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Mobile SAP: Where's the ROI?

If your company uses SAP and has a number of mobile employees, you may be considering a wireless implementation of the technology. But where's the ROI? Is the expense really necessary?

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that mobile computing is hardly a new thing in the IT world. As the technology develops and grows more secure, corporations are increasingly setting numerous important computing functions free from wires and cables. Chalk the trend up to business necessity; a 2002 study by Framingham, MA-based research firm IDC found that the number of mobile workers would grow 10% annually reaching 13 million by 2006. Chaining mobile workers to a desk for computing hurts productivity.

If your company uses SAP and has a number of mobile employees, you may be considering a wireless implementation of the technology. But where's the ROI? Is the expense really necessary?

"We're beyond that type of question anymore," says Howard Beader, Director of Product Marketing for SAP Solutions for Mobile Business. Corporations need wireless technology to stay competitive in today's marketplace. "In a service industry, if one organization runs on paper and another is mobile-enabled, the mobile-enabled organization will have an edge over the paper-driven one," he points out.

Beader recounts an interesting story of how mobile SAP solutions benefited Fraport AG, the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. With SAP's Mobile Asset Management tool and the use of RFID, Fraport is able to maintain its fire shutters and meet government safety regulations without sifting through a mass of paperwork. By placing RFID tags on the equipment, a technician can read the tag into a mobile device and perform any needed work, then write back to the tag electronically with a Mobile Asset Management application to record data about when the technician was last at the site.

Mobile implementations of SAP have other practical uses as well. SAP itself offers applications for functions including sales, SRM, BI and procurement, among others. Some mobile SAP technologies bring the added benefit that employees can be disconnected from the main system but continue to work. If the server goes down frequently, that could be a big help for some companies, says Darrell Schneider, president of High-Point, NC-based consulting firm AM Professionals.

"Without a mobile solution, if you disconnect from SAP, you're stuck," he points out.

That's all fine and good, you may be thinking, but what about actual cost savings and ROI? Does the convenience and portability of SAP on mobile devices actually translate into dollars? And what expenses are involved in deploying mobile SAP?

In most cases, mobile functionality is already built into existing SAP technology, such as the SAP NetWeaver technology stack. "If a customer already has our solutions, the mobile component on the client side just needs to be deployed," says Beader.

In addition, Beader says, you should be able to mobile-enable your SAP systems with your onsite staff. However, if you're doing a more complex deployment, it might not hurt to bring in outside help. As far as hardware, you'll have the cost of the devices you'll be using.

Schneider lists the three key expenses of mobile deployments as acquiring the skill sets, deploying any middleware or technology layer and the assumed cost of the laptops or other devices.

As far as ROI, Fraport AG estimates it may save well over 100,000 Euros each year with its Mobile Asset Management implementation. Regarding a timeline to realize this ROI, it's obviously going to vary by company, but Schneider and Beader are optimistic.

"We've seen customers realize substantial benefits in the first month," says Beader. "On average, we see a six to nine month payback" on the initial investment.

Schneider concurs. Six months is the average time to ROI, he says, "in other cases, companies will see it within a year."

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