In last one year, enterprise mobility as a topic in general and SAP mobility in particular has drawn lot of attention. With global mobile phone subscribers base expected to cross 5 billion in 2010 (source International Telecommunications Union) and mobile data becoming cheaper (especially in India) a lot of enterprise software firms are lining up their “bolt-on” solutions for mobilizing various processes. At the same time there have been a series of discussions / blogs / whitepapers on this topic explaining the benefits of mobilizing your processes.
However even with all this information and solutions, it’s a very big problem for customers to adopt enterprise mobility in their organizations. In my view this is mainly due to complexity involved in enterprise mobility technology and low awareness of the same. In this blog I will highlight the 5 key decisions one has to make before starting and Enterprise Mobility Project and my view on the same.
DECISION 1 – Processes and user groups to be mobilized
This is a very important and strategic decision an organization has to make because all processes and user groups might not be fit for mobility. For ex – A process that requires a lot of data entry is not fit for mobility because users will be reluctant to use such application on mobile devices.
Therefore this decision should be made after a lot of internal brainstorming and analysis. There are many examples of processes and user groups that can be and should be mobilized.
In my view the few Processes that can be mobilized across all industry segments are – Approvals, Alerts and Dashboards, Quality Inspections, Sales Order Entry, Service Order Fulfillment etc
Few User Groups that should be mobilized are –Mobile Managers, Sales Force, Service Force, Warehouse Agents, Quality Inspectors etc
DECISION 2 – Type of mobile application
What is type of mobile applications? In my view based on the type of connectivity and data storage required, the mobile applications can be classified into two types:
· Always Connected – A thin client application that allows user to view and transact on data ONLY when it is connected to business systems is termed as “Always Connected” application. These applications do not store any transaction data on the mobile device
· Occasionally Connected – A thick client application that allows user to view and transact on data even when it is NOT connected to the network is termed as “Occasionally Connected” application. These applications store transaction data on the mobile device and synchronize it with your business systems occasionally.
To decide on which type of application you need, answer a simple question:
Does your user needs the application when there is no network connectivity to your business system?
If the answer is yes, you need occasionally connected application else always connected application should be fine. The below example will clarify the point:
Company A receives all goods at their warehouse that is Wi-Fi enabled. To mobilize their GR process an always connected application on a device with Wi-Fi support will do the job
Company B receives goods at their warehouse that is 50Km outside the city and in an area where even GPRS connectivity is disruptive. To mobilize their GR process an occasionally connected application is required as the network connectivity to your business systems cannot be guaranteed from such places
This decision is important because the cost of always connected application is less than occasionally connected applications
DECISION 3 – Device, OS and Network Provider
As on date there are
· Hundreds of device manufacturers – Nokia, Samsung, Sony Erickson, HTC, RIM, Apple etc
· Lots of OS – Symbian, Windows, BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, Linux
· Multiple network provider in each country
Hence to make a decision on these 3 parameter is very difficult. Moreover these parameters will have the largest impact on the overall cost of the mobility solution. Here is the list of key points that needs to be considered togetherwhile deciding on the same
· Device – The typical factors that one should consider while selecting a device are
o Touch/Qwerty/Non Qwerty
o Screen Size
o Processing Power
o Database Capacity
o OS of the Device
o Availability – If the number of mobile users grow in future one should be able to buy the same model from manufacturer or a new model that will run the existing application
· OS – The typical factors that one should consider while selecting an OS that will be supported are
o Openness of the OS platform (Manufacturer controlled Vs Association Controlled)
o Availability of native and OS agnostic SDKs for the OS platform
o Support Cost of application on the selected OS
o Security provided by the OS
o Availability of Developers for the OS Platform
· Network – The typical factors that one should consider while selecting a network are
o Connectivity while travelling and in remote areas
o Data Speed
In my view an organization should start rollout on a single OS with max 2-3 device models and one network. This will ensure that IT Team has less issue while supporting the users using the devices.
DECISION 4 – Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP)
Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms (MEAPs) enables an organization to develop multiple applications to mobilize various processes on different devices/OS that work on all networks
Now the question is do you really need it? Gartner’s “rule of three” can help you find this answer. A MEAP offers significant advantages in three situations:
- When there are 3 or more mobile applications
- When there are 3 or more targeted operating systems or platforms
- When they involve the integration of 3 or more back-end systems
There are lot of MEAP players in market like Sybase, Antenna, Dexterra and Syclo etc.
Since SAP has acquired Sybase, the leader in MEAP providers, it becomes a natural choice for SAP Customers. As on today Sybase integrates its SUP server with SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 server (mobile middleware) that has native integration with SAP Business Suite. Going ahead SAP plans to offer one integrated server to its customers. This new product will be available by mid of 2011.
However this does not means you should defer your mobility plans to next year. In my view any customer looking to start mobility project right now can start with SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1. Since both SAP and Sybase have existing products on this platform, most likely SAP will protect their own investments by supporting these on new platform.
DECISION 5 – Develop or Buy
As on today there are plenty of SAP ISVs offering solutions on SAP EcoHub for the processes listed above (see DECISION 1). So it’s a big challenge for customers to decide whether they should buy an existing solution or develop on their own. Some of the factors that should be considered are:
· Investments in R & D, tools and skills required for in-house development of Mobile Application
· Scalability and Stability of the Readymade Solution
· Cost of the Readymade Solution
· Time taken for ROI in both options
In my view a customer may start by buying the first solution as this will ensure that ROI is much faster. Moreover during the course of their first project, they will become familiar with challenges of enterprise mobility and will be better equipped to deal with the same once they decide to develop the second app in-house
- In this blog I have shared my own views based on experience gained while working on enterprise mobility projects. You are free to disagree and share your views on the same so that all of us can benefit and learn more on this topic