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Author's profile photo John Appleby

Building a SAP Mobile Strategy

Based on the comments on my last blog, 10 Tips for a successful SAP iPhone app – which is available here – 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: https://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=77005347. 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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      Author's profile photo Pierre Dominique
      Pierre Dominique
      Hi,
      Excellent blog John. But what about the standard SAP product, SAP NetWeaver Mobile 7.1? You can use this platform with Windows devices or build your own mobile client and use the existing middleware.
      Regards,
      Pierre
      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author
      Hi,

      This is certainly very true. I've not seen a big push around this space for SAP but that may change in the next few months. Either way you are limited to a single plaform (Windows Mobile).

      Most of the customers that use WM are doing blue-collar rollouts and I would think they would be better advised to look at Syclo, whose Agentry IDE allows a really quick rollout.

      Are you seeing a lot of customers using WM directly onto NetWeaver Mobile 7.1?

      Regards,

      John

      Author's profile photo Pierre Dominique
      Pierre Dominique
      Hi,

      Well, you can develop a custom application for Windows Mobile devices but you can also develop your own client/application for BlackBerry/iPhone/Android devices.

      This approach would be a mix between 2) and 3). You develop an application for a specific mobile platform on top of the SAP middleware. This way, most of the hard stuff is handled by the DOE. You "only" have to develop the client side (sync, persistence, UI...).

      Regards,

      Pierre

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Hi,

      Thanks for this summary, I have been looking for such an article for a long time.
      Though I don't have experience with AJAX Weaver, I would give one more chance to web apps, considering the new features of HTML5 that is spreading quickly on mobile browsers, too.
      1) appCache: this enables a kind of offline operation
      2) the geoLocation API enables the app consume GPS data right from Javascript
      3) starting calls from the browser is available on iPhone
      4) reaching / managing contacts might be possible once stored in the database instead of the phone

      The only fundamental issue is the lack of HTML5 support in Netweaver, right?

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author

      Hi,<br/><br/>I think that the theory is really good behind HTML5 applications. I'm more of a BSP hacker than an expert, so the following might not be true.<br/><br/>Because BSP just displays what you tell it to display, I don't see why you couldn't use HTML5 support in BSP. You would just need to change your header, which looks something like this in my BSP applications:<br/><br/><%@page language="abap" %><br/><!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN"<br/>         "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"><br/><html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"><br/><br/>Why not replace this with a HTML5 header? Actually this is XHTML 1.0 header which is just that.<br/><br/>Would love to hear how you get on with this.<br/><br/>Regards,<br/><br/>John