What mobile EAM options are available from SAP?
Almost 10 years ago I was involved in a start-up that used mobile devices to record inspection results at an oil refinery. The business benefits were indisputable: by scanning a bar-code we could record the time the technician was at the equipment, work could be given to the technician without him having to come back to the workshop and results would only need to be entered once and would be available for analysis immediately. But then, and until about a year ago, it was a struggle to get better traction for mobile. Why? Because even occasional connectivity did not exist in some places, devices weren’t cheap and robust enough and the synchronisation technology was slow and unreliable. This is all changing. SAP has moved into the on-device space fairly aggressively over the last year. There has been the acquisition of Sybase, a co-innovation agreement with Syclo and a closer relationship with Clicksoftware (particularly relevant here is the ClickMobile component). The broad uptake of Apple’s iPad and the resultant easy access to just about any information from a mobile device has changed the expectations of ERP users. In response SAP has a wider deployment of Apple’s products internally and is now able to show a number of business transactions and reporting solutions on Apple devices. But during this time SAP has also backed away from its Mobile Asset Management (MAM) solutions – announcing that while the currently available software can still be used, it won’t be developed in the future. What does all of this mean for SAP Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) customers and what options are currently available from SAP to mobilise a maintenance workforce? If I’m running SAP EAM how do I push information to my workforce and enable them to execute transactions?
Will your workforce always be connected? Will they be entering a very limited amount of information while they are off-line? If you’re always connected the mobile device is, in effect, no different to a wirelessly connected laptop. The design issues then focus only on small screen usability, presenting a screen to a user which is easy to navigate and can accommodate all information needed to support the process. For EAM mobility this is technically the easiest case. For these types of mobile transactions it makes most sense to design your screen for the appropriate device and ‘send’ the information to SAP using a webservice (of which there are enough to support just about all EAM transactions). Development of these ‘on-line’ types of applications can be done with the relevent development kit. Here is an example of this for an Android device. The diagram below shows the key components needed for mobile applications. I’ve shown the ‘connected’ and ‘disconnected’ devices as separate, although the same device could be used for both,’disconnected’ applications would need the MEAP to manage the data flow.
Components needed to support mobile EAM applications.
What happens when your workforce is not connected? Despite an increase in network coverage there are still many cases where full off-line EAM functionality is needed. There is the obvious case for remote sites, but think also of the Telco technician who’s off-line because the tower he is working on is the one that would usually provide him with connectivity. In these cases the technician will need to access large amounts of SAP information while off-line. He might need to look at historical jobs done on the piece of equipment, search for materials needed to repair the equipment and read related documents and operating procedures, all while off-line. He might also want to complete a job with the right failure codes for that equipment and maybe even create another work order to perform work on a related piece of equipment. All of this needs to be done off-line. To be able to do this a considerable amount of thought needs to go into the synchronisation of the data between the handheld device and the ERP back-end. In the first instance only the appropriate data must go to each of the handhelds – each technician should only be able to see their equipment and their work orders. Once ‘sent’ to the handheld orders (and for that matter any changeable data) should be locked so that there is no conflict on subsequent synchronisation. It should be possible to manage the application on the handheld, to remotely delete data, to resend information if a device is damaged and a range of other ‘management’ functions. It is for these situations that a robust middleware (or Mobile Enterprise Application Platform, MEAP) is needed. There are a few SAP options for full off-line EAM functionality.
- ClickMobile is most appropriate if using ClickSchedule Workforce Scheduling and Optimisation for SAP (WS&O) for schedule optimisation. ClickMobile can be used to deliver all the standard EAM use cases. They also recently announced that they will partner with Sybase to deliver mobile functionality.
- Syclo delivers all the standard EAM use-cases and will provide an EAM solution with many references within short implementation timeframes.
- Sybase is the best longer term strategic choice for a MEAP, there are currently no standard EAM applications available (Sybase does however provide the tools to develop these). I suspect it won’t be too long (6 to 8 months) before standard EAM applications get delivered.
- SAP Mobile Asset Management (using NetWeaver Mobile Infrastructure middleware) is dated and doesn’t appear to be a long-term mobile strategy.
So, as you embark on mobilising your EAM workforce, consider the transactions that you need your workforce to perform. If they are always connected or are performing low-complexity transactions consider building an input screen for the handheld device and submitting these to SAP with one of the standard webservices. If your workforce operates in an ‘occasionally connected’ mode and needs full EAM functionality then consider either Syclo or ClickMobile (with pre-built EAM use cases) or Sybase as a MEAP (and build your own EAM applications).