SAP CIO Bussman on tablets and mobile strategy for enterprise

SAP's global CIO Oliver Bussmann discusses the traction that tablets have made in the enterprise world, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of bring personal smart devices to work.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Mobile is at the forefront of the enterprise technology discussion these days, and SAP is positioning itself as one of the leaders in this charge. Tablets especially are gaining attraction from all levels of business ranging from the C-level to customers.

I recently sat down with SAP’s global chief information officer Oliver Bussmann in San Francisco for a brief visit after he arrived from SAP TechEd 2011 in Las Vegas last week, and he explained in detail where he sees tablets fitting into the workplace right now and into 2012.

On personal smart devices in the workplace: Managing these gadgets the number one challenge for enterprises these days, Bussmann affirmed, pointing out that most devices don't come with management tools like the BlackBerry.

Nevertheless, this is a reality that all companies must face now. Citing the iPad -- as SAP is deploying 3,000 units of the iPad 2 to its global sales teams -- Bussmann said that SAP "realized in the beginning of 2010 that even though it was designed as a consumer product, it could be very useful in the corporate environment." He argued that iPads are now on the same level as PC deployments as large-scale shipments only take about four to six weeks.

Yet just because SAP has obviously been drawn to the iPad more than other gadgets based on the internal deployment, it doesn't mean that SAP (and other companies) won't take an agnostic, multi-platform approach to mobile devices. Bussmann added that Android-based devices, in particular Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and tablets, are being supported more.

However, Bussmann posited that the number one requirement for employees bringing personal smart devices to work is to ensure that they have the tools required for corporate management, especially when it comes to security.

Industries where mobile is being adopted fast: It's easy to assume that enterprise and IT would adopt mobile technology in the workplace more than others, but Bussmann stated that this trend is really gaining traction in all industry verticals.

"We see a huge increase [of tablets] from a consumption point-of-view rather than a traditional desktop environment," Bussmann said when explaining how tablets can  be brought into meetings anywhere for access to real-time information.

Bussmann pointed towards the decision-making process as one area of business than can be changed dramatically with tablets -- especially with the help of the cloud.

"Folks like to be more informed pro-actively rather than waiting for a report," Bussmann said, "The tablet is a super device to get access to the information to make better and faster decisions.

For example, Bussmann said that it's now possible to process a massive amount of data about SAP's business channels and customers from the last few years in a matter of seconds as they're no longer restricted to where the information is stored.

How tablets are being used in the workplace now and next year: This will vary between the office-based and already-mobile workforces, Bussmann said. For example, sales teams are usually on the road, thus why they were equipped with iPads from the get-go.

But going back to making faster decisions, mobile apps can really serve a purpose here to speed up everyday tasks -- especially in human resources. Some of those projects that can be addressed quicker with apps include vacation and sick leave requests, filing travel expenses, employee databases and shopping carts.

SAP and its partners are rolling out at least 20 apps in October with a grand total of 50 by the end of the year that address these needs and more. Looking beyond, SAP's next step will be producing apps that tackle more complex, work-flow based applications.

Who is pitching mobile devices at work first: employees or IT departments?: On the mobile side, Bussmann said that many executives really see the value of mobile devices, and that there are increased expectations from the business community as a whole for instant, on-demand solutions.

"Whatever you can do to provide a value through additional functionality in a faster way, then you have a competitive advantage," Bussmann affirmed.

Bussmann pointed towards rising tablet adoption rates, citing that approximately 20 million tablets were sold last year and that approximately 50 percent were bought for enterprise-related tasks. This year, the overall mark is predicted to jump to anywhere between 55 and 60 million units this year.

Consumer adoption has a lot to do with that, Bussmann said, noting that the U.S. has pretty much been the leader of this trend with the Asia-Pacific region also on board as both global areas have fewer concerns and regulations about data privacy.

Another big catalyst will be younger generations entering the workforce, Bussmann predicted, as more employees come into a situation with an expectation of connectivity and mobility at all times.

SAP on mobile vs. competitors: Naturally, Bussmann affirmed that SAP is at the forefront of mobile adoption at the enterprise level. He attributed this primarily to the acquisition of Sybase last year and therefore the Sybase 365 mobile services platform. This definitely does give SAP a boost, but the benefits of mobile connectivity are being recognized by just about everyone at this point.

Nevertheless, Bussmann added that SAP is investing big in the mobile business with more device-agnostic (and even HTML5-based) solutions in the future with more complex productivity tools as tablet computing  becomes more familiar and more in demand by the consumer and business worlds alike.


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