SAP going mobile: How big ERP is embracing small technology

When developing a mobile technology plan, what factors should you consider and what does this mean for other big IT vendors down the road?

Commentary - This has been an exciting year for mobile technology. As enterprises continue to embrace mobile technology to help empower their businesses, more and more software and hardware vendors are embracing mobile as a new source of revenue, and innovation for their traditional enterprise products. ??

One such example is SAP. As we saw at the SAP Sapphire Conference, the company is making a big push this year to embrace mobile technology through their acquisition of Sybase. However, it’s unclear if a traditionally big software company can successfully embrace a lightweight, rapidly moving medium, like mobile technology to deliver its vast stores of enterprise information and data.

What the factors should you consider, whether or not you’re an SAP customer, and what does this mean for other big IT vendors down the road?

Sybase in the front, big IT in the back
The two big products being pushed by SAP are Sybase Unwired Platform, a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) product that helps companies build device-agnostic mobile solutions, and Sybase Afaria, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) product that helps companies manage and secure devices on their network.

Both of these products go head-to-head with market leaders such as MobileIron and Airwatch in the MDM space, as well as Antenna and PhoneGap in the MEAP space. Both products have fared well in reviews by 3rd party analysts such as Gartner. But with the push towards mobile web and bring-your-own-device to reduce enterprise license and overhead costs, it may be a tough sell to get more enterprise software products in the door. SAP has been aggressive though, and with so many enterprises already looking at both MDM and MEAP products, there have been many case studies popping up in a number of different verticals.

A big push has been in the Mobile BI space, where companies are looking at their traditional business analytics practice, and using mobile technology to help build flexible dash boarding as a first use case for validating mobile technology within the company. For existing SAP customers, Sybase Unwired Platform has been designed to click right into BOBJ, or other core product areas, giving SAP significant traction with existing SAP customers.

SAP has been accused of creating large, bulky, expensive projects. With Sybase acting as a subsidiary, there has been a big emphasis on supporting companies, with or without existing SAP, promoting the agnostic capabilities of both Sybase Unwired and Afaria. It’s no secret that if you’re an existing SAP customer, you’re married to the solution and that these tools have been designed to make it easier than other MDM or MEAP solutions to help mobile-enable those back end systems.

This is causing concern with other big IT companies, such as IBM and Oracle, and leading them to put a bigger emphasis on the ecosystem concept, e.g., products from the same vendor not only work better together, but also can be discounted when priced together. This gives third parties such as Good or MobileIron a bigger hurdle to jump over. Not because of the integration, but because of the existing or new enterprise agreements and the price breaks associated with the family of solutions that come with existing customers of big IT vendors. This is creating a ripple, and changing how mobile is starting to look in larger companies.

Improving for the mobile experience
The true business case around embracing SAP mobile solutions is that many companies that have most of their data and information sitting on an SAP product. That means mobile could be a chance to reinvent the experience.

Building a mobile version of any desktop product requires rethinking the way people interact with information. To be mobile though, these are a must, and using products like Sybase Unwired may just be SAP’s saving grace. Companies don’t have to change their back end systems to fix the interfaces into those systems. They can use mobile tools instead to create a better way to access and interact with information.

With products like HANA also coming out and promoting a faster, more real-time experience for SAP, this may just be the revolution that big IT vendors like SAP need to fix the things that, traditionally, are the most complained about.

SAP: A quicker, agile company?
Can a company like SAP really embrace the type of business model that mobile solutions promote? Given their push so far, it’s not for a lack of focus or effort. The real question is will SAP embrace a more lightweight, agile software methodology? Or will they turn products aimed at small lightweight devices, into the kind of time and cost intensive cycle that existing core products are known for? It will no doubt take years for this to become clear, but with companies rapidly moving towards a more mobile enterprise, SAP may have a good shot at winning skeptics over, especially ones at existing SAP clients.

Daniel Maycock is a consultant at Seattle-based Slalom Consulting, working on their national research and development team. He specializes in evaluating new technologies, as well as providing strategy & guidance to Fortune 500 companies.


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