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General Mills shares SAP CRM on the iPad best practices

General Mills rolled out iPad access to its SAP CRM system for 200 sales reps and saw success as well as challenges with data sync and upgrades.

ORLANDO -- Deploying a new SAP CRM system is by no means an easy task, but adding in a mobile platform and supporting it on the iPad creates additional challenges.

General Mills has done it, however.

Kerry Gustafson, information systems manager for the Minneapolis-based company, and Axel Fiedler, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, who helped with the project, shared some of their experiences with the deployment to an eager crowd at the Sapphire NOW 2011 show being held here this week.

Last year, General Mills rolled out SAP 7.0 to 400 of its bakery and food service salespeople. It extended Sybase's Mobile CRM and NetWeaver Mobile to allow 200 sales reps to access the system from their iPads. While General Mills looked at a few options, the Sybase application was the best fit even though it did require some customization.

"The standard application had eight buttons, we stripped it down to four," Gustafson said.

Additionally, General Mills added some marketing attributes. So drilling further into those buttons, sales reps could see, for example, if the hospital they were serving now served breakfast or had 800 beds instead of 500.

Benefits of SAP CRM on the iPad

The ultimate goal was to provide the "road warriors" with a faster, easier, more accurate method of entering sales data and serving that up to sales managers quickly.

"We didn't want our sales reps entering data late Sunday night, when they didn't remember much of what happened," she said. "We wanted it to be fresh."

The other benefit was a simple, easy-to-grasp user interface (UI), which Gustafson said came mostly out of the box.

Additionally, General Mills now has the Sybase Unwired Platform installed.

The iPad serves as a complement to the sales rep's laptop and, Gustafson said, offers the benefits of a longer battery life, instant on and a larger screen for displays than smartphones have.

In fact, one major benefit of running the Sybase platform is that it allows users to work when they're disconnected. So a sales rep waiting in the basement of a Costco warehouse can still enter information and sync it up later, Gustafson said.

Yet there were challenges.

SAP CRM on the iPad pitfalls

A couple of important points: These were personal devices. In fact, all mobile devices at General Mills are owned by the employees. Additionally, these are all U.S.-based employees, saving General Mills from having to deal with things like European privacy laws, a concern of some attendees who saw the presentation.

Because these are personal devices, General Mills simply let its established policies for conduct and personal devices guide employees when combining a personal and work device. These iPads are required to connect to the General Mills servers, however, allowing the company to wipe out sales data if it needs to.

Essentially there is a native Sybase SQL Anywhere database that sits on the device.

Another reason for running the Sybase application and not simply serving up the Web UI was that Apple's Safari operating system doesn't support the SAP web processes.

That presented another challenge -- upgrades.

"We have multiple components," Fiedler said. "The Apple iOS, because it's a private device iOS, cannot control the upgrade, and because there's no warning, you have to test on the fly."

Testing provided some other challenges.

"Initially, we identified data that would have been nice but not really needed," Gustafson said. "So, for example, when a territory switched, it would affect a couple thousand records. When someone opened an iPad, it takes so much time they couldn't even use it."

Users who turned on their iPads would find themselves waiting and waiting while thousands of records were synced to the device.

That also created some testing challenges.

The data sync issue was discovered after go-live, because General Mills had not been able to test what happens when 20 devices attempt to sync thousands of records at the same time.

"You really want to know the complete end-to-end scenario," Fiedler said. "Some processes are still connected. Look at when users are going to sync most."

While sales reps can access corporate email through the iPad, they cannot yet send out marketing campaigns. General Mills does support some access to brochures and some images. The images are accessed using a Safari .NET browser app. Yet it was the entering of sales data that was the goal of the project, not the cool factor.

"This is for after [the sales call]," Gustafson said. "You don't want to be at the client and say, 'Look at my app and watch me update it.''

Best practices for an SAP CRM deployment on the iPad

  • Make sure you have a pilot.
  • Limit the amount of data.
  • Get the IT team up to speed on support and make sure your support at "go now" is ready to go.
  • Quality assurance should be mobile-enabled and mirror production.

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