After implementing SAP AG's ERP system throughout the company in 2001, Shell Pipeline needed to find a way to improve the efficiency of its US pipeline maintenance operations.

Houston-based Shell wanted to eliminate the extra time and work it took for its pipeline technicians in the field to write up inspection and repair reports by hand - which was sometimes done on the backs of envelopes - and then return to the office to manually input the data into the SAP Preventive Maintenance application, says Brian Ashe, former manager of measurement and quality services at Shell Pipeline, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell Oil Products US.

Two years and several pilot programs later, Shell decided to implement Infowave Software's Telispark Mobile Enterprise suite to allow its pipeline technicians to better track and service its pipelines as well as improve reporting compliance, according to Ashe.

"Before, they would have to go through 27 to 29 different screens to input each piece of data, and they found they were spending more screen time than wrench time in the field," he says.

Today, Telispark enables the technicians in the field to enter data into handheld devices, which tie in with the SAP application, giving them access to equipment information and work orders and saving time.

How it works
The application suite draws data from multiple back-end systems using either the customer's enterprise application integration architecture or Infowave's own APIs to deliver data to mobile devices, including laptops and handhelds. Data is communicated back to the enterprise via a wireless connection or a "link and sync" cradle. Infowave supports data systems such as Oracle, SAP, Siebel, MRO Software Inc.'s Maximo and Indus Corp.'s Empac.

"Do it right the first time," says Jerry Meerkatz, president of Infowave, arguing against a DIY approach. "A good portion of our customers tried to build a solution first and then realised that packaged apps are easier, faster and more cost-effective to deploy. They ended up wasting cash and postponing ROI."

"This year is a bona fide breakthrough mobile year, with many mobile players seeing significant enterprise interest," says analyst Tony Rizzo at the 451 Group. "Rather than chasing pilots, the stronger mobile players are now securing real business."

The 451 Group reckons that mobile initiatives are rapidly evolving, especially in field-force areas such as asset management. "Infowave is finally seeing positive movement in its pipeline [Ho ho!! - Ed] of customers and should see some significant new deployments in the second half of 2004." '