Take us on the journey to become unwired enterprises
Having caught a stomach bug last week I was forced to spend a day in bed. To not waste the day completely I decided to watch some of the recorded TechEd lectures. By the way, I think it’s absolutely brilliant that SAP is opening up these sessions for a wider audience to view! Anyway, as I was occupied with other activities during SAP TechEd Berlin, I chose to check out a session on the SAP Unwired Platform (SUP) to get the latest updates.
Vision meets Reality
As I’ve worked in this space for a while I fully agree with Sybase’s vision of a mobility platform that helps to unwire the enterprise while taming the complexities that come with this endeavour. What I did find disconcerting though is how SUP was presented as a product. According to the speakers the SUP development tools allow you to write-once-run-anywhere mobile apps and that it’s made so easy that you don’t need to know anything about Objective-C or other nitty-gritty details of mobile device platforms. In addition the Sybase Mobile Sales application was hailed as a showcase for these capabilities. Right … (breath!) … not exactly.
Early that same week I spoke to one of our customers about a completely different, but in a sense closely related topic. They are currently running a technology selection process to decide whether they will expand their usage of SAP PI as an enterprise wide service bus (ESB). The customer already knew (from another project and a Gartner report) that the development tools lack behind other solutions and wanted to get to the bottom of this. SAP got directly involved in the exercise and provided a hosted environment and a consultant to build and run some of the customer’s scenarios. In addition a series of joint workshops helped the customer to understand the product and its future roadmap in detail. What struck me most is that based on all this knowledge the customer’s project lead said that “Yes, we know about the strengths and also the weaknesses of the product, but we are prepared to go onto a journey with SAP if we think they head into the right direction”.
SAP really has become a very different organisation over the last couple of years. They are engaging closely and openly with their customers. They invite customers to take part in “advisory councils” that directly influence product direction and embrace the most knowledgeable and often most critical members of the community as “SAP Mentors”. A recent example of this new openness from SAP TechEd Berlin is how Udo Paltzer and Sindhu Gangadharan from NetWeaver product management openly shared the results of a user survey, which pointed to shortcomings in several areas of SAP PI. More importantly they also shared how they are planning to address these shortcomings and even flashed up early screen mock-ups of how the future development and monitoring tools might look like in a couple years time. Much appreciated!
Now that the new Mobile Business Unit has combined the SAP and Sybase enterprise mobility teams, I hope that they are each able to add to the mix what they have been doing best over the years. I believe being as open as possible about the products – what they can do today and what is planned for the future – will be essential to succeed in this fast moving market and SAP does know how to do this.
A good start would be to share a detailed roadmap for SUP and to make a developer edition available for download – free for developers to build up skills and to create prototypes for an unlimited period – just like SAP did with the Composition Environment.
It's encouraging to hear that there might already be thoughts to make the "Mobile SDK" widely available for developers.
It has been mysteriously quite though about the Mobile SDK's actual content and I actually fear we might not hear any further details until SAPPHIRE next year. This uncertainty makes it difficult for customers to make strategic decisions about their mobility strategy, so that I frequently see tactical decision being made that do not necessarily involve SAP or Sybase products. I think that by being more open about the product direction SAP could remove some of the blockers that today prevent customers to adopt their existing mobile technologies.
Naturally this situation creates a wealth of speculations and – in my opinion - the most obvious thought of train is that SAP will take the Unwired Platform and build additional (or better) connectors to various SAP and BusinessObjects components, maybe bundle it up with other components like Sybase Afaria and call it the “Mobile SDK”. Therefore many SAP customers are now working to understand SUP in further detail - so why not give them a flavour of what it can do today and what will be there tomorrow?
The cross-platform discussion is a whole topic in its own right, but I believe that solving the challenge of supporting a mixed mobile device landscape will be crucial for the adoption of mobile technologies as a business tool. Therefore if indeed the Unwired Platform will be at the core of the Mobile SDK, SAP has a long way to go to solve this challenge. Again, I think it would help to clearly communicate what SUP can do today and what is planned for the future.