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SAP mobility a two-phase process at CA Technologies

Fiori mobile apps are at the core of CA Technologies' successful SAP mobility initiative. Next up: SAP Mobile Platform for true mobility, including push notification.

Early last year, software maker CA Technologies implemented three SAP Fiori mobile apps in under two months, delivering...

SAP mobility for the first time, and followed up with five more out-of-the-box Fiori apps within a year. Now, it's considering moving into a second major phase, using the SAP Mobile Platform to upgrade or develop apps with true mobile capabilities, notably push notifications.

Rich Lazzara, the company's IT director, detailed the initiative in presentations at the 2015 Sapphire Now conference put on in Orlando, Fla., by SAP and its North American user group, ASUG.

New York-based CA Technologies (formerly Computer Associates International) is a $5 billion "big SAP shop" running ECC 6 ERP and supplier relationship management (SRM), Lazzara said. Lazzara is responsible for the company's procurement, vendor management and supply chain systems, and he led the integration of procurement and invoicing software from SAP's Ariba division. He's also CA's mobility champion.

The SRM shopping cart was the first target for SAP mobility. Previously, there was effectively no way for the 13,000 employees to access commonly used applications from smartphones or tablets. "For anybody to be able to do any of the transactions that they would need in SAP, they have to be tethered to the system," and use a desktop or laptop computer to access the virtual private network (VPN) Lazzara said.

The closest CA got to freeing employees from the back end was offline email approval. "You can respond, and it sends the disposition of what you want for the shopping cart," he said.

Shopping cart approval was a strong fit for SAP mobility. Approvers are usually senior managers who travel the most. "If you have a shopping cart that needs to be approved -- usually the higher the dollar value -- when it finally gets to the point where somebody has to approve it, you need the least amount of information," Lazzara said. "The problem is that you don't know when the approval's coming," he continued. "When the approval comes, especially if it's a big-dollar item, it's probably going to be at some inopportune time -- when somebody's traveling or at an airport and can't easily fire up their laptop and VPN."

With release of the first two Fiori apps -- shopping cart tracking and approval -- "people were now able to go and do this task, which was normally drudgery, and do it simply," he said.

And people loved it. "I had people come to me and say, 'I would rather approve a shopping cart on my phone than [in] SRM,' " Lazzara said.

Procuring the benefits of SAP mobility

The mobility push began two years ago when SAP held an "innovation day" at CA to explain SAP mobility options, including Fiori, the then-new design standards, tools and apps for improving the user experience.

Lazzara put together a business case, emphasizing the need to close the gap between what employees could do on their personal devices and how they interacted with ERP. "I marketed Fiori just as mobility even though its responsive layout is the same whether you're on a desktop, tablet or phone," he said. "Since I was the mobility champion, I wanted to push it as mobile initially."

Approval came at the end of 2013 to spend what Lazzara describes as modest funds on the required NetWeaver gateway and Fiori licenses. Fiori "wasn't free at the time. Now it's free," he said.

Lazzara invited 40 influencers and senior managers to participate in an early January 2014 pilot, using a "high-touch model" that included welcoming letters with instructions, service desk support and twice-weekly conference calls. Users were asked to view a URL on their mobile devices, open it and create a shortcut.

He was careful to set expectations, telling participants that everything might not go perfectly at first, and advising "if you have an issue, tell the team, and we'll do something about it. If you love it, tell everybody." By late February, the first three apps were ready. Hundreds of users were added in several rollouts throughout 2014, so now more than 2,000 employees use eight apps. In addition to the shopping-cart apps, they handle timesheets, timesheet approval, leave request and approval, and purchase order tracking and approval.

SAP support essential

Lazzara said the project couldn't have happened without support from customer-support groups at SAP, especially its Technology Rapid Innovation Group (RIG).

Internally, the project required a project manager, but also a "techno-functional" expert, he said, "someone who was a developer who became a business analyst, which was a good role. If I didn't have that role, I would probably need one of each."

Also needed was someone who could do SAP configuration, as well as infrastructure people who know Basis administrative, middleware and development tools. Lazzara also assigned an SAP business systems analyst. CA security got involved, and quality assurance handled testing.

Lazzara describes the development work as easy. "Basically, they had to apply some notes on the back-end systems -- ECC and SRM -- do a little bit of configuration, and use the apps right out of the box," he said. Training was minimal, in part because ample information is available on sites, including the SAP Community Network.

One lesson learned was the importance of performance testing. "Since Fiori is really just exposing your back-end systems," Lazzara said, "the speed at which you can access any of those functions is only as good as your existing, on-prem access."

The leave-request app, for example, goes through SAP human capital management (HCM), and the shopping cart ones access SRM. "In the HCM space, that transaction was always slow," he said. "There was some database tweaking and things that needed to be done."

Security required some attention. "VPN doesn't equal mobile," Lazzara said. For true SAP mobility, CA set up a reverse proxy to bring users into an internal portal and perform Lightweight Directory Access Protocol authentication. "We get the token and we pass [it] to the gateway server," which automatically signs users in and brings them to the Fiori launchpad, he said.

Getting mobile going

The first apps aren't full-blown mobile applications but "mobile device-friendly Web apps," Lazzara said. "They're not wrapped. They're not native." Still, they offer significant value and are easy to deploy. "If you do the communication right [by] getting the URL to your users with the right level of instructions, you can pretty quickly make it look and act like it's a wrapped app or a native app," Lazzara said.

To develop apps that take full advantage of mobile devices, CA needs to deploy the SAP Mobile Platform (SMP), which Lazzara said sits in front of back-end systems, serving data in Open Data Protocol (OData) format, which is easily consumed by any app that runs HTML5. He wants to add push notifications and "badges" that remind users to respond.

"I've got a roadmap that brings us to 16 Fiori apps out of the box by the end of the summer," Lazzara said. Three apps are being extended with the SAP Web integrated development environment (IDE). "Instead of using [open source] Eclipse, it's WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get], drag and drop, and comes with templates for the Fiori apps." Work is also under way to extend two out-of-the-box Fiori apps so they can show completed shopping carts and support a "shop on behalf" feature.

The current phase is occurring on two parallel tracks. "We're trying to come up with the standards and guidelines for how we should do mobile development overall," Lazzara said. At the same time, a proof-of-concept project for an SMP app that shows monthly commission statements -- CA has 5,000 quota-carrying employees -- has already met success.

The CA team used SMP to expose the commission data, which resides in an Oracle database, as OData, then employed the SAP Web IDE to build the app with help from the Technology RIG. "We did that basically in about two months' time," Lazzara said.

He's using a second proof of concept to build a business case for SMP by showing how it will help enforce standards and avoid app chaos. "There's robust monitoring within SMP. So when you use an app that was built with SMP, you have to register it, which is cool because then you're able to see how many people have what devices and what apps," he said. CA could use the feature to push notifications about operating system upgrades, for example.

Fiori's multiplatform support is another selling point. "When people say they like doing these transactions on their mobile device and they wish they could do it that simply on their desktop or laptop, the answer is, they can," Lazzara said. Though CA did the initial proof of concept by running SMP on-premises, if it moves forward with a production version, the software will instead run on HANA Cloud Platform Mobile Services.

Another desired SMP feature is an offline capability that lets employees execute transactions when connections are sporadic. "Offline gets complex," Lazzara said. "It's not a sort of magical thing that you turn on and it takes care of the synchronization and everything. You've got to build all of those rules" to decide which user "wins" when both are trying to alter data at the same time, he said.

Lazzara's advice is simple. "I always say: Fiori, it's free. Do it now. The SMP thing is worth looking into for the next level, for sure."

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