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Last week, as I returned from my summer holiday, my favorite large retail customer called to schedule a video-conference session. Their goal was to learn how to implement our Zero Printer Administration customization for SAP PAL (Printing Assistant for Landscapes). Rested and recovered from my holiday, I was happy to oblige. It’s great to work with customers who are eager to improve their print infrastructures.

Just prior to leaving for vacation, I had finished working with SAP and LRS development to integrate the automation of printer definitions in SAP PAL systems from our VPSX product. This integration was made possible by changes to the SAP interface for output management systems (BC-XOM); in particular the extensions for printer definitions. Both SAP spool development staff (thanks, Olaf!) and an LRS developer (thanks, Chris!) had done a great job giving us the product base facilities to make this work. Now all I had to do was integrate this bit with the MS Excel-based definition system already in place at the customer site.

Problem and Resolution

SAP Basis administrators have a lot on their plates. In SAP environments with business critical printing requirements, the Basis teams can spend up to 40 percent of their time defining, maintaining, and troubleshooting print devices and output problems. To be honest, that’s not a valuable use of their time. By leveraging the SAP-developed BC-XOM interface along with an external output management solution like our VPSX product, we can free SAP Basis administrators from the need to deal with printers and print.

In the case of the aforementioned large retail organization, we were able to automate much of the administration. The finished system works like this: 

  1. Local administrators order and install new printers around their network as required.
  2. Once the hardware is in place, the administrators enter the new device IDs into a spreadsheet that is then stored on a suitably protected central share. (Only new or changed devices need to be entered into the spreadsheet, not existing printer IDs.)
  3. Every hour, a centrally scheduled batch job captures the spreadsheet (if present), converts it into a CSV file, and passes the CSV data to a VPSX process printer. This enables the printers to be defined to the central VPSX server and, where required, to be distributed to the VPSX instance in a given customer remote satellite location.
  4. If there is a value in the SAP Device Type field of the CSV file, the printer definitions will also be passed to the SAP PAL system. A short name is assigned from a pool of short names reserved for use by the VPSX software. These newly-defined printers are then automatically marked as being under SAP PAL control. 
  5. SAP PAL then takes the printer definitions and distributes them to all appropriate remote SAP systems.

Happy ending, simple administration

The result of these five steps is that any new printer is available for use within an hour of being entered into the spreadsheet. The printer is then available to all business applications, including those on Citrix XenApp and Windows workstations, as well as centralized applications (like SAP). Due to the group-driven security of our VPSX output management software, the printers are only visible to the appropriate users.

Note that in this scenario, the local administrators do not belong to the SAP Basis group. Instead, they are the local infrastructure people. In general, the SAP Basis folks have no work to do at all with printer definitions or maintenance, and are not bothered with printing problems either. The help desk staff can deal with these issues on their own without access to the SAP system. While Basis admins will have to take care of the installation of the SAP PAL system itself, the SAP Basis contact at this customer insisted that PAL was a very easy system to install and maintain, as it contains no business applications. Any issues with creation of printers are automatically reported via email to the Output Management Group.

In the future, this customer plans to replace the spreadsheet with a SharePoint application. This will simplify and secure the input capture process, as the VBA-driven spreadsheet application has grown in complexity over time. The original system has run for many years without any incidents, so I’m not expecting any problems with the testing and implementation phase. I am looking forward to customer feedback on what can be done better and suggestions for any extra functionality they think is required.

To read more about SAP PAL, there is a lot of good information on the SAP website here and here and here.  Note that to use these new BC-XOM extensions, the PAL system will need the latest patches (see SAP Note 2027390).

To see how LRS can help your company greatly reduce the administration overhead associated with printing infrastructure across all applications and platforms, improve your operational agility, and provide end device independence (especially useful in outsourced and MPS environments), contact LRS. We look forward to helping you overcome your printing and output delivery challenges.

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