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Author's profile photo Robert Straubinger

Mobile First – or – How it can help to fix your car

My car is now 17 years old, close to 200k kms, I love it and keep it running. Of course, maintenance and repair is an ongoing issue. Recently, the ‘check engine’ light came on and it stays on. Of course, I could go to an auto repair shop and simply throw money at it. But that bothers me, I’d like to understand what the problem might be. The orange ‘check engine’ light means that the engine control unit decided there is a significant problem based on sensor data. All cars sold in the US since ’96 and the EU since ’01 must have a standardized onboard diagnostic system (OBD-II) that collects error codes and shows the yellow warning light in case of major trouble. I would like to know the details, then do some research and decide if I try to fix it myself. Reading in a car forum, one guess is that the oxygen sensors are worn (easy to fix) or the catalytic converters need to be replaced (exceeds what I can do). But that’s all guess work, if I could only read the error codes. There are 100+ possible detailed codes like ‘P0135 Oxygen O2 Sensor Heater Circuit Malfunction (Bank 1, Sensor 1)’ but all I can see is an orange light in the dashboard. The OBD-II connector in my car is easily accessible next to the cup holder, but I don’t have a way to use it.

What are my options, which solutions are out there?

If I went to a dealership to have it diagnosed, it is $100 for a one time reading of trouble codes and they probably give me the translation of what they suggest to do, not even directly the error codes. They would have connected the interface with a cable to a station or a device in fancy tool case. Those diagnose units are 100s or 1,000s of $.

If I bought a small unit, the cost is $100 – 300, but there are some functional limitations what I read, the usability is low and if there was any trouble, I could only return the unit and get a different one.

Or I could buy an OBD-II adaptor cable for a PC and software for about $50 – 100. I would need to borrow a laptop from my daughter because unfortunately this type of software runs on Windows only.

But there is a new mobile solution. I can buy a small standard OBD-II adapter with Wifi or Bluetooth plus a mobile app than can do all of what I need, the cost is $15 for the adapter and $15 for the app. The risk is low, countless reviews in a car forum suggest it works. Why would I go for any of the other options? I can’t believe it, it’s only $30 to diagnose the engine control unit directly in the car with my phone from now on. It uses the least amount of additional hardware. This is the newest solution on the market and it comes in first.

Mobile wins – why?

Mobility is part of what IDC calls the 3rd platform (cloud, social and big data are the other parts). Almost all new application development is on the 3rd platform. Compared to classic applications, mobile solutions are typically simplified, highly usable, cross platform, standardized and easy to deploy. That makes them superior. The term ‘mobile first’ is used very often now but I think it is rather a ‘3rd platform’ first.

The ‘how to read and reset car trouble codes’ mobile solution above is clearly a 3rd platform solution if you look at the context. It’s a standard mobile app, it’s marketed and supported via a forum (social & cloud) and I got it from an app store onto my phone (cloud).

The solution is somewhere between a consumer scenario and a professional one with the path to replace the professional solutions. It’s not available in the typical car parts store and the big dealership might not use it because they still have the old diagnostic units from 1996 or so. But if they needed to service or replace their old unit, again, why would they invest hundreds or thousands if the new solution is better?

It’s not very different in the enterprise business context. Think about what it takes to roll out a new solution for maintenance, field service or reporting to employees or contractors. Compare the traditional ‘not 3rd platform’ solution including client server, desktop, etc. to a ‘3rd platform’ one using mobile, cloud, social and big data.

How do we from SAP industry solutions look at mobile solutions?

We use the same approach: You want to improve a process or solve a business problem? Together we go into details using personas and understand the context and the expected user experience by an employee, customer or partner. Then we look at standard applications, platforms, integration, application enhancements or development, security and deployment options and present a solution. Now in most cases, the solution includes or is a 3rd platform solution.

Our mobile portfolio shows this very well, it has evolved and will continue to change. If you are interested to learn more, please contact me or join a workshop. The next one is at the International SAP Conference for Utilities in April in Berlin, Germany:

Cheers, Robert

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