We just whitnessed what appears to be a gamechanging partnership between two giants in the IT World. SAP and Apple are going to collaborate, to seriously break ground in the Enterprise mobility world. My LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter feed exploded with likes and shares of the same article. A couple of hours later, the first analyst blog posts started appearing. I particularly liked Gareth Ryan and John Moy ‘s posts.
- Gareth’s post: Will the SAP &amp; Apple partnership really bear fruit?
- John’s post: SAP seeks to rejuvenate its mobile strategy with Apple partnership | Blue T
I figured both of these posts touch on very important topics. When I noticed colleagues, friends, acquaintances and people I don’t know go out in a frenzy on different social media channels, I suddenly felt the urge to answer with some skeptical sounds of my own.
I’ve seen people shouting (from a keyboard that is) “Finally!! We’ll get decent mobile apps!”, “Hurray, all our problems are solved now!”, “I knew it! Apple will save us.”
Okay, I’m slightly exaggerating the reactions, but it’s in the same spirit.
Here’s a little wake-up call for you all:
The issue with Enterprise mobility has never been the front-end
I’ve built my fair share of mobile apps on top of SAP software already and I can tell you one thing for certain: The User interface is not an issue. You can build iOS apps today, with a great user interface. You can build sexy looking Android apps on top of SAP ERP functionality. You can make magnificently square apps on Windows phones. No issue whatsoever!
The biggest hurdle in enterprise mobility is, and always has been, the synchronization layer. SAP ERP is built around record based transactions and client initiated actions. In other words, the client opens up a record, locks it, changes some fields, saves and releases the lock. Now you might think that only those fields are updated in the source record, but in reality, the entire record is updated with the information coming back from the client.
If something concurrently had changed in that record (which shouldn’t happen, as it was locked, but we all know that locks are sometimes forgotten in custom code), it woul dnow be overwritten again.
Let’s be honest here: Apple is not going to solve that issue. They’ll only touch the UI.
You see, things used to be easy in the SAP ERP world. You had one big database and one fat client. If one user opened an object, it would be locked for anyone else. So an update could only come from one user at a time. So SAP never felt the urge to build in a broadcasting mechanism, to update the client(s) with changes that were done from a different client. As a result, business users got used to the idea of “always consolidated”. The data in the system always corresponded to a user’s actions.
With mobility, things are very different. First of all, you have much more users working on possible the same object at the same time.
Secondly, some of these users may be working in an offline mode, and perhaps only synchronize the data at a later time.
So that means you end up in a situation of “eventually consolidated”. Which is a difficult thing to explain to a lot of business users.
Another thing, as John and Gareth had already mentioned, is the trend of BYOD. With the SAP-Apple partnership, people can be easily mislead into thinking that SAP is going to focus on Apple devices and might neglect the other devices. People may also be lead to believe that the HTML5 and hybrid web trend was a mistake. Obviously none of these are the case, but in an overly hyped world, perception is everything.
So in my opinion, all the hoopla around the SAP Apple partnership, is nothing but marketing.
I can understand that it is a necessary hype, seeing as IBM recently made a similar partnership: Business – Mobile Enterprise Apps – Apple
So obviously, SAP couldn’t lag behind. Customers are much too easily dragged along on a hype. But let’s not forget that SAP already had partenrships with Google and Microsoft as well, so it really isn’t anything new.
This new partnership is only scratching the surface, but most business users only see the surface, and not the un-sexy, oily and dirty underlying layer.
So my hope is that while everyone is looking at the Apple partnership, that meanwhile SAP is seriously working on solving the sync principles in the backend.
Just because I can, I also published a theoretical model for eventually consolidated webservices: http://scn.sap.com/docs/DOC-72717
That should give you an idea of where the real complexity is with modern landscapes. Hint, it’s not about the color of the submit button