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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

Related Posts

SAP’s Database Strategy Faces an Uphill Battle
SAP in Transition on Mobile, Cloud, and In-memory Computing
SAP Innovating with Cloud, Mobile and In-memory Computing

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by Frank Scavo, 4/17/2012 06:02:00 AM | permalink | e-mail this!

 Reader Comments:

Regarding this (mobile) and other developments (Hana/cloud/BI/Apps), what will it take for SAP realize the type of product strength it once had, where sales people need only be "door bell polishers?"

This should be Hasso's goal, to only need door bell polishers in SAP sales (notably, based on developments like Hana). This attribute of SAP seems to be a distant memory, and sales, as such, seems to be desperate. Even in the domain of traditional suite sales, SAP appears to have had some major losses (IBM/SAP lost State of Calif project to Accenture/Oracle). All this trouble is unwarranted.

Instead shuffling the decks (like firing Robert Courteau), this should go truly to the top. Hasso needs to have the CTO office be resourced fully and unencumbered by all the other politics (See Vinnie Mirchandani's comments, suggesting that Vishal shouldn't be held back by the other functions at SAP.)

Back to my original question...what will it take? For starters, there are numerous technical and product capability cards that SAP holds which it seems to ignore, and I figure product development at SAP holds these cards and just needs to be given a chance to put those cards on the table.

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