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Mobile from a customer perspective

Mobile development is a rapidly changing area. As mobile devices become more and more capable, mobile operating systems and apps are being written to take advantage of those capabilities. Obviously this means that the development tools and environments are changing equally as rapidly. A few years ago, NetWeaver Mobile was being pushed heavily as the One True Platform. Then SAP bought Sybase and SUP was the way to go while NetWeaver Mobile was rapidly forgotten. More recently SAP bought Syclo and again there’s uncertainty about how mobile development should be done. Then there’s Gateway, which provides an alternative mechanism for interfacing apps to SAP backend systems. And that’s before you take into account all the third party mobile tools and platforms that are out there. I guess this is unavoidable, but it leaves me with a big problem.

If I want to develop a mobile application now, what do I use? I’m going to have to invest in infrastructure and development skills and resources, not to mention licences, and so I’d really like to invest in something with a long life. Something I can use for at least the next mobile project when this one proves a success. History tells me, though, that I can’t do that. Whatever mobile platform I develop with today will most likely be obsolete in 12 months time when I’m looking at my next project. Any re-use of skills or infrastructure is unlikely, and so shouldn’t be assumed in the business case. For me at least, that makes the costs for mobile projects prohibitively high.

I wonder if I’m unusual in this, or do other AP customers feel the same way? Should I be thinking of mobile development projects differently from the way I think about other projects?

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  • Hi Steve,

    Pretty accurate assessment of the concerns out there in my opinion. That said, the hardest bit and in my perspective, the bit you can get right, is the security (transport and device)/authentication/policy aspects, then dealing with the applications separately. 

    Note - I'm a little confused myself which parts Afaria and SUP do separately as I always thought Afaria could do deployment, certificate deployment (for VPN style comms and authentication), and locking down of the device but with the rebadging of Afaria and SUP as the Mobility Platform, that's a little unclear now for me so maybe SUP becomes a part of that too.  That said, I'm sure there are other offerings, even mobile carrier SaaS options potentially to help here to consider.

    The Applications themselves - well this is where the real question comes out - can you buy an SAP Mobile application off the shelf that works on any SAP implementation without substantial config/customisation.  Maybe Syclo have done this - not sure and I don't profess to having much exposure to any of SAP's mobile apps.  But with this in mind; if you have a few scenarios; then have a look at what's out there on the market, and if nothing fits easily and the scenario is not too complex, then consider if you can get the right skills (in as few as people as possible) to test the waters with some mobility solutions. Get the UI branding right so that technology solutions don't matter too much initially to ensure the user experience doesn't change between solutions, and realise that until things settle down, you may be writing throw away applications (ROI of less than 12 months is what I'd target). 

    I still think the business will love you for just having anything on their mobile device initially, which will drive bigger budgets, and more infrastructure in the long run, which will in turn drive more standardised stablised mobile development platforms to buy in the future (if they exist by then).

    Alternatively, the SAP Mobility platform is the current strategy today, so you can risk that approach and at least be on the platform that SAP are targeting for mobile software vendors.

    Arghh - Wish we still had boring blackberry's that were VPN'ed to the corporate network and just use BSP with HTML5!



    • It is funny you should mention HTML5. I don't know much about it, yet, but I wonder how long before that starts to take over from a lot of what the current native app frameworks do and we can start doing without them? How much can we do with Gateway and an HTML5 app? Does it make sense to start thinking of joining WDA and HTML5 somehow to build mobile apps?

      • I've been wondering already for quite some time why SAP hasn't begun work on an HTML5 theme/library for WDA yet. To me it looks like the next logical step.

        But then SAPUI5 popped up.

        So what's the strategy now?

        Strategy from SAP seems to be clear: push out so many solutions and buy so many providers, that, no matter how you turn it, the money ends up at SAP.

        For customers, it's not so clear anymore.

        Syclo moving onto the SUP platform seems logical, but the current syclo customers will still need support on their agentry platform.same goes for the NW mobile platforms... When will we see a convergence that everything moves into a single platform? Not by converging the platforms, but by reworking the existing apps so that they can all run on the same platform. But then, what about the existing custom apps?

        and it's not only on mobility.

        have you seen already how many solutions they have for supplier management that compete with eachother?

        Sourcing, SLC, SRM, MM, God knows what else...

        Where's the strategy?

          • Probably, and choice is not bad

            but try explaining a customer what to choose when half of their requirements is covered by A and the other half by B. To them it's a single process and they don't want to pay for A and B.

            Or worse, when there are two SAP sales guys trying to sell a different solution for the same requirement, talking down on each other's solution.

            Those are the kind of problems emerging right now. (maybe already longer)

            it's getting increasingly more difficult to make the right choice. SAP sales should be less focused on the sale, and more focused on helping customers make the right decision.

        • I read somewhere that Apple wasn't going to support all HTML5 features in iOS, exactly because they didn't want an external source publishing apps, other than via the app store.

          Or was the initial strategy to push HTML5 and did they change it afterwards?

  • Steve,

      An issue I've seen in a couple of Australian companies is that is to a large extent SAP Mobility duplicates an already existing mobile platform.  Some of these organisations currently 'only' have a content delivery system (think of a news organisation), so they don't have the device management capability yet, but others have had mobile devices in the field for several years.

      The SAP data is expected to use the existing platforms, because of the existing technical knowledge already invested by these organisations, in their existing infrastructure. In other words, it would be very hard to justify the SAP Mobility platform even if it was free !!


    • Presumably Gateway is the technology for connecting SAP to an existing mobile platform? I have little experience currently of developing mobile apps, but from the hands-on sessions I had with Gateway at TechEd it looked like it should do that job pretty well.

      Of course, even if you are only focusing on SAP developments, that gives you another alternative - Gateway plus some non-SAP mobile platform. In an organisation that needed to deal with mobile access to both SAP and non-SAP systems, that could well be preferable even as a first step?

      • Steve, I'd be interested to hear your vision from an administrators point of view. I think we do need all those different frontend technologies, there is no one to rule them all, but how do we get stuff together in the backend?

        As an administrator it will be your task to roll apps and channels out to mobile users, assign authorizations and restrictions and generally manage the chaos.

        I see SUP as a potential concentrator for that, and I think that role is a lot more important than the one of SUP as a development paradigm.


        • Admin is a completely different set of issues. A diverse set of app development platforms isn't necessarily an admin issue. A piece of software such as Afaria (there are alternatives) should do a pretty good job of managing the devices and deployment of apps regardless of development platform.

          I'd also be concerned about how all of the various devices interact with back-end systems. Some kind of concentrator - SUP? Gateway? - would make that a lot easier to manage.

          You need tools like this even if you have just one frontend technology, though, so having multiple frontend platforms doesn't really complicate things much. Unless I'm missing something...

  • There are plenty of choices for your mobile platform and the whole market is very dynamic in these days. That makes it really a mission impossible to find the perfect platform for your needs.

    Regarding the SAP Mobility Platform (just name it SUP here) I would make the following statements:

    • SUP is the favored solution of SAP now and also in 5 years from now
    • SUP currently has many nice features but also lacks many nice features
    • SUP won't be cheap (but is SAP ERP cheap?)
    • SUP will improve in short cycles (e.g. two more releases this year bringing a lot of new features)

    That said I would say you cannot go totally wrong when using SUP but also I am sure there are other solutions out there that are

    • cheaper
    • have more features
    • are easier to use or maintain
    • I'm with you on all of that but the first point. Given the amount of change in recent years, I can't believe SUP will be the favoured solution in 5 years time. The Syclo acquisition is muddying things even now.

      One platform I can start with now, and re-use my investment in infrastructure & training in subsequent years is exactly what I'm looking for. I just don't believe that SUP is it.

      • From what I have heard I think that SUP will continue to be THE SAP solution for Mobility and from Syclo only the tools and KnowHow will flow into SUP.

        So I am sure that the SUP in 5 years will look very different from version 2.1.2 which is now available. But at least your infrastructure should be able to run with it also in the future.

        Regarding the training: In the mobile sector the tools are evolving that fast that it is even hard to change the documentation at the same pace at which the platforms change. I think the stability in infrastructure that we were used from SAP ERP in the last decades will not come back again. Nowadays it is common that you have SAP reports that run unchanged for 10 years. Now can you imagine how a mobile device will look like in 10 years?