On July 30, 2012 SAP announced a free mobile developer license, along with a new Mobile Apps Partner Program and additional support for independent software development frameworks (from Adobe, Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha.) While this will provide easy access to potentially millions of developers and SAP partners, the typical SAP customer might be left thinking, “That’s great, but what’s in it for me? How does this benefit me and my business?” The short answer is: Better, faster, easier access to enterprise data for decision making.
Mobile and Enterprise Data: The Disconnect
According to Sanjay Poonen, President, Corporate Officer Global Solutions, SAP and Head of Mobility Division, “Mobile technology has become the touch-point that unites the workforce across any organization, no matter the size.…” When it comes to staying connected, mobile technology has certainly helped in this regard. Indeed, while mobile devices free us from wired connections, they actually seem to tether us more firmly to our businesses. Professionals are “always on” and “always connected” even when traveling for business, attending a child’s soccer game or on vacation. But do you really have better direct access to the enterprise data you use to make decisions and run your business? If you do, you are probably in the minority.
Mint Jutras research on enterprise applications and mobility surveyed almost 300 companies and found only 4% rated accessibility to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) from a mobile device as “excellent” while 47% said they had little to no access. Many still view mobile capabilities as “useful” but few categorize them as “must have.” And a considerable percentage (15% to 40%, depending on the specific capability) indicated they would not take advantage of those capabilities even if they had them. So there is also still some education to be done as to the value.
What was the top priority for their mobile devices (and yes 90% of them carry one or more)? “Alerts and notifications” was very close to the top of the list.
Decision makers want to be notified immediately of business exceptions such as a missed delivery or a big order that was dropped from the forecast. But what happens today even if a business executive is notified through a mobile device? Often the exec turns the “smart phone” into a “dumb phone.” He (or she) uses it to call a subordinate to track down the details necessary for making a decision about what to do.
Why is attacking the problem directly not viewed as a higher mobile priority? Because calling a subordinate or surrogate (maybe a power user?) is exactly what most would do even if they were sitting at their desk, staring at their computers. How many high level decision makers today do you know that ever put their hands directly on applications like ERP? The answer is probably: Very few. Why is that? Because the perception, and often the reality is that applications such as ERP are too difficult to navigate and understand.
Business executives don’t want to “learn ERP.” They want the answer to a question or the solution to a specific problem. The data stored in an enterprise application might indeed hold the answers to their questions or the solutions to their problems, but a general-purpose type of application requires knowledge of the structure of the application or the data, or both.
Mobile Applications to the Rescue
Equipping executives with a mobile device has solved the “connectivity” problem. Now it is time to extend that solution to connect them directly to enterprise data. If business executives are reluctant to wade through applications like ERP in search of answers, perhaps the solution is to anticipate what those specific questions will be and provide direct access to the answers.
And by the way… we noted previously that “alerts and notifications” was very close to the top of the list. At the very top was “authorization and approval” to purchase orders, invoices, expenses and the like. Do you need access to ERP in general for this? No, you need specific purpose-built access or a single-purpose application.
In answering specific questions or addressing specific problems, instead of requiring access to a single all-encompassing application (ERP), executive decision makers need access to potentially many different mini-applications. Executives have lots of burning questions, so this means lots of different (albeit smaller) applications and those mobile devices are the perfect delivery vehicles.
But if you need lots of applications, you better have lots of developers working on delivering them. But the only way to attract lots of developers is to make it worth their while. Hence, Mr. Poonen’s declaration, “We recognize that this presents valuable opportunity for the millions of mobile developers looking for ways to monetize and scale. For that reason, SAP has created an end-to-end support system that helps ensure that mobile developers around the world have easy access to SAP resources – from our developer center and partner program to the extensive options offered by partner solutions like Adobe, Appcelerator and Sencha.”
SAP’s End-to-End Support System
Let’s take a look at this support system SAP is creating with these announcements. The goal is to provide easy access to SAP platforms and tools at no or minimal cost. It has these key elements:
- Free 30-day trial: This is perfect for developers that have never developed using SAP’s mobile platform or even those that have, but in a more isolated environment. It gives them a chance to evaluate the platform and provides access to a complete hosted landscape, including the SAP mobile platform and the SAP ERP application, with no local installation needed. In turn it gives SAP customers a deeper pool of talent working for their benefit.
- Free developer license on Amazon Web Services (AWS): This option offers access to a hosted developer environment through AWS and a software developer kit (SDK) local download. There are no developer fees; developers only pay for cloud hosting with hourly fees paid directly to AWS. This is suitable for all types of developers, even an individual developer or a small shop that has not invested in its own development environment, again providing a broader pool of talent developing mobile apps for the business.
- SAP Mobile Apps Partner program: This offer is an effective engagement model that not only supports the development of mobile applications but assistance in monetizing the effort. A single contract provides all developer licenses needed, comprehensive technical support and the ability for partners to place their mobile apps on the SAP Store. Through this program the partner has visibility into SAP solution roadmaps and protection of Intellectual Property (IP) through enforcement of ownership rights. For this, the partner pays a low annual fee and a small percentage of revenue share to SAP. While the partner gains access to SAP’s vast customer base (via the SAP Store), customers gain more choice and breadth in their selection of applications.
- New integration options connecting Adobe PhoneGap, Appcelerator Titanium and Sencha Touch with the SAP mobile platform. Why should SAP customers care about this integration to technology they may never have even heard of? In short, because not all mobile devices operate the same way. So how do you provide the same application to multiple decision makers, using different devices and still make each application look and feel like other applications that are native to the device? You either develop for one device and then re-develop for other devices, or you use technologies such as these. And oh, by the way, that “touch screen” technology all you iPhone, iPad and Android users know and love, doesn’t just “happen.”
This also adds to the talent pool because mobile developers are very likely to have experience with these tools in building custom mobile apps. For partners with skills in these environments it is now straightforward to connect these mobile apps to SAP, thereby delivering more standard apps for SAP customers.
Workforces around the world may not be quite as united as we would like them to be. And executives might not be as “connected” to the data needed for quick and effective decision-making. But if mobile developers can be unleashed en mass, then perhaps answers to questions might truly be at the executives’ fingertips, which is a lot closer than “a phone call away.”