination phone, bar-code scanner, and Mobile Computing device. Cool device award, however, must go to their WSS 1000 Wearable Scanning System which is actually a keyboard that fits on your fore-arm and leaves both hands free. You attach the small bar-code scanner to your index finger and you’re ready to go! This one even comes in left and right hand models!
9. What does it cost?
We saw a hand-held bar-code scanner, which could interact with SAP via RF, which was priced around $1,500 (US), per unit. We do not have pricing information for the middleware or for the RF Network.
10. Are Mobile Solutions vendors certified by SAP?
Yes. Both Abaco and ATS Continuum claim some sort of ‘Complementary Software’ certification for their middleware. We don’t know for sure if Symbol Technologies is a certified hardware partner (but we would be surprised if they weren’t).