We live in the era of mobility, with smartphones and tablets dominating the technology market. While most of these devices were designed for personal use, their potential value to business users is enormous. To learn how SAP is leading the way in developing and testing mobile applications for its business customers, Bill Kozel spoke with Martin Heisig, SAP Vice President, Enterprise Architecture.
Bill: Martin, what is the potential scope of the mobile device market for business users?
Martin: Manufacturers have sold more than 55 million tablets in 2011, and the estimate’s around 208 million by 2014. A lot of those devices are in the hands of business users. And it’s especially exciting to combine mobility with other technologies, like in-memory or like cloud computing and cloud solutions.
Bill: What were some of the challenges of applying a consumer device to a business purpose?
Martin: People love to use these devices in their private lives, and they want to have the same experience in the business area. They want to have same and look feel, the same usability, and the same end-user experience. So we need to develop applications that replicate the consumer experience.
But the big difference between consumer and business is security. So from the beginning, we were very much focused on whether these devices were secure enough. We needed to make sure that if a device was stolen or lost that the data wouldn’t be misused by unauthorized people.
And with the SAP Sybase Afaria, we have a great solution for this. And that’s, of course, very important because you want to be 100 percent sure that the data on the device is really safe.
Bill: How many devices are supported?
Martin: So far we have more than 10,000 tablet devices deployed and we are using more than 25,000 smart phones within SAP. Our goal is to be device-agnostic and we are going to support different mobile platforms like RIM OS, iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile. That being said, there is another challenge in connecting the different mobile devices to your backend systems. Instead of providing different interfaces to the different mobile devices – this would quickly become a kind of spaghetti connection – we are using the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) to provide a unique interface into our backend systems. The SUP is able to support multiple devices from different vendors with just one interface into your backend system.
Bill: Are you working with the hardware manufacturers to offer suggestions on how they can improve their devices?
Martin: Absolutely. For example, we have a very close relationship with Research in Motion (RIM). We were one of the first customers who worked with the RIM PlayBook. And we continue to work with them because there will soon be a new version of the PlayBook, and we’re working to make sure that it meets our requirements.
We’re also working together with Samsung, Fujitsu, Apple, and others. And if we believe something’s not ready, we provide feedback and say, “Look, this is what we need to make the device ready for the enterprise.”
I believe that right now, SAP is really ahead of other companies in working with all these mobile platforms.
Bill: Have the manufacturers responded?
Martin: Yes. For example, they learned that device management is critical, and we see manufacturers now opening up their APIs, or application programming interfaces, for the device management solution, like Sybase Afaria. Because if you want use Afaria, the mobile device needs to support the APIs.
Bill: How has SAP Global IT supported the development team?
Martin: As we work with the hardware vendors, we also work here, with the SAP development organization. As the first customer of new SAP mobile applications, we’re providing feedback to help make their mobile solutions more mature and enterprise-ready.
Bill: What types of applications are you working with?
Martin: Right now, we are rolling out several productivity applications, which will be delivered to our customers in October and November. They include human resources scenarios like employee lookup, which allows end users to get details on individual employees. We believe that this will have huge coverage into our end-user communities. We also have an application that allows employees to open a “leave request” on a mobile device.
There are more than 50 other applications currently in development, including time capture and shopping cart approval, but also more complex scenarios in the CRM and HCM area.
Bill: Are there any future killer apps for in-memory and mobile BI?
Martin: Definitely. If you want to leverage the full benefit of real-time in-memory computing, you need to provide access everywhere and at every time. Therefore, the combination of in-memory and mobile technology is very powerful. We will see some amazing new solutions coming out very soon. This includes a successor to the already famous SAP BusinessObjects Explorer application.
But I think our greatest “killer app” is the entire package. SAP is the only vendor who can provide support from end-to-end – from the backend, over the mobile platform SUP to the device, and then also managing the device with Afaria. That infrastructure, along with powerful business applications, makes SAP the company to watch in business mobility.