Building a SAP Mobile Strategy

9 November 2009

John Appleby

John Appleby

Global Head of Sales

Based on the comments on my last blog, 10 Tips for a successful SAP iPhone app I realised that in some sense I'd jumped the gun and talked about execution before strategy!

On that basis, I've gone back a step and decided to talk about building a SAP Mobile strategy in 2010. I hope you enjoy this, and it should provide the bigger picture. I will then write some further blogs to fill in the execution portions which are missing.

If you look at the reports created by IDC, Gartner and the like, you will have realised that mobile is going to have explosive growth over the next few years. The major reason for this is because directors have come to realise that employees who are given a mobile device are more productive. By some reckoning, nearly 20% more productive - over an hour a day more work.

This is presumably replying to emails on your Blackberry when not at your desk. For example either on public transport or at home on the sofa.

When you combine this with the explosion of apps on Apple's app store, you will realise that consumers are getting used to using mobile technology for more than just phone calls and emails.

1) Web based applications

Web based applications are the way to reach large volumes of users easily. If you've not checked out AjaxWeaver, now might be a good time to do so. Companies like BA have produced excellent cross-platform mobile applications (check out the BA.com site on a mobile) - and the key is cross platform.

If your need is to reach the maximum number of users on Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Palm, Nokia etc. platforms then web based applications are an excellent platform to build upon.

The downsides are that the app is only available online, performance is variable and it's not possible to take the very rich capabilities of all the platforms into account e.g. phone integration, GPS etc.

2) Platform built applications

Whether you decide to build an app for Blackberry, iPhone, WM or whatever else, if you build a custom application you can tie it very tightly into the features of that platform. Our iPhone app for CRM, for example, integrates with email, Phone and GPS. What's more you can implement local databases and allow the features to operate offline - synchronising changes when a network is available.

Unfortunately all this flexibility doesn't come for free. The code you write will be bespoke and platform specific. It will require support both for your end users and in terms of new versions of the platform Operating System. And especially if you are using the iPhone, you will need to worry about application distribution - and if you are not, you will need to buy an application distribution suite like Afaria.

However - if you need a rich application experience and you are willing to put up with the cost involved, you won't go wrong here, although unless you are willing to develop for multiple platforms, you will have to only make your software available on one platform.

3) Platform based solution

There are two SAP strategic coinnovation partners in this space - Sybase with their Sybase Unwired Platform, and Syclo with their Agentry platform. I will go into the details of their relative merits, in a future blog, but the concepts - and therefore value that they bring - are similar.

They provide a platform which takes care of some of the hard stuff. Data Orchesteration (synchronisation), mobile connectivity and screen based building of the actual device screens.

The downsides are the requirement to buy a platform license for the solution you choose, and the fact that if you want to use features outside the common set of features provided for the platforms they will compile to, you have to do some pretty low level stuff.

SUP or Agentry will specifically appeal to you if you want to take one of their prebuilt platform solutions: Mobile Asset Management or CRM Field Service, for Syclo - and CRM Field Sales or workflow based approvals for Sybase. If that's the case then you can consume their applications, modify them to your requirements and roll them right out.

Summary

The right mobile strategy (or strategies), will clearly depend on the sort of audience you are trying to reach, and how you want to reach them - and what you want to provision. The plethora of choices that you have at your disposal means that you need to choose carefully to avoid later disappointment.

Certainly, the platform solutions feel like an excellent strategic direction for SAP, because it means SAP are divorcing themselves from the devices. This should mean that Sybase and Syclo can concentrate on device support.

Apple seem to be strating to get a grip on the enterprise market through "enterprise creep". However, history tells us that the mobile marketplace stands still for no man, and there will be a new pretender to the throne even before Blackberry stands to be. Will it be Google, or some amazing Palm or Nokia revival? The great thing about going with Sybase or Syclo is that none of that matters, because they will be on top of the latest platform, and you can just roll out accordingly.

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About the author

John Appleby

Global Head of Sales

I've always been passionate about new technology. I cut my teeth helping global financial services and consumer goods companies build data warehouses to manage their business - especially when they wanted to run faster.

These days, I travel weekly across continents, helping clients differentiate themselves using analytics technologies. This then involved building a team to design the solution, make it work and lead it through to successful completion.

I believe that in-memory computing is radically changing the face of business so you can ask me about SAP HANA, or about any other data platform like DB2 BLU, Hadoop or MongoDB for that matter.

I'm passionate that giving back to the community reaps long-term rewards and this has shaped the last few years of my career - being a contributor to knowledge sharing websites as an SAP Mentor; and a sometime advisor to Wall Street investors on emerging technologies and those companies bringing to market new innovations.

When I'm not busy designing in-memory apps, you may find me pounding the pavement to the beat of music in the hilly suburbs of Philadelphia, or traveling the world to meet new people and new cultures.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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