Safety supervisors at Vancouver’s Goldcorp used to copy paper reports into SAP. Read how a company developer found a way to make their work fit in their pockets

A Canadian miner moves to a paperless future
ORLANDO — Every day at a mine site owned by Vancouver’s Goldcorp Inc., a safety supervisor has to tour the worksite and check items off a long list of requirements.

It’s a three-hour process, and it doesn’t end when the supervisor exits the mine.

“Imagine that he brings back a big sheet of paper with the action items. Now he’s sitting down at a computer and manually entering it into SAP,” says Aravindan Kalaimannan, a Goldcorp solutions architect. “They really want to break away from that kind of approach. Mobility is high on the priority lists.”

Kalaimannan, who’s in charge of making Goldcorp’s SAP software work conveniently for his colleagues in the mines, is helping do that. He wants to see the day when paper-based operations are only a memory.

He explained this week at SAP’s Sapphire conference how he came up with a solution for Goldcorp that lets supervisors enter data on an Apple iPad Mini, then more easily transfer that data to SAP back at the office.
(Goldcorp’s Kalaimannan at Sapphire. Brian Jackson photo)

What if instead of being confronted at the office with the multi-page, numerous field entry user interface that SAP presents every time, the supervisor clicked through something more akin to a Web page? It’d be the perfect way for a casual SAP user at a mine site to quickly enter data into SAP in just a single page. To make it happen, Kalaimannnan turned to SAP Screen Personas

 ”Personas is a solution that allows customers to get more productivity from their existing investments in SAP,” says Peter Spielvogel, senior director of product marketing for SAP Labs LLC. “Most companies that have large groups of users can probably squeeze some additional productivity and make people happier about using SAP.”

It’s a simple browser-based solution that allows a technical team member to create a simplified data entry form for a casual SAP user. Personas is like a skin that hides all the parts of the SAP UI that user doesn’t need to see, can input data into fields automatically if they are the same every time, and can trigger a series of key strokes or even a script with the click of a button. 

SAP created Personas as a response to customers wanting an easier way to work with the software. It worked with Varian Medical Systems, distiller Brown-Forman Corp. (which owns Jack Daniels) and other customers to develop Personas. 

(To see a quick video on using Personas, click here)

Right now, Personas is in version 1.0, Kalaimannan noted in his conference presentation. There’s a couple of rough edges, such as the lack of the controls feature that SAP has in its regular software. Personas is based on Microsoft Silverlight technology, and SAP is working to publish it on HTML5, he’s been told.

Still, Kalaimannan was able to start his pilot project with Personas flying solo. He designed several screens and learned a lot along the way. He made use of the “record” button that records a series of actions like mouse clicks and key presses into a text file, then allows that text file to be assigned to a button the user can click. His other favourite button was the “undo” feature.

“I screw up big time trying to move stuff around. I find undo works like a charm,” he said. “Somehow SAP records every change that is done. You can go back all the way to the blank flavour page.”

Flavours are the different skins that IT or authorized users can select to interact with SAP’s backend. In most cases, a user would see just one Flavour screen. 

Eventually Kalaimannan brought in the help of a SAP plant maintenance consultant, a design person at Goldcorp and some more technical assistance. A plant maintenance supervisor provided feedback and three weeks later the project was done. Goldcorp’s Personas screen will help the desktop user choose their location with a simple string search, input who recorded it and what functional group is responsible with radio buttons, and rank the safety priority with a click. It’s four SAP screens in a matter of seconds, Kalaimannan says.

Goldcorp’s supervisors now use iPad minis to fill in their safety inspection reports in a browser-based form instead of paper. They still have to input what they record into SAP manually, but Personas makes it easier. Plus, the size of the tablet works.

“They like the size of the form factor,” Kalaimannan says. “They have a miner’s jacket and when they open the jacket, they have a pocket that fits the device.”

By 2015 he’s hoping to be completely paper-free for mine processes, and to be able to say he’s made life just a bit easier for his supervisors.
 
(Brian Jackson is editor of our sister site, IT Business.ca)
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