I have worked with SAP technologies since the mid 1990s (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience the delights of R/2 like some of my colleagues).
As a SAP developer, I have tracked broadly the major innovations in UI technologies SAP has delivered to us over the years. Let’s list some (not all) of them ….
– SAPGUI (of course)
– Internet Transaction Server
– Business Server Pages (if only the ABAP community had embraced this!)
– Portal Development Kit
– Web Dynpro Java
– Visual Composer
– Web Dynpro ABAP
– Interactive Forms by Adobe
– and others (guiXT, Flash Islands, Silverlight Islands, JSF etc.)
Sadly, many developers over the past decade haven’t developed their skills further than the first option above, but that’s the topic of another blog.
SAP has over the last half decade placed heavy emphasis on Web Dynpro technology. Why? Because it seeks to abstract the client rendering technology so as to ‘future proof’ the UI investment. Some people still think that Web Dynpro is simply a HTML rendering technology, but SAP’s hopes for it have been much more than that. The intention has always been for SAP to deliver new rendering engines that will enable Web Dynpro developments to run on different UI technologies.
Now for the curve ball …. Gartner predicts that ‘by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide’. Yet currently technologies like Web Dynpro ABAP are not supported on mobiles. Web Dynpro Java is supported for a few mobile platforms, or we might find ourselves looking back at older technologies such as ITS mobile or BSP. If the Gartner predictions are true, the potential speed of change is staggering, and probably too fast for SAP to deliver mobile clients with Web Dynpro alone.
So what has SAP done to address this? It acquired Sybase, along with it’s mobility solution. At the same time SAP has developed Gateway, which enables lean RESTful web services (as distinct from SOA web services) for consumption by things such as smartphones, tablets etc. So what does this mean for the UI?
In my opinion we are seeing a new evolution and thinking by SAP towards UI. The acquisition of Sybase to some degree addresses the platform support challenges in the mobility space (since with Sybase you can deploy to multiple mobile platforms …. similar to the promise of Web Dynpro). The delivery of Gateway essentially exposes business logic in the form of easily consumable RESTful services for mobile (and other) developers. This is no different to the type of APIs exposed by Facebook and Twitter (for instance), and with which smartphone developers are accustomed to. To some extent you can see this as SAP outsourcing the UI. And if Gartner is correct then in a few years time it is the mobile UI platform where the enterprise will be.
If you are a SAP UI developer, it is time to once again learn some new technologies (be it Sybase Unwired Platform, or HTML5 for web apps, or native Android/iPhone/iPad or other smartphone development). We live in very interesting and exciting times.