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Synching Up for Maintenance

Support for mobile devices is one of various capabilities offered for asset and service management by a new SAP business unit.

Advances in mobile and wireless device technology are changing the ways that companies do business. The area of shop floor equipment maintenance is no exception.

One example can be seen among applications rolled out by SAP Service Management, a new business unit formed recently by SAP AG, the German-based enterprise software vendor. One component offered by the unit is mobile asset management, part of a suite of applications known as mySAP Mobile Business. The suite includes support for laptop personal computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cellular phones that use wireless application protocol and iMode.

For manufacturers in asset-intensive industries who have extensive in-house maintenance staffs, one mobile asset management application relies on PDAs to boost maintenance efficiency and reduce errors, says Dean Fitt, an SAP product management specialist.

When maintenance personnel report for work in the morning, they can place their PDAs in a cradle to “synch up” to the company’s plant maintenance database, and receive their maintenance work orders for the day, Fitt explains. As workers perform maintenance tasks, they record them on their PDAs, and then resynch at workday’s end to upload the data to the corporate database. Two SAP customers are currently using this capability, says Fitt, and an additional 20 to 25 are in the testing phase.

One of many

The Mobile Business application suite is one of various functionalities to be offered by SAP Service Management, says Dagmar Fisher-Neeb, who heads up the unit. The unit will introduce a number of industry specific capabilities, and will also provide components drawn from various systems within the company’s mySAP product suite—including Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Management, Product Lifecycle Management and Supplier Relationship Management.

The new functionalities will be combined with traditional SAP offerings aimed at strategic asset management, including equipment maintenance, which has long been offered as part of the company’s R/3 enterprise resources planning system, says Fisher-Neeb. Valero Energy Corp., a San Antonio, Texas-based refining company with an annual maintenance and project system budget of more than $1 billion, for example, relies on SAP’s enterprise asset management system for planning and scheduling of its refinery maintenance operations, Fischer-Neeb points out. Around 2,000 SAP customers currently use the capability to some extent, she estimates.

The Service Management unit is targeting two subsegments, says Fischer-Neeb. In addition to asset owners such as Valero who are concerned with effectively managing and maintaining their own plant assets, a primary target is service maintenance organizations. In many cases, these are manufacturing organizations that bundle service with their products, and in some cases, they are more profitable selling services than they are in selling their products, Fischer-Neeb observes.

Both SAP target markets are seen by industry analysts as strong growth opportunities. SAP quotes research from ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass., for example, that projects a market of nearly $2 billion for product service management software and related services by year-end 2007, up from about $650 million in 2002. Further, in a report released in June, ARC foresees cumulative growth of more than 7 percent annually for sales of plant asset management and condition monitoring products over the next five years; ARC projects worldwide sales in this market climbing from less than $900 million last year to almost $1.3 billion by the end of 2007.

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