Appcelerator

SAP’s New Mobile Developer Programs – What Do They Mean to the Business?

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.

Conclusion

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.”

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What SAP’s Technology Announcements Mean to the Businessperson

On April 10,2012 SAP let loose with a barrage of announcements, all focused on development, data base and technology. It was enough to make a business person’s eyes glaze over as their attention turned away to more pressing business matters. So it is perfectly understandable that those business people should ignore SAP’s technology announcements. Sure it is…just the way it is understandable they should ignore the electrical wiring in their homes. After all, it’s behind the wall. They don’t really understand it. They can’t see it or feel it. They hardly even know it’s there. Until the lights or the appliances don’t work. Or until they want to install a hot tub or upgrade their lighting fixtures, and they can’t. Or until fixing problems with the wiring becomes exorbitantly expensive, leading them to believe it would be easier just to rip it all out and start over. Hmm…maybe it isn’t so wise to ignore database and technology after all.

You’re a Business Person. Why Should You Care?

Unless technology is your business, if you are managing a company, or even a division, a department or a group, you aren’t interested in technology for technology’s sake. Technology is only as valuable as the business value it brings. Business value can be measured in cost savings and performance improvements. Value can be derived from the ability to support data-driven decisions that lead to profitable growth, sustainable business and shareholder value. How do improvements in development tools and technology translate into delivering more business value? Let’s take a look at some of the underlying components of SAP’s announcements and answer the question, “Why should you care?”

Performance Counts in Data Management

One of the general announcements from SAP was the unveiling of a unified strategy for real-time data management. That statement itself won’t mean much to the average businessperson. But that’s not unusual. SAP’s management and many of its customer-facing staff often speak in terms that are only really meaningful to other software vendors and technology press and industry analysts. Or they speak in abstract terms leaving business people to figure out how that relates to their businesses and their problems. It is a problem they are attempting to remedy by listening more closely to their customers, but it’s still there.

“Real-time insight that combines our customer demand and marketing promotion with supply chain visibility on a rock-solid enterprise-class data platform is a must in our industry. With SAP HANA, we see tremendous opportunity to dramatically improve our enterprise data warehouse solutions… drastically reducing data latency and improving speed when we can return query results in 45 seconds versus waiting up to 20 minutes for empty results…“

Weijun Zhang, deputy director, Shanghai Volkswagen

The bottom line: SAP intends to become a leader in the database market by leveraging its own development efforts, as well as products and expertise it has acquired. Most of its customers probably don’t care whether it achieves this goal or not. Even those with a distinct preference for doing business with “market leaders” already chose SAP, at least in part because of its leadership in enterprise applications, not databases.

Over the past few years the company has invested a lot in its own in-memory database SAP HANA which is designed for both high speed and high volume. Even mind-numbing volumes of data will no longer present barriers and early benchmarks are producing processing speeds that are not just incrementally faster, but multiple orders of magnitude faster.

But SAP also acquired Sybase, and with Sybase came its own set of data base products. And the prior Business Objects acquisition also included enterprise information management (EIM) capabilities. Acquisitions often provide more cross sell and up sell opportunity for the acquiring company than bundled or embedded value for the customer. But a “unified strategy” means full integration of all these technologies and should eliminate layers of complexity. It should also mean customers will be able to run their existing systems more efficiently while also being able to take advantage of new capabilities and (hopefully) there won’t be a hefty price tag attached.

Ultimately SAP needs to deliver differentiated performance in order to achieve its database leadership goals. And its customers should benefit from added speed, the ability to handle unprecedented volumes of data, including a lot of types of data they might not even be considering today.

Whether You Know it or Not, You Probably Have a Data Problem

Most businesses today suffer from a data problem, yet might not necessarily recognize it as such.  But …

  • If you feel like you are buried under a mountain of data, or
  • If you know the data is there somewhere, but you aren’t sure where to look, or
  • Data is scattered all over the place, or
  • You have plenty of data, just not the right data, or
  • You can see the data but it’s just not in a format you can use, or
  • You lack the discipline to collect and store the data consistently, or
  • You have multiple versions of the same data, or
  • You don’t trust the data you have, or
  • All of the above

…then you have a data problem. You most likely have data in multiple applications, including reference and master data, as well as transactions. And you are starting to see the value in bringing other sources of data to play in decisions. A lot of this will be unstructured data from automated data collection, sensors, the Internet (e.g. Google alerts, news feeds, stock watches, etc.), from social media, captured conversations, etc. etc. etc. There has to be some “magic” that brings this altogether and makes it actually useful, “magic” that saves you time and effort in gathering and processing it for effective decision-making.

That’s the value of a unified strategy for real-time data management.

More and Better Apps

In presenting these new announcements, Steve Lucas, Global Executive Vice President and General Manager, SAP Database and Technology, posed the question, “What good is a new next-generation platform without new apps to take advantage of it?” SAP wants to be a database player, but it has been in the enterprise applications business long enough to realize the applications drive the demand for databases. And in turn, it is business needs that drive the demand for applications. Indeed, SAP’s announcements included an application development play, but a very specific one: mobile application development.

Enabling Mobile Application Development

 

Mobility was also a big factor in the Sybase acquisition, along with its SQL Anywhere product, used for mobile database management. For more than a year now, industry influencers have been hounding SAP to make it easier for communities of mobile application developers to develop apps with its mobility platform. SAP appears to have been listening. The announcements on April 10th included partnerships with Adobe (PhoneGap), Appcelerator and Sencha, as well as the intent to acquire Syclo, a provider of mobile enterprise apps.

For more information on these partnerships please see the full announcement: SAP Drives Openness and Choice for Millions of Mobile App Developers

Without going into detail that the typical business person won’t care about, each of the partnerships bring a little something different to the party, but the overall intent is to provide an open platform that supports third party development environments and tools. The goal is to have millions of developers developing millions of mobile apps. Why so many and why is this good news for business people? Isn’t part of the data problem a proliferation of enterprise applications? Yes and no.

Yes there has been a proliferation of enterprise applications and this proliferation can cause data redundancy that threatens data integrity. Just think how many different applications store data about your customers. Do they all use the same master files? Do you know if two divisions have the same customer? But just because you have multiple applications doesn’t mean the right people have direct access to data needed for decision-making. And therefore, no, even with all these enterprise applications, you still don’t have enough data and enough access.

Let’s face it, most senior management – those making decisions critical to company profitability and growth – don’t have direct access to applications like ERP, CRM or analytics. If you are one of these executives, chances are you rely on subordinates or a surrogate, thinking that is faster or better. You don’t have the cycles to learn/use/directly access solutions.  Part of the problem is that these applications are multi-purpose and multi-function. Perhaps with more intuitive user interfaces today they don’t require a lot of training in terms of navigation, but users do need to understand the structure and the processes involved.

Contrast these general purpose, large scale applications to your typical mobile applications. They are small, easy to download, easy to understand and easy to use. They are designed to perform a single function and solve a specific problem. So if each is focused and purpose-built, you need a lot of them to do everything you need to do.

And of course everyone has a mobile device these days. Interestingly enough, as we become more unwired, we also become more tethered to our work. We are always connected whether we are traveling for work, at our child’s soccer game or even on vacation. So now that we’re connected but remote, it becomes much more of an inconvenience to rely on someone else for access to data when we need to take action or make a decision and move on quickly.

If you also consider the fact that these mobile devices can be addictive then you have created the perfect storm where demand for access to data, the desire to solve a particular problem and the acceleration of application development converge.

The acquisition of Syclo further emphasizes the focus on delivering mobile apps. While Syclo does have its own mobile platform, make no mistake, for SAP this acquisition is all about the applications. Syclo not only brings industry-specific solutions, but also domain expertise in bringing enterprise asset management (EAM), field service, inventory management and approvals and workflow to mobile devices.

For more information on the acquisition please see the full announcement:

SAP to Acquire Syclo, Extends Leadership in Mobilizing the Enterprise

Summary

SAP has stated that its vision for database and technology is to be “the leader in business technology and data management innovation and help its customers to maximize business results with minimal IT landscape disruption.” This should be music to the ears of a businessperson. The key phrases are business results and minimal disruption. While there is so much talk about “disruptive technology” today, it is important to distinguish this from business disruption. A disruptive technology might prompt you to change the way you do things, presumably in a good way. But it should never disrupt your ability to conduct business.

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