As enterprises embrace further-reaching SAP mobile strategies, more companies are looking at MEAP (Mobile Enterprise Application Platform) solutions such as those offered by Sybase, Syclo or Sky Technologies.
These solutions can be used as a type of middleware and are an alternative to building solutions from the ground up that talk directly to SAP.
Since acquiring Sybase, SAP have been heavily pushing the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) solution. However, each of the MEAP providers above offer different features and benefits – and have different drawbacks associated with them.
Here are 10 considerations that should be taken into account when deciding on a MEAP provider.
1. What platforms and devices are supported?
It’s important to ensure that the selected MEAP solution can support the platforms and devices that will be used to access the application.
For customer-facing applications this typically means support for iOS (iPhone/iPad), BlackBerry, Android and Windows Phone.
Many companies deploy rugged devices for their internal applications and it is essential that these can be supported too.
Don’t forget to check which versions of the operating systems are supported as well – there can be big differences between versions such as iOS3 and iOS4.
2. Does the MEAP limit applications for internal use only?
At the time of writing, many MEAP solutions limit the scope of applications to internal use only – in other words, users for whom the company has control of the phone- thus enabling them to add/change/delete applications. In most cases, this means employees.
Many enterprises are now looking at reaching a wider audience than this and want to develop applications such as shopping carts or order tracking tools where customers and suppliers can access information via applications from outside the organisation.
Before embarking on a MEAP solution, companies need to consider their application audience and determine whether these are catered for with the MEAP product.
3. Hardware requirements
Some of the MEAP solutions available cache significant amounts of data, which in turn means further investment in terms of server hardware, installation and maintenance. These costs can dramatically increase project costs and need to be taken into account when determining which MEAP solution is right for the company.
4. Software as a Service
Following on from the previous point, some MEAP providers have discussed the possibility of offering their solutions as Software as a Service (SaaS) in the future. This would reduce costs and it’s a good idea to ask the MEAP provider about their future roadmap when making this decision.
5. Is Mobile Device Management included?
Mobile Device Management (MDM) allows the organisation to roll out new applications to users, and to change or delete existing applications. It is essential to have MDM in place in order to protect sensitive business information in the case of phones being lost or stolen.
MDM is not necessarily included in the MEAP solution. For example, Sybase offer MDM via another product – Sybase Afaria.
When deciding on a MEAP provider, companies should consider the associated MDM offering, and how it ties in with the MEAP.
6. Pricing Model
MEAP solutions are often based on an initial implementation cost and then follow-on licensing fees.
The price of both implementation and licensing vary hugely between providers. If cost is a determining factor, companies should take this into account in their decision making process.
7. What development tools are available?
Most MEAP solutions offer in-built development tools to build and configure applications. This can make life a lot easier for developers but there are some gaps at the moment in these offerings. The ‘write once, run anywhere’ claim is usually not the case. Important considerations for companies are:
- Which platforms/devices can be built for?
- Can totally custom applications be plugged into the MEAP – in other words, can the development tools be bypassed? (e.g. iPhone applications built in Objective C)
- Can a custom user interface be applied to the application built using the MEAP development tools? (many companies are now employing User Experience (UX) consultants to ensure optimal usability for their applications)
8. What security measures are included?
Security is just as important for mobile applications as it is for back-end systems – if not, more so.
Most MEAP solutions offer in-built security solutions. However, in many companies, users access SAP using traditional SAPGUI methods whilst in the office, and then from their mobile device when travelling or working remotely.
In such scenarios, security for the users needs to be maintained in 2 places – within SAP and within the MEAP solution. Keeping security synchronised between 2 systems can be a time-consuming and difficult task. Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask MEAP providers if there are any options for security synchronisation between SAP and the MEAP – thus enabling ‘one version of the truth’ and less chance of disparity between the two.
9. How is SAP accessed?
SAP is usually accessed via BAPIs or web services. Both have different requirements in terms of set up and accessibility. But more importantly, if a solution is being shifted from direct SAP access to a MEAP solution further development work may be required in the back-end. It’s important to understand how the MEAP accesses SAP and what impact that will have from a development point of view.
10. What is the data caching and synchronisation model?
For some applications, it’s important that data is synchronised between mobile devices and the back-end system (i.e. SAP) as near real-time as possible.
For other applications, data objects e.g. Sales Orders may be modified by either the mobile application (via the MEAP) or directly in the back-end system.
It’s important to understand the MEAP data caching and synchronisation model and what that means for company-specific business requirements. The second scenario (data object modification using different methods) is not handled well by some MEAP solutions.
Understanding the capabilities and limitations of the chosen MEAP solution is essential for the technical architecture of the overall mobile solution.
As SAP mobility continues to grow from strength to strength, we envisage that more MEAP solutions will be introduced to the market and the current MEAP solutions will become stronger and iron out some of the gaps highlighted above.
At Clarimont, we are watching this market closely, and are already discussing solutions with some MEAP providers. For many clients, a MEAP solution is not the correct solution at this stage – but it will be interesting to observe what affect MEAP has on the mobility market as SAP mobility strategies mature.