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December 11, 2013

Case Study: Building sales apps on SAP

Toymaker TOMY and blind fitter Hillarys both used SAP software to set up apps for their sales teams.

By Joe Curtis

SAP was the choice of both toymaker TOMY and blind fitters Hillarys when the two companies wanted to build apps for their mobile sales teams.

The latter firm has 1,000 sales advisors across the country, and makes around 30,000 fitted blinds per week for customers the sales team manages to gain.

Julian Bond, head of information, communication and technology at the latter firm, says its legacy mobile application, SAM, ran on Windows Pocket PC, which had been used since 2004, and was struggling to keep up with the latest developments.

What’s more, Microsoft no longer provided support for it, and Hillarys wanted to leverage more of its current investment in SAP software, which runs the firm’s ERP system.

"There was no upgrade path," Bond confirms. "We had spend three years wanting to re-architect our mobile application and we were lucky we didn’t because had we done that in ’08/09/10, we would have moved to BlackBerry. It’s a fast-moving market."

Doing it just a year or so later meant the company could moved to Android, meaning a saving for its self-employed salesforce too, which moved to Samsung Galaxy devices for both personal and work purposes.

The challenge was creating an app that was able to put sales orders through, but was simple to use as well.

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"Those advisors are not necessarily at the younger end of the spectrum and they’re not that excited about technology," says Bond. "Making sure you give them technology they find useable and intuitive and making sure you can put sufficient protection around your customer information on their device is a challenge."

SAP Mobile Platform underpins the app, called SAMSON, an updated version of SAM, and Bond says SAP’s technology helped deliver the project in less than six months. It has been rolled out to 650 core advisors, with more to follow, and works online and offline, encrypting orders when they can’t be sent straight through to the ERP system.

Bond says: "The app helps us bring a consumer focused approach at the home. We have seen a significantly improved sales conversion in the home because advisors can do stuff more quickly and professionally and we have managed to drive some costs out because of it."

He is now focusing on an analytics app for sales managers, meaning they can react to data within the same week to modify sales policies.

"Analytics has helped the business on the journey," he explains. "It’s the first appliocation we have pushed out and the user management community have embraced it. It’s the start of a paradigm shift in terms of how we use mobile data."

Stuart Kahn, IT manager for TOMY, wanted his company’s sales team to get more out of an app in order to reduce calls to the help desk for customer details such as their address and pay status.

"We wanted to get the information in the office out into the field," he says. "Using SAP we have used its mobile platform to talk to our back office system and present a whole load of customer information."

TOMY had already been through a process of building an app based on a B2B website it had created to talk to its ERP system, Macola, but in 2007 had changed to SAP.

Kahn says they already knew how to do it; the challenge was now creating a new app that worked on both Windows and Apple devices because the sales team worked from iPads, and office staff on PCs.

"It was a challenge developing it," Kahn admits. "We had to make sure things worked responsively enough because we have a range of equipment. Part way through the project Apple brought out iOS7 and the sales people updated so we had to make sure it was compatible with that."

But the project has given the sales team more data to work with about their customers, while upcoming updates include going live with SAP’s Afaria, which enables TOMY to wipe customer data from former employees’ devices.

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