Tuesday, April 17, 2012

SAP’s Mobility Strategy: One Million Developers Blooming

SAP in its press conference last week provided a major update on its database and mobility strategy. In my first post, I outlined my view of SAP’s database strategy. Now, in this second post, I provide my perspective on SAP’s mobility strategy.

SAP recognizes mobility as a critical element of its product strategy going forward, along with social business, cloud, and in-memory computing. But as some of my associates been hammering over the past two years, success in mobility requires SAP to enable thousands of small development firms and individual developers to build applications for SAP. Not just a few large system integrators or ISVs: SAP needs the enterprise equivalent of Apple’s App Store ecosystem.

SAP’s thinking on this front has been evolving. After its Sybase acquisition, it put the “Sybase Unwired Platform” (or SUP, but now renamed, the SAP Mobility Platform) at the center of its mobility strategy. You want to build mobile apps for SAP? Wonderful—buy, borrow, or otherwise get access to the SAP products you want to integrate with, plus an instance of SUP, and have at it. The problem was, however, that this approach limits the number of developers to the following categories:
  • Large or midsize ISV-partners of SAP, who were willing to make the investment in an SAP development environment, to develop mobility apps for sale to current and future SAP customers. This would be a small number.
  • System integration partners of SAP, who had live project opportunities that included mobility apps as deliverables. The SI could use the client's SAP development environment. These resulting apps would be to meet the needs of a specific client, although the SI might reuse the code in future projects. But this approach would produce few apps for a wider audience.
  • Individual developers or small SAP partners who understand SAP’s middleware and development architecture well enough to forgo use of SAP’s platform and can write mobility apps directly against SAP’s back-end databases. This is where many "app store" type apps could be produced. But here is where small developers come up against a brick wall: SAP does not make it easy to gain access to trial or development versions of many of the SAP products that a mobility programmer would need.
For some reason, Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM are able to make life easier for small developers. But for a hint of what it’s like for a small developer to work with SAP, take a look at this blog post (on SAP’s own SCN community site!): Why Does SAP Make This So Complicated?

Two Good Announcements, But More Work Needed

SAP, to its credit, appears to understand the problem. In its announcements, two were especially noteworthy in terms of addressing the needs of the developer masses and in terms of filling out SAP’s own mobile apps portfolio.
  • First, to enable those thousands of developers, SAP announced partnerships with three leading mobility development tools providers: PhoneGap (recently acquired by Adobe), Appcelerator, and Sencha. These will allow developers, working with tools they are already familiar with, to build apps using a new OData connector to integrate with SAP’s back-end systems. In addition, these tools will allow many simple apps to be built without having to rely upon SAP’s Mobility Platform.
  • The second big announcement was that SAP is acquiring Syclo, which has its own mobility platform as well as a suite of well-regarded field service and asset management applications. SAP said that what it is really after here is not the platform (which overlaps functionality of SAP’s Mobility Platform) but the field service apps. This is another step in SAP building out its portfolio of its own out-of-the box mobile apps. Based on my own work with clients, I know that field service and asset management, in fact, are top use cases for mobility in enterprise systems. If SAP can continue to buy or build collections of key mobility apps like Syclo’s, it will begin to fill out the major white spaces in its mobility portfolio, while still leaving much room for third-party developers to fill in the rest.
These are welcome announcements, but will they be enough? I don't think so. These announcements give the developers new tools, but they don't address the problem of getting access to an SAP development system for testing. Some of my associates, such as Vijay Vijayasankar and Dennis Howlett, echo this concern:

Dennis writes,
Needless to say there is a major hitch: developers who want to build apps with SAP data need access to a NetWeaver instance to test and model. Customers would have that, but small developer shops without an SAP license would not have that access without pricey, hair-pulling hurdles, which Sikka acknowledged during the press conference was a “19th century” approach. When pressed on this issue, SAP’s Fawad Zakariya, VP of Mobility and a key player in mobility ecosystem development reporting directly to Poonen, asserted that good news on this front was coming.
In a similar vein, Vijay writes,
I cannot stress enough on the licensing and monetization model to be figured out upfront – without that, access to software is practically meaningless. Developers have a lot of choice today, including many OSS choices. SAP needs a compelling story for them to use SAP technology….

… we are not sure how SAP handles the licensing/pricing in this scenario . And without that clarity coming real quick – I doubt if scores of developers will jump in and start developing cool apps. Sanjay Poonen responded on twitter few days ago than SAP will get it right quickly, and I totally trust him to do so – hopefully by SAPPHIRE in Orlando.
So here we have it. SAP is making significant progress to curry favor with small developers, but it still doesn't have a total solution to enable them with access to test versions or sandbox instances of SAP back-end systems.

Listen to the Developers

Some of my associates are still concerned that SAP has not found the right “pricing model” for mobility apps, but I think that is last year’s debate. Although not part of the formal announcements last week, it appears SAP is working on a pricing scheme that differentiates between major functional mobility apps, casual apps, and even “free” apps. Add in occasional one-off “enterprise pricing” for very large corporate deals, and I don’t think pricing needs to be an obstacle. Everyone can make money and customers can pay appropriately.

But the licensing problems are more systemic within SAP and most likely face legal or organizational resistance based on “how we’ve always done business.”

I am not a mobile apps developer. Therefore, I have no experience on which to judge when SAP will have all the pieces in place to encourage, in the words of SAP, one million developers to bloom. I can only look to those small developers already within SAP’s ecosystem for their reaction—when they are happy, then I’ll know SAP is on the right path. And what I’m hearing from them so far is that they’re still concerned about the licensing issues.

With SAP as the largest enterprise application company in the world, the mobility announcements are welcome news, but we still don’t have a total solution to enable thousands, let alone, millions of developers. I look forward to hearing about progress reported out of the SAPPHIRE conference in a few weeks.

You can watch a video of the entire press conference.

Photo credit: Flickr/docentjoyce

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

SAP’s Database Strategy Faces an Uphill Battle

Last week I attended a half day SAP press conference in San Francisco, on the subject of SAP’s strategy for database technology and mobility. Both are hot topics in enterprise software, and there were plenty of announcements. In fact, it’s quite easy to get lost in the weeds. So, in this first of two posts, I’ll try to summarize what I see as the big picture for SAP’s database strategy.

SAP Positioning Itself as a Database Company

When SAP acquired Sybase in 2010, it said it was doing the deal primarily Sybases's mobility platform. But Sybase also has its traditional relational database products, leading with its Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) database. At the same time, SAP itself has been rolling out its HANA in-memory database (IMDB) technology. Until now, these two database products were managed separated, but no longer. SAP is consolidating all its database offerings—HANA and Sybase’s—along with middleware and tools, under one management unit.

There were many tactical announcements. SAP announced general availability of its BW business intelligence product on HANA, and its plan to make HANA available later this year as the database of choice for its small business customers of its Business One ERP product. In addition, customers later this month will have the flagship Sybase ASE database available as a deployment option for SAP’s Business Suite and All-in-One products.

SAP rolled out all of these announcements under the banner of its plan to become known as a database company.

Database Migrations Difficult to Justify

After the press conference, one SAP executive sensed my ambivalence about this plan. With Oracle taking an ever-increasing adversarial position toward SAP, I can understand SAP’s discomfort with having a large percentage of its best customers running on Oracle’s database. At the same time, the other two major providers of relational databases (IBM and Microsoft) are SAP-friendly. IBM is SAP’s largest system integration partner, while SAP and Microsoft often find their technology interests aligned. So, how do you threaten Oracle while not also threatening IBM and Microsoft?

Furthermore, does SAP honestly believe that existing SAP customers are going to migrate in droves from Oracle, IBM’s DB2, or Microsoft SQL Server to HANA or ASE? In the case of business analytics, there may be some movement toward HANA, yes, as the value of in-memory performance for analytic applications is somewhat easy to envision. But what about SAP’s business applications, such as Business One, All-in-One, and the Business Suite? With all the challenges and demands placed on CIOs these days, it’s difficult to imagine an installed SAP customer undergoing a database migration, simply to eliminate some Oracle, or DB2, or Microsoft SQL Server licenses. SAP insists there is business value for HANA in some transaction processing—and I can see that, say, in supply chain management. But is that enough to justify a database migration? Even less so, why would a customer swap out Oracle, DB2, or Microsoft for ASE, which is essentially a like-for-like product? I just don’t see it.

In side-bar discussions, SAP executives basically agree. Alright then, so the target is net-new application customers? But here the challenge is essentially the same. In most cases, business apps prospects already have skills and experience with Oracle, DB2, or MS SQL Server. Are they really going to want to invest in learning Sybase ASE, or HANA? Unless they can completely eliminate those other database platforms from their environments, going with Sybase or HANA is adding to their complexity, not simplifying things.

I think that selling databases is going to be harder row to hoe than SAP is making it out to be.

Subsidizing HANA May Meet Complications

Perhaps recognizing the challenge, SAP realizes it is going to have to sweeten the pot, especially for HANA. So, at the press conference, SAP announced that it is putting up some serious money, through two funds:
  • For new and existing customers: a $337 million fund to subsidize services for SAP customers to convert to HANA. I assume the initial target for these funds will be in migrating business analytics customers to HANA.

  • For technology start-ups: a $155 million venture capital fund through SAP Ventures for start-ups to build new apps on HANA.
It’s encouraging that SAP is putting its money where its mouth is. For customers, making a database change may not be cost-justified without some help from SAP. Moreover, tech start-ups may need some financial encouragement to build new products on HANA.

However, I see complications with each of these funding efforts.
  • With the customer fund, there may be issues with SAP’s partners. By funding SAP’s own services to assist with HANA, SAP is taking work away from partners, who typically play a key role in SAP implementations and migrations. In response to my question on this, SAP executives said that it will bring partners into this work at some point in the future.

    Nevertheless, I have to believe that, at first, partners will view SAP as increasing its share of services at the partners’ expense. This is especially true under current economic conditions where customers can only absorb a certain amount of change at once. Moreover, by delivering HANA services directly, SAP delays giving partners the HANA experience they will need for the future. SAP can solve this problem, of course, by ponying up the money but letting customers choose whether to use SAP’s professional services group or partners to deliver the services, or by co-delivering services with partners.

  • For start-ups, HANA may not be as attractive as SAP thinks. Looking back at SaaS and other tech start-ups over the past decade, most of them chose to build on open-source database technologies, such as MySQL or PostgreSQL. The reason, of course, is that open-source infrastructure minimizes their own costs as they grow. It also leaves more customer budget available to invest in the application, instead of the required infrastructure.

    I once asked a start-up executive why his firm was building on MySQL instead of Oracle. He replied, “Oracle scales technically, but it doesn’t scale economically.” I have to wonder if HANA will face the same resistance, even with funding from SAP Ventures. A quick check with associates indicated that there are already open-source in-memory databases (IMDBs), including CSQL and VoltDB. I have no knowledge of the capabilities of these products or how they compare with HANA. It is likely that HANA is head and shoulders above open source alternatives. But Oracle’s flagship database was and still is head and shoulders above open source capabilities, and that didn’t stop cloud start-ups from using MySQL and PostgreSQL.
Ultimately, very few organizations want to buy databases—or middleware. They want business applications, and those apps require databases and middleware as part of the technology stack. So, when SAP talks about becoming a database company, it’s hard for me to become excited.

Perhaps SAP already knows that it's going to be difficult. Earlier this year, it began floating the idea of making its goal, "to become the No. 2 database provider by the year 2015." But by the time of the press conference, the goal had been watered down to “becoming the fastest growing database provider.”

When you are starting from such a small market share, becoming the “fastest-growing” is not a very high bar.

Update, Apr. 16: Some deeper questions on Oracle's database strategy from Jonathan Wilson. And, a good post from Vitaliy Rudnytskiy, pointing out that HANA is more than an "in-memory database."

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