ERP transactions from anywhere

Using a PalmPilot or a cell phone to enter or retrieve data from some ERP applications is on the horizon.
(Page 1 of 2)


In this article:
For more information
Footnotes
Are you ready for the ultimate remote access challenge? At first they are just curiosities, toys for the tinkerers. Then they start proliferating. Soon after, though, power users start getting frustrated about excessive data entry: They wonder why they can't connect their new toys to the sales, financial, marketing, and other corporate systems and avoid duplicating keystrokes.

For more information

A variety of newsgroups and vendor sites offer information about PDAs and the enterprise. Here are three especially useful vendor Web sites:

Palm computing platform
3Com Corp.
Santa Clara, Calif.
This is the gateway to the world of the PalmPilot: access to a software development kit, applications ideas, and other resources. Since most Palm use has been limited to calendar, memo pad, and other personal organizer functions, you won't find a lot of references to ERP. But it is the right place to start your journey.

Symbol Palm Terminal
Symbol Technologies Inc.
Holtsville, N.Y.
Symbol Technologies makes a variety of data collection devices used in warehouses, factories, and logistics centers. Usual cost is several thousand dollars. In March 1998, Symbol introduced the Symbol Palm Terminal that includes a bar code scanner for what sources say is less than half the cost of hardwired devices. The Web site contains a number of application stories and a software developer's kit ready for download. If you want to use a Palm in a manufacturing environment, put Symbol and its Web site at the top of your shopping list.

Oracle Applications
Oracle Corp.
Redwood Shores, Calif.
Oracle is further along than other ERP vendors in solving the challenge of linking PDAs like the PalmPilot to its ERP suite, in my humble opinion. In fact, a core part of its upcoming Customer Relationship Management package is enabling a field salesforce to sell using PalmPilots. The Web site has an Adobe Acrobat file with a description of how the Oracle Field Sales for Palm Devices works. Watch for product announcements this fall. The site also has information about how Oracle has stuffed a subset of its database into the Palm form factor.

IT managers react in horror at the thought of undisciplined users linking their renegade systems to the corporate jewels. Minor skirmishes between mid-level IT managers and business managers escalate into tense meetings between the CIO and the CFO and the VPs. The suits remain at odds until someone persuades the CEO that his or her point of view should prevail. Inevitably, IT loses the battle and is ordered to connect the devices to the systems.

Welcome to déjà vu, year 2000. Those nasty battles that erupted in the mid-1980s after the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer are going to be repeated next year. Only this time, the user device in question is the personal digital assistant, and its target is your enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Millions of 3Com Corp.'s PalmPilots and other personal digital assistants (PDAs) are out there, and millions more will be sold this year. They are theoretically capable of exchanging data with your ERP system, thanks to the nifty wireless Internet connections offered by the new Palm VII, and others of its ilk.

The early PDA adopters of the past few years will be joined by your salespeople, factory floor managers, warehouse supervisors, and other mobile professionals in arguing that a PalmPilot is an inexpensive way to boost their productivity and improve customer service. Wireless connections offer the ability to work from anywhere; you can do deals even when in the bathroom!

A more detailed analysis of IT managers' and organizations' views about PDAs shows the same gnashing of teeth and complaining that I heard 15 years ago, when a team of Datamation writers and editors did a special report on linking micros to mainframes. (For an update on the current state of PDA corporate affairs, see the April 1999 Datamation story, "The invasion of the handhelds.") Note that roughly 16% of PalmPilot users expect to gain access to corporate applications data next year, up from zero this year, according to Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass. And that demand for access will only continue to grow.

Don't bother trying to put your finger in the dike you've erected to keep out PDAs. Instead, focus on how to make this happen. Fighting PDA access to ERP servers ultimately will be a career-shortening move.

Some useful advice

Enough people have been thinking about this and writing code that some useful advice can be offered. Note that I didn't say relevant experience. You won't find a whole lot of people with experience doing an in-production, bi-directional PDA to ERP link.

And that's the real goal. Downloading sales data, recent transactions, or other ERP information into a PDA is a small first step. Real productivity and customer service gains come from a bi-directional link, where the PDA can be used to enter sales orders or shipment inquiries into the ERP servers and then get a promised shipment date in return.

The current generation PDAs may seem pathetically underpowered as a client for ERP systems ("You want to download what into 800 kilobytes?"), but by the end of 1999 you won't be able to use that argument to keep those handheld devices from becoming part of your job description. I'm told that J.D. Edwards & Co., Oracle Corp., and SAP AG this fall will unveil versions of their ERP suites that can accommodate PDAs; note that the newest PalmPilot can contain 4 megabytes of memory.



Page 1 of 2

 
1 2
Next Page





0 Comments (click to add your comment)
Comment and Contribute

 


(Maximum characters: 1200). You have characters left.