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Following up on my LinkedIn poll ‘Is a Geo-Map important for a Transportation Management Solution?’ indicating that there is some interest in this topic, todays MKS explains a bit what’s already available and what might come in the future.

Before the SAP TM 8.0 release, there had already been a Geo-Map integration using the SAP IGS.

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This setup was used for all SAP SCM applications, but came with a few flaws making it hard to adjust to the TM requirements. Main point I guess was the very limited interaction capability not being ready for a map-based planning scenario. Don’t want to spend too much words on the other things. So we decided to go for a new and modern component. Luckily within the big SAP we found something just coming out of SAP research – SAP Visual Business. The new component fits perfectly from an architecture and concept point of view to our requirements:

1. Kind of middleware between our application SAP TM and external content: We don’t need to deal with geo-map integration stuff (zooming, getting the data right, and so on) allowing us to focus on buisness scenarios.
2. Open: Any GIS vendor maps could theoretically be used. Without making it necessary for us to change anything.
3. Fully integrated into the SAP UI technology as a Floorplan Manager component
4. Interactive: Object based events, context menu, drag&drop available
5. Enhanceable: Easy scenario building, customer specific functions

You know how it goes with 1.0 releases: Not everything works as expected right from the beginning. But as long as it is the right path it is worth continuing. And so did we.

First the use-cases we tried to tackle. We send a few students/experts to scientifically evaluate the worthiness, unfortunately the documents are only available in german. But nevertheless the outcome was roundabout the following list:

1. Generic Geo-Map: A Geo-Map that can be used in any TM UI where address or stage information is available.
2. Transportation Network master data cockpit: Display, evaluate, correct, create master data like Locations, Transportation Zones, Lanes, and Schedules.

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3. Visual Transportation Cockpit: Display complete Transportation Plans including all relevant info. Enable interactive planning on the map.

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And here is the outcome:

With SAP TM 8.0 we delivered the Geo-Map integration using SAP Visual Business 1.1. All of the above mentioned use-cases are covered and most of our technical requirements are fulfilled. From my point of view the strength of the TM 8.0 Geo-Map is the cool display functionality, which already helps in a lot of scenarios. Also our first steps towards a real interaction between application and map demonstrate cool capabilities. Regarding our enhanceability, open GIS vendor interface, and a fully map-based planning requirements we are not quite on target. So a short and honest list:
+ All use cases covered to a certain extend by TM standard
+ Geo-map fully integrated into TM UIs
+ SAP Visual Business comes for free with TM license (see comment below regarding content)
+ Some enhancements / adjustments can be done using a BAdI (pushing additional content on the map, adjusting display style of standard objects, …)
– limited GIS vendor interface (NAVTEQ/NOKIA, … -> contact SAP Visual Business team)
– no standard license yet for geo-map content (content must be licensed from GIS vendor)
– difficult scenario building / adjustment
– OS limitation (.NET), front-end installation required

As we are continuing with this topic, the number of minus will go down in the future. SAP TM 9.0 will come with a re-architectured SAP Visual Business 2.0. As I have just integrated this, I can tell you: Absolutely cool stuff! Looks better, works better and a huge milestone. As TM 9.0 is not officially released, I can’t say too much here. But almost all of the limitations vanished. Especially for partners trying to deliver own specialized modules, and for customer projects the Visual Business 2.0 is just fantastic with its easy to understand interface.

Just a few comments on important points for VB 2.0:

Performance: Just pushed 50.000 Locations on the map. Works fine.

Easy-to-use: Last week I took a random data source (of course having a coordinate attached to each object, in my case airports world-wide), coded a bit and got that stuff on the map after an hour.

MKS06_04_AirportCockpit.jpg

Enhancements: An SAP partner (PARCON) already validated the possibilities and came out of the project pretty satisified.

If I would be a transportation management consultant or partner, I would take a look into this topic. A reasonable approach for projects is to use the cool display functions in SAP TM 8.0 / 8.1, not enhance it too much, and then boost the topic with the interactions with TM 9.0.

It looks like SAP Visual Business will become the standard geo-map at least for the Business Suite. And maybe beyond. 🙂 Just think of the amazing use cases in Event Management! Tracking resources. Or geographical analytics! Endless options to make a scenario more transparent and enable a better decision making.

Contacts: SAP Visual Business – Ralf Rath; NAVTEQ/Nokia – Henning Winter (I will not put their email here)

One last word: Displaying data on a geo-map will always have one very special challenge – making the displayed scene usable in mass scenarios. Having hundreds or thousands of locations, schedules, tours, vehicles on the map creates very quickly quite messy scenes. A good and reasonable selection of relevant information and some aggregation capabilities can help, but do not solve this completely.

As always, a lot more to say. But I gotta code a bit… 🙂

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