SAP’s New Mobile Developer Programs – What Do They Mean to the Business?

On July 30, 2012 SAP announced a free mobile developer license, along with a new Mobile Apps Partner Program and additional support for independent software development frameworks (from Adobe, Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha.) While this will provide easy access to potentially millions of developers and SAP partners, the typical SAP customer might be left thinking, “That’s great, but what’s in it for me? How does this benefit me and my business?” The short answer is: Better, faster, easier access to enterprise data for decision making.

Mobile and Enterprise Data: The Disconnect

According to Sanjay Poonen, President, Corporate Officer Global Solutions, SAP and Head of Mobility Division, “Mobile technology has become the touch-point that unites the workforce across any organization, no matter the size.…” When it comes to staying connected, mobile technology has certainly helped in this regard. Indeed, while mobile devices free us from wired connections, they actually seem to tether us more firmly to our businesses. Professionals are “always on” and “always connected” even when traveling for business, attending a child’s soccer game or on vacation. But do you really have better direct access to the enterprise data you use to make decisions and run your business? If you do, you are probably in the minority.

Mint Jutras research on enterprise applications and mobility surveyed almost 300 companies and found only 4% rated accessibility to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) from a mobile device as “excellent” while 47% said they had little to no access. Many still view mobile capabilities as “useful” but few categorize them as “must have.”  And a considerable percentage (15% to 40%, depending on the specific capability) indicated they would not take advantage of those capabilities even if they had them. So there is also still some education to be done as to the value.

What was the top priority for their mobile devices (and yes 90% of them carry one or more)? “Alerts and notifications” was very close to the top of the list.

Decision makers want to be notified immediately of business exceptions such as a missed delivery or a big order that was dropped from the forecast. But what happens today even if a business executive is notified through a mobile device? Often the exec turns the “smart phone” into a “dumb phone.” He (or she) uses it to call a subordinate to track down the details necessary for making a decision about what to do.

Why is attacking the problem directly not viewed as a higher mobile priority? Because calling a subordinate or surrogate (maybe a power user?) is exactly what most would do even if they were sitting at their desk, staring at their computers. How many high level decision makers today do you know that ever put their hands directly on applications like ERP? The answer is probably: Very few. Why is that? Because the perception, and often the reality is that applications such as ERP are too difficult to navigate and understand.

Business executives don’t want to “learn ERP.” They want the answer to a question or the solution to a specific problem. The data stored in an enterprise application might indeed hold the answers to their questions or the solutions to their problems, but a general-purpose type of application requires knowledge of the structure of the application or the data, or both.

Mobile Applications to the Rescue

Equipping executives with a mobile device has solved the “connectivity” problem. Now it is time to extend that solution to connect them directly to enterprise data. If business executives are reluctant to wade through applications like ERP in search of answers, perhaps the solution is to anticipate what those specific questions will be and provide direct access to the answers.

And by the way… we noted previously that “alerts and notifications” was very close to the top of the list. At the very top was “authorization and approval” to purchase orders, invoices, expenses and the like. Do you need access to ERP in general for this? No, you need specific purpose-built access or a single-purpose application.

In answering specific questions or addressing specific problems, instead of requiring access to a single all-encompassing application (ERP), executive decision makers need access to potentially many different mini-applications. Executives have lots of burning questions, so this means lots of different (albeit smaller) applications and those mobile devices are the perfect delivery vehicles.

But if you need lots of applications, you better have lots of developers working on delivering them. But the only way to attract lots of developers is to make it worth their while. Hence, Mr. Poonen’s declaration, “We recognize that this presents valuable opportunity for the millions of mobile developers looking for ways to monetize and scale. For that reason, SAP has created an end-to-end support system that helps ensure that mobile developers around the world have easy access to SAP resources – from our developer center and partner program to the extensive options offered by partner solutions like Adobe, Appcelerator and Sencha.”

SAP’s End-to-End Support System

Let’s take a look at this support system SAP is creating with these announcements. The goal is to provide easy access to SAP platforms and tools at no or minimal cost. It has these key elements:

  • Free 30-day trial: This is perfect for developers that have never developed using SAP’s mobile platform or even those that have, but in a more isolated environment. It gives them a chance to evaluate the platform and provides access to a complete hosted landscape, including the SAP mobile platform and the SAP ERP application, with no local installation needed. In turn it gives SAP customers a deeper pool of talent working for their benefit.
  • Free developer license on Amazon Web Services (AWS): This option offers access to a hosted developer environment through AWS and a software developer kit (SDK) local download. There are no developer fees; developers only pay for cloud hosting with hourly fees paid directly to AWS. This is suitable for all types of developers, even an individual developer or a small shop that has not invested in its own development environment, again providing a broader pool of talent developing mobile apps for the business.
  • SAP Mobile Apps Partner program: This offer is an effective engagement model that not only supports the development of mobile applications but assistance in monetizing the effort. A single contract provides all developer licenses needed, comprehensive technical support and the ability for partners to place their mobile apps on the SAP Store. Through this program the partner has visibility into SAP solution roadmaps and protection of Intellectual Property (IP) through enforcement of ownership rights. For this, the partner pays a low annual fee and a small percentage of revenue share to SAP. While the partner gains access to SAP’s vast customer base (via the SAP Store), customers gain more choice and breadth in their selection of applications.
  • New integration options connecting Adobe PhoneGap, Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha Touch with the SAP mobile platform. Why should SAP customers care about this integration to technology they may never have even heard of? In short, because not all mobile devices operate the same way. So how do you provide the same application to multiple decision makers, using different devices and still make each application look and feel like other applications that are native to the device? You either develop for one device and then re-develop for other devices, or you use technologies such as these. And oh, by the way, that “touch screen” technology all you iPhone, iPad and Android users know and love, doesn’t just “happen.”

This also adds to the talent pool because mobile developers are very likely to have experience with these tools in building custom mobile apps. For partners with skills in these environments it is now straightforward to connect these mobile apps to SAP, thereby delivering more standard apps for SAP customers.


Workforces around the world may not be quite as united as we would like them to be. And executives might not be as “connected” to the data needed for quick and effective decision-making. But if mobile developers can be unleashed en mass, then perhaps answers to questions might truly be at the executives’ fingertips, which is a lot closer than “a phone call away.”

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Infor10 in Motion: Making a Run at the Market

On January 23, 2012 Infor released Infor10 Motion, a cloud-based mobile platform built with a loosely coupled architecture on its Infor10 ION framework.The platform approach is based on the premise that people are on the move today and that their work needs to also stay in motion. With this release Infor strives to differentiate itself from other more complex mobile platforms, to not only provide easy development and deployment of mobile apps but also a level of consistency that has previously been hard to deliver with its broad and diverse portfolio of enterprise applications. Infor10 Motion provides an opportunity for Infor to adopt a consistent user experience, aimed at accelerating productivity, across all back office applications.

What is Infor10 Motion?

Infor10 Motion is a platform which consists of three components:

  • Infor10 Motion Builder: the means to build new mobile applications
  • Infor10 Motion Manager: a cloud-based way to manage the devices and the applications running on them
  • Infor10 Motion Server: where “server” is used in the context of software (also cloud-based), not hardware, to process requests from mobile devices

However, this platform would be useless without the applications it is meant to manage and serve. Infor will be releasing a variety of applications, starting with newly released:

  • Infor10 Road Warrior – think of it as mobile customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Infor ION ActivityDeck, useful in reminding users of important tasks, providing alerts and facilitating approvals of pending requests.

Others on the horizon include:

  • Shop Floor: bringing mobility to where manufacturing is done
  • The Mobile Manager: (not to be confused with Motion Manager) supports management decisions on the move
  • Hotel Administration
  • Dashboards

A Common User Experience

All these applications will have a common user experience. While Infor has a very broad portfolio of products, none have a well-defined mobile user interface and therefore this is an opportunity to define a standard and use it to unite disparate enterprise applications in its portfolio. A real life road warrior won’t know (or care) where (which Infor product) data is coming from. In developing a new standard, the user experience will not be constrained by traditional user interfaces and will take advantage of native features of the most commonly used devices. The first release supports the iPad and the iPhone, but support for Android and for Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry are planned for the summer of 2012. Infor is also expecting to support HTML5.

Infor10 Motion apps are enhanced by being “app aware,” including consumer apps that could potentially add value to the enterprise. For example, think of incorporating Skype and Apple’s Face Time within a customer’s contact information, making these collaboration tools instantly available to field personnel.

Infor also expects the Motion products to standardize reporting and analytics across potentially multiple applications. It will use Infor ION, its lightweight middleware, to construct the Infor Business Vault, a data warehouse that should prove to be instrumental in integrating multiple data sources. Its recent joint announcement with is one such projected integration point.

Expanding the Reach of Applications

This approach has the potential of bringing a different kind of enterprise applications user into the fold. While many decision-makers are today not directly connected to applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), relying instead on surrogates or subordinates to access and provide needed data, consumer-grade applications from mobile devices could complete that circuit and put decision-makers in direct contact with enterprise data.

But to better connect, these consumers of data may require a new and wide-ranging set of applications, perhaps more purpose-built than a broad multi-functional application like ERP. Infor intends to take advantage of the ease of development associated with these types of focused applications and need not be constrained by the limitations of existing applications. And the fact that these apps may be accessing data from a variety of different back end applications will be transparent to the traveling business person.

Infor, as other major enterprise applications vendors, is not counting only on apps coming from their own development teams, but from a broader community of partners and customers. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to this will be in getting that community to feel like an “Infor community.” Today partners and customers alike are much more aligned to individual products in the Infor portfolio than to the Infor community at large. But a single “stack” for reporting and analysis, coupled with a common mobile user experience and cloud-based tools can all contribute to moving towards an Infor-centric community.

Enterprise-Class Mobility

 But also a challenge may be getting its customers to clamor for these applications. Yes “mobility” has proliferated to the point where most people – business people as well as pure consumers – carry one, if not multiple devices. And yet many still do not see the enormous business potential. Mint Jutras research shows that the number one priority for mobility-related functionality is performing approvals and authorizations, followed closely by receiving alerts and notifications. Taking photos and attaching them to records rated higher than mobile order and account management. Other research specifically related to ERP shows that less than half (47%) of companies rate the ability to access ERP data from a mobile device as “important” or “must have,” 26% said it was “somewhat important”, 22% called it a “nice to have” and 6% said it wasn’t a consideration at all. A lot of companies still miss the connection between this proactive management and the underlying enterprise data that runs their business.

Perhaps with the advent of these “smart” applications, the general business population will begin to see the light. What Infor hopes to convey is a worthy message:

  • Don’t wait to act
  • Work in context
  • Get back on the road

Let work move as fast as you do.

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SAP Mobility @ Madrid: Is it for SMEs too?

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with  SAP’s Senior VP of Mobile Strategies, Nick Brown to get a preview of the “mobility” announcements planned for SAPPHIRENOW + SAPTechEd, co-located in Madrid this week. As anyone that follows SAP knows, mobility is one of its three hottest topics, the other two being cloud and in-memory computing. Since May 2010 when SAP announced its intended acquisition of Sybase, the mobility buzz has been about an integrated platform and application story.

Mobility for the Masses

SAP’s goal is to bring mobility to the masses. But this means something different to enterprises than it does to consumers. Or does it? I came away from the briefing understanding that at least one of the key objectives for SAP’s mobility strategy was to enable any size company to mobilize. Since I have a lot of interaction with the SME (small to midsize enterprise) teams at SAP, I immediately thought about the impact of these announcements on these smaller companies.

Since the Sybase acquisition, we’ve heard a lot about the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP). The easiest “hit” for SAP here is with large companies with large IT staffs that worry about managing a large variety of devices. Talking about MEAP (mobile enterprise application platform), MCAP (mobile commerce application platform) and MDM (master data management) resonates here. But to most executive decision-makers that’s just alphabet soup. And those acronyms are even more foreign to decision-makers in your typical SME. They think a lot like consumers. They just want to consume; they don’t have big IT staffs to worry about a “platform.”

What SMEs want

SMEs want ready-to-use applications that address a specific business need. They just assume (rightly or wrongly) that the apps come with the necessarily underlying infrastructure to take advantage of the latest and greatest technology (think 3G and 4G), deliver security and work on any device they might want or need to use. That means they don’t expect to pay extra for it and perhaps they don’t expect to have to “buy” it at all. In fact they don’t necessarily even connect the dots from mobilization back to “IT” and core enterprise applications like ERP, which create the system of record for their business.

My “mobility” research shows that the number one priority for mobilization of tasks or functions is performing approvals and authorizations, followed closely by receiving alerts and notifications. And yet my “ERP” research shows that less than half (47%) of companies rate the ability to access ERP data from a mobile device as “important” or “must have,” 26% said it was “somewhat important”, 22% called it a “nice to have” and 6% said it wasn’t a consideration at all. Taking photos and attaching them to records rated higher than mobile order and account management. And the smaller the company, the less priority they seem to place on accessing ERP through a mobile device. A lot of companies still don’t get the connection between this proactive management and the underlying enterprise data that runs their business.

What must SAP do to address that?

First of all it needs to deliver applications that budget holders see real value in. And those applications are finally starting to flow out of the funnel. SAP is showcasing 50 of them at SAPPHIRENOW in Madrid this week. I went out to the App store earlier this week and counted 45 that are currently available. Twenty of them are free, 11 are from partners. While today there are more SAP-developed apps than partner-developed apps, SAP expects that to change dramatically and ultimately expects 80-90% to come from its ecosystem of partners. There are 200 of them undergoing certification by SAP right now. But partners will only do that as long as they are successful in selling them.

Because of the sheer volume of SMEs (compared to large enterprises), it would seem SMEs would be key to that success. And for SMEs to consume them, they must be affordable. And that means the cost of the platform cannot inflate the price of the apps.

Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) has been very vocal on this subject. In fact he just published his insights on the mobility announcements in Madrid, including this excerpt:

“I have said before and I repeat here: SAP should give the platform away in most cases. It doesn’t make sense to developers if they have to pay for a platform at high cost. Apple managed to build a highly successful business by making the barriers to developers trivial. SAP is still trying to wean itself on the idea that everything has to come with a Veuve Cliquot price tag.”

So we will have to watch this closely to see how many apps continue to be produced and consumed and ultimately what stance SAP takes on the price of the platform. This will have significant impact on SMEs.

What Else?

How else can SAP educate customers and prospects? Another way is by use case examples. SAP showcased one in particular in Madrid and in its press release. This one was developed specifically for Berlin’s Charité, a big university hospital in Europe. In a way this is not the best way to reach and educate SMEs on the potential for mobilization because this was custom developed and is very specialized to serve physicians and hospitals, not something that helps an SME run its business better. On the other hand, it provides a showcase of an environment that is personally familiar to everyone.

The story is about mobilizing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) so that doctors can access patient information reliably from anywhere. It’s about letting the doctors record notes right in the application during or immediately after examining a patient, so they don’t have to be transcribed later. Everyone can understand it (and its value) because most of us have been patients at one time or another. Not only do we all understand the value of having more and better records and immediate access and the frustration caused by not having that direct access, but we are also quite sensitive to privacy and security when we’re talking about our own personal health records.

Other applications announced in Madrid include:

  • SAP CRM Sales 2.0
  • SAP Field Service 2.0
  • SAP Retail Execution 2.0
  • SAP Citizen Connect
  • SAP Transport Notification & Status
  • SAP Transport Tendering
  • SAP GRC Access Approver
  • SAP GRC Policy Survey
  • SAP Manager Insight (announced in October)
  • SAP Interview Assistant (announced in October)

Also worth noting are the “2.0” designation of the first three apps. The first releases were in June; now we have the second in November, just five months later. This tells us the 12-18 month release cycles are becoming a thing of the past. SAP promises releases to be quarterly in future – something else worth watching out for.

Mobility should be of enormous interest to SMEs. Let’s see if SAP can help them connect the dots to show them how mobile access to enterprise data can help them run better businesses.

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IFS and Mint Jutras Study on ERP and Mobility: Access to Enterprise Data

“Mobility” seems to be all the rage these days.  While mobile devices free us from wired connections, they actually seem to tether us more firmly to our businesses. Professionals are “always on” and “always connected” even when traveling for business, attending a child’s soccer game or on vacation. But do we really have better access to the enterprise data we use to make decisions and run our businesses? Is that connection a tether or a lifeline to the business?

 Earlier this year I helped IFS North America with a study conducted to explore interest in and demand for mobile device access to enterprise applications.  The study involved a survey of 281  executives of medium to large manufacturers with revenues over $100 million. We were looking to find out:

  • how enterprise software is currently accessed via mobile devices
  • what types of mobile applications and interfaces respondents are most interested in
  • how mobile interfaces may change the way we work

The enterprise applications we were explicitly interested in were

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Enterprise Asset Management (EAM)
  • Business Intelligence (BI)

Only small percentages (27%) are currently performing functions in an enterprise application from their mobile device. This is likely influenced by the limited mobile connectivity of the enterprise applications themselves. Connectivity requires a modern underlying technology not available on legacy applications and older versions of software. While a negligible few rate their level of accessibility as excellent, a third to almost one half (varying by application) have little or no access at all. Interestingly, respondents accessing CRM via a mobile device are more likely to have access, but no more likely to rate it as excellent.

In general, we found manufacturing professionals view the mobile interface as an important consideration in enterprise software selection. The importance of the mobile interface increases proportionally as the amount of personal time invested in the job increases. Not surprising. Efficient use of time is even more important when it is your own.

Today the lines between work and private life are blurred, even in a traditional brick and mortar industry. Mobile access to enterprise software can facilitate this blended lifestyle, but what impact will it have on the way people work, how often they work and where they work? Will this drive new productivity for people who spend time in transit or in other locations where a hand-held, mobile device is the only viable tool? Will it cause work to increasingly encroach on personal time? 

While 63% said that remote access would cause them to work more outside normal business hours, only 15% indicate remote access to enterprise data would be MORE disruptive. Easy access through a mobile device, anytime, anywhere, allows a decision maker to connect and act immediately without the disruption of finding an Internet connection and “firing up”  – hence the importance of easy and intuitive access.

Mobile access to enterprise software appears to be a tremendous opportunity to increase productivity given that additional work can be completed while in transit, both inside and outside of work hours. While mobility is far from universally available today in enterprise applications, as software users recognize the value, software providers must necessarily respond with features and functions. The ability to connect and respond immediately improves productivity and far outweighs the cost of the intrusion of a mobile device.

Interested in all the full  results of  the “IFS ERP Mobility Survey; Overview and Projections on Remote Access to Enterprise Data?” Download at (registration required)

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Quick Update from QAD: BI, Mobility and Cloud

I wasn’t able to attend QAD’s Explore customer event this year. But the power of the web let me follow along for keynotes and Derek Singleton from Software Advice shared with me a couple of videos he shot with Phil Freidman, VP of industry and product marketing talking about the three key areas of focus of the conference: Business Intelligence (BI), mobility and cloud. Sound familiar? Yes mobility and cloud are hot topics with regard to any enterprise applications today and BI functionality embedded with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is also drawing significant attention. ERP solutions have always been good at collecting and storing mountains of data but that data has often (and notoriously) been hard to extract for decision making.

QAD’s approach has been to combine BI with mobility. Its BI suite is now about one year old and therefore has achieved some level of maturity. It comes with a schema and data base model built in for QAD applications, but also is able to bring in external data (think potentially massive data from retailers). The analytics feature “what if” and “drill down” capabilities as well as integration with other solutions and what QAD calls “outbound transformation” (think export data to Excel). The tie-in to mobile is through iPhone and Android devices and a new release that brings a more robust BI solution to the iPad. Look for more mobile applications (e.g. for approvals) coming in the future.

I also heard an update today on “On Demand” by listening in to QAD’s first quarter (for fiscal year 2012) earnings call and heard subscription revenue, which includes QAD’s on demand deployment option, was $2.2 million, compared with $1.1 million for the same period last fiscal year. QAD offers its On Demand ERP worldwide and has been particularly successful in life sciences and automotive. It signed eight new ERP on demand sites in Q1 2012.  Other positive news on the call –

  • Total revenue grew 17% to $59.4 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2012, compared with $50.8 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2011
  • Professional services revenue was the biggest driver of growth to $16.5 million, compared with $12.3 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2011
  • Net income for the fiscal 2012 first quarter grew to $1.0 million, versus a net loss of $1.2 million,  for the fiscal 2011 first quarter

Good to see one of the last single product ERP vendors back in the black and on track for what are proving to be the hottest trends in ERP in 2011. Listen to Phil for yourself:

And here’s a link to Software Advice’s  manufacturing page:

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IFS Touch Apps: at the Intersection of Two Driving Forces

I spoke with the folks at IFS today about their new IFS Touch Apps, which were announced at their customer summit last month. The first two applications in the series will go into early adopter stage after the summer holidays. Being headquartered in Sweden, those holidays are a bit longer and more pronounced than for those of us here in North America.  These two (Trip Tracker for travel expense reporting and Notify Me for approvals of purchases, time, invoices and expenses) are envisioned to be the first of what IFS hopes to be a steady stream of such applications anticipated for 2012. Designed for the Android and iPhone devices and delivered via the IFS Cloud, they will run within Microsoft’s Windows Azure public cloud.

During our conversation, IFS CTO Dan Matthews mentioned these new applications will connect back to not only the current 8.0 release of IFS applications, but also prior releases back to 7.5. While its customers are anxious to take advantage of new technology, and indeed recognize the power of new mobile gadgets, they, like any ERP users, tend to be reluctant to go through the time, cost and effort required of an ERP upgrade. Right now IFS has no plans to go any further back, but demand from its customers (if it arises) could affect that decision in the future.

So that got me to thinking about the real impetus for going mobile today and I realized two different drivers were converging.

You hear the phrase “the consumerization of IT” a lot these days. It is really about the impact consumer technology is having on the work force and the enterprise. Indeed much of this is driven by youth that grew up surrounded by visual and audio stimuli that couldn’t even be imagined in my “youthful” days. So I use the term “youth” rather loosely, just like I use the word “kid” loosely. Most everyone under the age of 40 is pretty much a kid to me. No offense intended. The technology kids carry around today in their pockets is more powerful than the first computer I ever programmed and its footprint was at least 50 square feet in a specially air-conditioned room. And that didn’t include the key punch machines.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a Luddite when it comes to technology clipped onto my waist, partly because these devices have become just so pervasive. My personal mobile device is a Blackberry. I haven’t started carrying an iPad or a Playbook or other tablet simply because they don’t do everything I need to do. If I can’t leave my laptop at home, I’m not about to carry yet another device. These things are supposed to lighten my load, not increase it. As a result of just my laptop and Blackberry though, I, like other business people, am virtually constantly connected except when I am asleep, am staying at our lake house in Maine or when I fly. I for one am just as glad that the airplanes I typically fly don’t have wifi and we just haven’t bothered to connect our house in Maine (no phone or TV either). And unlike some others I know, I actually know how to turn these devices off.

But as a prior corporate executive and now as a business owner, the line between my business and personal life has continued to blur and sometimes blend. While the connection through the mobile device can intrude on my personal life, it also helps limit the disruption by making the connection that much easier and more efficient. It is actually the productivity gains that draw me to mobile devices.

But the mobile device alone doesn’t do it for me, because texting and calling my BFF’s aren’t why I carry them. I carry them to get work done in a quick and efficient matter. This is exactly what IFS had in mind when they designed Trip Tracker and Notify Me. If indeed I had Trip Tracker I wouldn’t have spent more than an hour and a half this morning gathering, searching for, organizing and recording all my travel expenses accumulated during the recent “conference season.” Instead, they would have been all collected, digitized and organized for me even before I arrived back home from each trip.

In my current situation, Notify Me wouldn’t be of that much use to me. But it sure would have been useful in my last job in terms of approving expense reports, paid time off and invoices to be paid. Where those activities involved enterprise applications, I would have had to fire up my laptop, get a wireless connection, VPN in and only then would I have been able to approve items. And indeed sometimes getting through hotel firewalls, dealing with low bandwidth and then getting through our parent company’s firewall was more effort than I wanted to expend if I was going to be back in the office within a day or two. Just a few clicks on my mobile device would have been infinitely easier. Of course, I would have to convince IFS to provide the same support for my Blackberry as they do for Android and iPhone, but perhaps some of their customers will take up that cause.

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SAP Business One customer U-CLOCK makes practical use of mobile technology

I was talking to an SAP Business One customer today and came across an interesting use of mobile technology to help manage a workforce deployed to a remote site – think of a construction site perhaps or physical therapists that regularly go to a nursing home or assisted living facility, contract security, temporary locations. This is not a product the Business One customer uses in their own implementation, but rather a product they build and sell.
The name of the company is Advanced Ventilation in the UK and the product I’m talking about is made and sold by a spin-off called U-CLOCK which operates as a separate company. U-CLOCK makes use of mobile phones to manage time and attendance as well as project updates (including material requests), report health and safety issues and accidents and provide an audit trail of all of the above.
Here’s how it works: The U-CLOCK customer purchases a small device that it locates at the remote site. When the employee arrives, he or she enters the 8 digit number that is shown on the device. A free text message is then sent from the mobile phone (employees can use their own personal phones) to a secure online account to register the location and arrival time. The number changes every 30 seconds, so the time entered is precise within a 30 second window. Managers track this on a computer logged into the company’s U-CLOCK account, but aren’t tied to the console. Email notifications can also be sent to the managers’ mobile phones. If an employee doesn’t arrive as expected at the site, the manager knows immediately. They can also report health and safety incidents and requisition materials.
All this information can be exported to a .csv or .pdf file or can be integrated into back office systems for billing and reporting.
In addition- and this is the part I like best –  the U-Locate feature is designed for the lone worker. U-Locate is designed to address the needs of people who can potentially find themselves in an “at risk” situation such as, accidents, physical or verbal abuse at work, or dangerous roles with a real and present risk of physical danger. The main issues for employers is to know (with accuracy) where the lone worker is at any time via the worker’s mobile phone. The U-Locate Software, also accessible through the U-Clock secure console, gives the employer complete insight into the current location and past whereabouts of lone workers.
 But more importantly it helps the lone workers in reacting to a dangerous situation or an unexpected event and gives them peace of mind knowing they will be missed if they don’t show up where they are expected and in knowing there will be someone at the end of the line who will know what to do. The worker can activate an alert which will be received by a dedicated emergency response center that has the ability to listen in to events as they happen and contact the relevant emergency services to ensure the quickest response possible.
I guess I show my age when I shake my head over kids constantly texting – and some of my colleagues on Twitter and other social media sites aren’t much different from those kids. Not that I am surprised… many of them are half my age. But I honestly don’t care what my business colleagues had for lunch, when they go to bed or what the view is from their hotel room. This seems a much more pragmatic use of mobile technology.
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Summary from SAP Insider Keynote (SCM, MFG, PLM, Procurement)

Competing in the “Networked Normal” : A Pathway to Growth through Innovation and Collaboration
SAP EVP Richard Campione began his keynote this morning at the SAP Insider Event today with an interesting statistic: 85% of executives expect complexity to grow significantly. Interesting, but hardly surprising given the setting. This event co-locates several conferences: Logistics and Supply Chain Management 2011, Manufacturing 2011, PLM 2011 and Procurement and Materials Management 2011. Professionals in attendance are all focused on getting product to market and to customers. Given the global nature of business today, the speed of change and the proliferation of data and data sources, increased complexity is the natural result. And yet even with this growing complexity, customers’ expectation of speed and responsiveness is not diminished. In fact, it is only intensified.
Mr Campione also opened with a bit of history. Two years ago at this event there was talk of a recession and even a depression. Strategies were all about cash preservation and survival. A year ago, there was a fair amount of optimism and talk of recovery. Sentiment was … companies could once more invest, but the overriding theme was to invest in order to save. This year, 2011 is a “new beginning” and suggested that a good place to start was in looking at the problem as one of managing from “idea to delivery.” Again, nothing new or surprising, but the holistic approach to supporting this (complete) process was impressive.
Mr Campione also characterized 2011 as a year of crisis and hope. Crisis certainly needed no explanation given the recent uprisings and events in the Middle East, combined with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Given the disaster in the Pacific, it seemed quite apropos to show his audience the Chinese symbol for crisis, which is actually represented by combining the symbol for danger with that of opportunity. He encouraged his audience to seize the opportunity to learn from leaders. These leaders operate better within business networks. They innovate faster, capturing 25% of revenues from new products, compared to others who only generate 5%. They reduce inventory, citing instances of as much as 55% reduction in days’ supply. And they manage risk. What better backdrop for the need for proactive risk management than the efforts to avert a pending nuclear crisis?
All this is very relevant to the global environment, but how do we really relate this to how SAP products can help businesses “run better?” To summarize, it is all about operating better, collaborating better and deciding better. Given the proliferation of data bombarding us from all angles, it is about turning fast into real real-time. In SAP parlance, this means more (mobile) devices, more applications and more analytics.
More devices equate to more mobile devices, and this was the primary reason SAP bought Sybase – for its mobility platform. There are a lot of different applications along the path from idea to delivery and Mr Campione emphasized the need for these to be “consumable, ready to deploy, packaged applications.” “Consumable” is a word I have been emphasizing to ERP vendors for the past several years, so this was music to my ears.
SAP brought an entertaining duo on stage to demonstrate a scenario that took us from
·         consensus planning, to…
·         the identification of “killer features,” to…
·         engaging the right people, to…
·         readying the supply chain, to…
·         analysing the process and the results
This demo scenario started with SAP Event Insight, then turned to Stream Work, followed by SAP Sales On Demand and finally the BI element of Business Analytics. Implied behind the scenes were PLM, ERP and manufacturing execution including sourcing and procurement. It touched on ideation, sales and operations planning and on the innovation SAP had delivered within the last 12 months, including the following:
·         Mobility
·         Stream Work
·         Business ByDesign
·         BI 4.0
·         Innovations 2010
·         HANA (in memory)
·         Netweaver 7.3
If you missed this keynote and yet feel the urgency to address many of these challenges, including the need to eliminate dual entry in multiple systems, the need for improved visibility, better integrated quality management, and lower inventory and operating costs, take the time to get a demo. If you are running solutions that are not using the latest and greatest technology, you may be pleasantly surprised. And remember how fast that technology is changing!
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