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Author's profile photo John Appleby

SAP’s Mobile Strategy: Really?


So i was walking down the strip in SAP TechEd 2010 Las Vegas earlier this week. Being one of the SAP mentors with a focus on mobility, I was busy tweeting on my iPhone. All of a sudden, someone tried to crash into me and shouted “Really?!” at me.

For the uninitated, Microsoft have greated a brilliant new viral marketing campaign that surrounds their new Windows Phone 7 launch. People bump into each other and stuff and say “Really?!” a lot. You can watch it here: What’s interesting about Windows Phone 7 is that Microsoft have (finally) figured out that you can’t polish the proverbial and they have ditched the Windows Mobile 2.0 (sorry, 6.5) platform, developer tools and links to the awful user experience that it brings. Really?

Bear with me though because when I first saw this news, I wrote Microsoft out of the mobile market forever. I though that it was game over and it was over to Google, RIM and Apple to throw buns at each other. As it launches, I’m starting to think that Microsoft have a chance afterall. The first thing they’ve got right is to annoy the early adopters by doing an Apple style launch – core functionality first, missing out lots of things we now come to expect (e.g. copy and paste), which were not originally available on iPhoone either.

What’s that got to do with SAP Mobile Strategy?

The problem is it’s another platform. As I understand it, SAP asked Sybase in 2008/2009 to develop their apps for Windows Mobile first and iPhone second. RIM at the time were building their own apps so the Blackberry platform was out of the equation. There is a slight irony that SAP are busy implementing the Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM app on the iPhone platform. More on that later.

What is SAP’s mobile strategy anyhow?

SAP’s mobile strategy is pretty simple now and the message is starting to get a bit clearer. It has two prongs – SAP have their own terminoligy but the market is calling them “Platform” and “Enterprise Micro Apps” – EMAs for short. Let’s deal with them both quickly.

1) Platform

Co-Mentor Kevin Benedict asked Vishal Sikka (SAP CTO) what the clarity of message of was around the platform sell. Vishal said “Three words – Sybase Unwired Platform”. We’ll forgive Vishal for getting the name wrong – they’re rebranding it SAP Unwired Platform but it will still be affectionately called SUP by the market. As a senior source in SAP joked with me earlier this week “it would be really easy if we just acquired organizations which begin with the letter S”.

The problem right now is that if you want to implement Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM (they’ve not rebranded that app yet) then you need two middleware platforms – NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 and SUP. NetWeaver Mobile acts as what’s known as a Data Orchestration Engine (DOE for short) and SUP acts as a message queueing and security agent.

The DOE part is really important because it serves two major purposes: first, to reduce the amount of data held that needs to be gone through during a mobile connection by ensuring only those elements that are required are kept together, and second to ensure that the right devices have the right messages and updates assigned to them.

SUP plays a really important task too because it manages the complexity of different devices, security and message passing to and form the devices. It also provides a development platform that allows you to turn data elements from the Business Suite into mobile apps.

The problem is that customers don’t want two sets of middleware to slow things down, go wrong and support. SAP know this and they say they are looking to simplify this. However the European Commission will have been on their back about this – they don’t want Sybase SUP and SAP NetWeaver be to be one platform that locks out non-SAP usage. This means that SAP will have to tread carefully and the solution may be a hybrid.

2) Enterprise Micro Apps

Enterprise Micro Apps are cool. They are cheap and they do something situational and process focussed SAP’s early demonstrations of Project Gateway and its associated mobile technologies suggest that “instant value” apps as SAP calls them, are very possible. The problem is that HTML5 is on the horizon and HTML5 is the ideal platform for EMAs. It is simple, cheap and allows for relatively rich integration of e.g. Location Services, Cameras and Offline Databases.

I’m not really sure then why SAP is spending lots of money on technology to auto-generate apps for platforms. Spend it on HTML5 instead.

So where’s the problems?

Hopefully you’ve got a sense of this by now. We need a platform and we need it yesterday. if SAP spend their development time on integration – which they are liable to do, then they risk not being able to build the support for Android which is already desperately needed (Android outsold iPhone and RIM in North Americal last quarter) and potentially for Windows Phone 7 – Microsoft have to prove themselves in the market.

The outcome of this is that SAP have to operate in a way which they have no experience of operating. They need to be fast, lean and agile and this isn’t what SAP traditionally brings to the party. SAP brings the solid, dependable Business Suite which is upgraded every 7 years and is the backbone of much of the global economy.

The reason why SAP co-innovated with Sybase, RIM and Syclo in the first place was because it wasn’t much good at mobility, historically. It was stuck with the NetWeaver Mobile platform which only supported Windows based devices and which was ironically ditched, when it became pretty good – in NetWeaver Mobile 7.1.

Sybase has experience in the Afaria Device management platform (which is awesome by the way) in meeting fast market demands. But this isn’t like the SAP BusinessObjects acquisition where 3 years from merger to decent product (SAP BusinessObjects XI 4.0) was OK. That isn’t OK this time around.

The challenge to SAP is can it do something about this? Can it avoid the ocst of integrating SUP and NetWeaver Mobile and remain agile? To do this, it must totally change the way that it goes about running the new mobile business unit.

It will be a mammoth challenge for John Chen and Billy Ho, who are running the new combined Mobile Business Unit (MBU), which contains all the developers that worked for Sybase iAnywhere and SAP NetWeaver Mobile – and to add to this, John Chen has been used to running a large enterprise platform organisation, which is a totally different proposition to what he is now running. How comfortable he will be in this role remains to be seen. What is certain is that the ex-Sybase iAnywhere employees will need to adjust some of its famous consensus culture and move towards a JFDI approach.

The tortoise and the hare

The last major platform stumbling block is none other than the Business Suite. Currently mobile changes are integrated into the Enhancement Pack structure. This means that if you want a change in a mobile object – e.g. to allow CRM Surveys – to be productised – then you have to wait until the next enhancement pack – which would be EhP2 of CRM in this case. All very well but EhP2 is estimated to be released in 2012. Ouch.

Gateway will probably be OK here actually because it consumes existing SAP services and there’s tons of those. It’s the enterprise platform apps which are the problem and SAP has to find a way to be more agile. 

Apps, apps, apps

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s not about the platform, it’s about the apps. I’m guessing Bill McDermott gets this because he’s put Bob Stutz in to run the Apps division of the new MBU. Bob has the track record we need here – growing a business unit for Siebel around apps.

We need more apps and we need them now. It doesn’t matter if they are co-innovated apps like the Syclo Asset Management and Field Service apps which are reportedly going to built on the Sybase platform, or if they are SAP written apps (mobile Direct Store Delivery, anyone?). What we need are class leading apps which mean that customers can pick and choose what they run on their new mobile platform.


This might sound like an overly negative blog but it’s only because the scale of the challenges that SAP has in this space mean that building a class leading mobile platform and apps is a huge proposition. And to add to this, it’s unthinkable to get it wrong – it would be a $4.8bn mistake.

So the gauntlet is thrown here to John Chen, Bob Stutz and Billy Ho. The SUP and Afaria platforms are class leading as is the SAP Business Suite – let’s hope they get it right. If they don’t have a great story by Sapphire 2011 then we are in trouble.

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      Author's profile photo Zal Parchem
      Zal Parchem
      I guess you are saying they BFDI...Regards, Zal
      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author
      Absolutely, it's do or die. If they get this wrong the effect will be on the share price - investors will see the Sybase acquisition as being poor value for money and the share price will drop. In the city, that's serious.
      Author's profile photo Mark Finnern
      Mark Finnern
      Hi John,

      Wow, that is an amazing summary and analysis of the challenge that SAP is facing in the mobile space.

      We will probably revisit this post many times in the near future, hopefully to point out where we succeeded with our efforts.

      I think we SAP employees are ready to take up the challenge. Thanks for clarifying what is ahead. 

      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author
      Thanks Mark, I'm hoping that John Chen and Billy Ho will allow us to engage and let the SAP Mentors help with this!

      I've met Billy and whilst I don't know him well, he seems like a focussed guy that is flexible enough to fit in with (and change) the SAP corporate culture.

      It is well documented that John Chen previously saw Sybase iAnywhere as a platform sale and not a Mobile Apps division. It will be interesting to see that changes now they have put a huge focus on Mobile Apps by putting Bob Stutz at the helm.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      I think there is not a very strong mobile solution in SAP's products include NetWeaver MI/DOE and sybase mobile platform.
      SAP would have to pay more attention in provide a powerful and stable platform for data integration between mobile devices and SAP ERP(CRM SCM SRM).
      SAP is not good at mobile UI(I think it's difficult to unify UI platform across multi-platform.) So SAP could provide a more flexible date exchange middle ware maybe the first step.
      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author
      It would be really useful if you would evidentialise this - why do you not think that it is a strong solution?

      For my money I think it's fair to say that it's not as agile and fast to work with as I would like but NetWeaver Mobile 7.1 doesn't resemble NetWeaver MI - that was the  previous technology stack that didn't scale as well.

      Author's profile photo Frank Stødle
      Frank Stødle
      ...I (somewhat naively) expected to sit down at a Teched hands-on session and start hacking away at mobile app for SAP. But instead of developer tools I only saw powerpoints of a bunch of middleware, which left me quite unexcited. I started wondering if I missed the point somewhere, but your excellent blog confirms that my impression was pretty much in touch with reality. Maybe HTML5 and the SAP Phoenix project will come to the rescue in not too long, enabling us too create apps for HTML5 compatible mobile devices?
      Author's profile photo John Appleby
      John Appleby
      Blog Post Author
      I was supposed to do a speaking session on this topic, and I was going to do it hands-on, showing how to make changes to the Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM app - but unfortunately the technology let us down and I had to cancel.

      I think that the problem is that there remains a bit of inconsistency between SUP, NetWeaver Mobile and the Sybase developer tools.

      And as a result there is a bit of a "nothing to see here, move on" attitude in mobile, which has left a lot of people feeling a bit empty of their technical drug fix.

      Sorry about that from my end, you would probably have enjoyed my session.

      Author's profile photo Frank Stødle
      Frank Stødle
      I'm sure I would - hopefully you'll be able to amaze me at TECHED 2011 instead 🙂 Luckily I got my tech fix looking into RIAs for SAP, which is my main focus these days