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Baylor College of Medicine goes wireless with NetWeaver Mobile 7.1

Baylor College of Medicine is using Mobile 7.1 to track its inventory, becoming one of the first SAP customers to try the new NetWeaver mobile platform.

At Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, six people are charged with tracking and updating an inventory of more than 10,000 pieces of medical equipment, computers and vehicles.

Needless to say, they thought it would be nice to have a device that made it easier to figure out when they missed something.

Baylor College of Medicine recently became one of the first customers to go live with SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1. The college installed it on four handheld Motorola MC 70s, which run on Windows Mobile 5.0. NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 is still in ramp-up stage and will be available within the next couple of months, according to SAP.

Making inroads in the mobile market is one of SAP's goals this year, company executives told during a roundtable discussion this past summer. In May, SAP partnered with RIM to deliver its CRM software on a mobile device.

And customers are interested in deploying SAP in a mobile environment, according to Kim Obermair of Hatboro, Pa.-based InfoLogix, Baylor's implementation partner. But SAP's previous mobile platform – SAP MI – which InfoLogix would have used on the project, isn't the best around.

"There's always been a demand for mobile solutions in the SAP space," said Obermair, vice president of mobile development at InfoLogix. "But the previous [release] was not as robust, and the user interface was not always as accommodating."

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NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 shows much more promise, Obermair said. Synchronization speed -- how quickly the handheld will synchronize with the middleware -- is vastly improved. It's more scalable: The last device maxed out at 300 users, while the new platform should support thousands of users.

It's also more extendable. With SAP MI, building something like credit-card processing was ugly, Obermair said, because it didn't have an open architecture. NetWeaver Mobile 7.1's interface is better and more robust -- things look better and they're easier to build. Also, in the previous release there was no way to push information from the back-end system to the mobile user -- it had to be pulled via query. The new version pushes information onto the mobile device.

"It's a marked improvement over what the previous architecture was," Obermair said.

Baylor started looking for a new tracking system when its scanners needed to be replaced. The college is also adding a new 300-bed hospital, which will double the size of its assets, according to Paul Sammons, SAP business analyst at Baylor.

Staying as SAP-centric as possible to save on support costs was the main reason for choosing SAP mobile, Sammons added. The College of Medicine has been an SAP customer since 2000 and is currently in the middle of an upgrade to ERP 6.0. Because the college is already on the NetWeaver platform, the mobile deployment can "ride" on SAP servers rather than having a separate server, Sammons said. And managing security is easier because it's on the same GUI.

Ensuring accuracy and saving time were also goals, and it needed to work in buildings where Internet access wasn't always available.

InfoLogix started the implementation in mid-May, and Baylor went live with the software at the beginning of October, delayed a week or so by Hurricane Ike.

On the old system, the inventory was downloaded on the mobile device according to what was expected to be housed in a particular building. Using scanners, technicians picked up the barcodes on equipment, went back to their offices, and uploaded the information onto a computer. A custom SAP program took that file and ran the information into the SAP master record.

The problem was that technicians didn't know whether they had missed scanning any assets until they were back in the office.

"You could go in, scan 10 assets -- well, you didn't know what you scanned," Sammons said. "All you knew is you updated 10 records."

Now, all of the assets are loaded onto the handheld. When an item is scanned, it updates the asset, wherever it is. There's also a built-in missing-asset report. Before leaving the building, technicians can run the missing-asset report to figure out what should be in the room but wasn't scanned.

"It gives them an opportunity to go back and take a second look, or maybe ask someone if something got moved," Sammons said.

Although Obermair is impressed with Mobile 7.1, he said it could be improved if it worked within a .NET framework. Extending it to a .NET framework would make it attractive to more companies.

It would also be great if Mobile 7.1 automatically synchronized when it was back in the presence of a network – in the same way that emails are automatically sent when a network becomes available again.

Sammons is impressed with Mobile 7.1's functionality. He said it could be set up on a BlackBerry for workers to do SAP transactions remotely. Because it's capable of doing real-time updates, Mobile 7.1 could be helpful in materials management, he said, since it could determine exactly what's in inventory in real time.

"I was really excited to be one of the first to try and use this thing," Sammons said. "It looks like it's going to be a pretty good mobile solution, and it's helped us."

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