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Approaches to SAP mobility vary significantly at SAP shops

Take a look behind the walls of three very different companies that have reached various levels of maturity with SAP mobile applications.

Even for a large transportation company like JetBlue, mobilizing SAP applications can be a major challenge, according to Victor Maldonado, the company's SAP strategy and technology manager.

We want to keep up with the new needs and challenges. But we need to prioritize.

Victor Maldonado,
SAP strategy and technology manager, JetBlue Airways

Although the airline -- which runs SAP ERP ECC 6.0 for the backbone of its operations -- offers an iPhone app that allows travelers to do things like check flight times and arrivals, it has nothing at the corporate or employee level, according to Maldonado. However, the company is currently assessing what kind of mobile applications it might deploy in the future, and for who, he said at the recent SAP SapphireNow conference.

A logical place might be to mobilize the company's employee self-service HR portal given that so many employees -- like flight attendants and other airport staff – don't work out of an office, he said. "It works [on a mobile device], but it doesn't mean it was built for that."

Starting with something with such widespread appeal may seem like low-lying fruit, he said, but mobility projects geared specifically for executives have their place as well.

"We want to keep up with the new needs and challenges," Maldonado said. "But we need to prioritize."

Three stages of SAP mobility adoption

Companies like JetBlue that are still learning how to mobilize SAP applications are not alone, according to Chris Marsh, a mobility market analyst in the Yankee Group's European headquarters in London.

Businesses generally fall into three categories when it comes to mobility, according to Marsh: opportunistic, integrated and strategic. JetBlue is still very much in the "opportunistic" stage, he added.

In the opportunistic stage, a company might be attempting to run just one SAP mobile application, or may be adopting a point solution that might focus on a specific employee class, and most of the mobile architecture they're using isn't extensible.

"Most companies fall into that stage," Marsh said.

"Strategic" stage organizations are focused on mobilizing a larger subsection of workers; there is a common architecture for SAP mobility that can be put into place, they are more policy-driven, and there are more sophisticated applications and tools in use, he added. "That's the next stage that we're passing to," he said.

The third stage, which Marsh called the "Holy Grail" of mobility, is the "integrated" stage, in which mobility is a core part of IT. During this stage, questions over BYOD -- or bring your own (mobile) device -- are put to bed and the company has a comprehensive enterprise mobility management strategy in place. Most companies have not reached this point yet.

"[Mobility] becomes very much aligned with key business processes within companies," Maldonado said of the integrated stage of SAP mobility. "But I think we're quite a ways off from that yet."

Keen Footwear's SAP mobile adoption

Keen Footwear, a maker of shoes used for hiking and other outdoor activities based in Portland, Oregon, is another company Marsh might categorize as still in the "opportunistic" phase, but perhaps farther along than JetBlue.

Keen equips its sales team with iPads they can use to show customers a digital brochure, and then inputs the order right on the spot that feeds data from the third-party sales app into Keen's SAP all-in-one system, according to David Boeschenstein, the company's chief operating officer. Like with most companies, mobilizing the company's sales team made sense.

"Today, and especially in the past, we still get a lot of faxes, phone calls; we still get a lot of emails," Boeschenstein said. "Now, we can say [to the sales team], 'You've got everything at your fingertips, go ahead and do it.'"

Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated

Then there are others, like the Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated (CCBCC), the nation's largest independent Coke bottler, which uses SAP mobility for a wide range of tasks involved in making, selling and delivering Coke products in 11 states. The company is looking to do more, especially given the large number of sales and repair technicians it has out on the road, said Paris Fogle, the company's senior systems specialist.

In addition to running its SAP mobile asset management application on the SAP mobile infrastructure, CCBCC also uses a number of applications and mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAP), including those from third-party vendors like Syclo and Antenna, Fogle said, but does not currently use the Sybase Unwired Platform. Fogle said the company would likely be standardizing all of its applications on the Syclo platform, especially since SAP's recent purchase of the company would make using that platform for mobilizing SAP applications easier going forward, Fogle said.

"Syclo has been our go-to MEAP, so to speak," he said.

In the company's five production facilities, CCBCC uses mobile devices to catalog inventory management information -- data that is then fed into the company's single instance of SAP ERP. Meanwhile, out on the road, the delivery staff accesses orders on tablets. Fogle said the company's field service reps, who are based out of their homes, are also heavily tied into the company's mobile operations.

"Their truck is considered a storage location," Fogle said. "The goal is to have enough of any one part to service their customers when they show up. Managing those parts is really important. If they have to keep coming back, [customers] will give up."

Orders are dispatched to the reps via a custom application, Fogle said. The field reps review the order, associate parts with the order, and then all of that information gets synced up with the SAP ERP back end so the company can track the number of parts being used, as well as repairs being made, he said.

The sales staff uses iPads to place orders at the customer's location, but Fogle said there are gaps in what the sales reps can do on the mobile devices -- something he's working to fix.

Whenever one of the reps needs to add a new customer to the system, the information must be added via a laptop or desktop computer -- a time consuming task, to say the least.

"We want it to be more of a business-facing process so they can do it right there in front of the customer, with the customer engaged," Fogle said.

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