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SAP Afaria 7.0: Mobile Management Leader Reboots with Fresh UI

SAP Afaria 7.0's new user interface aims to make mobile device management a breeze.

Superficially, SAP Afaria in 2011 had the same problem as Microsoft Office in 2006. But our approaches to solve this dilemma differ. And so, I argue, will their resulting effectiveness.

Like Office, Afaria has been the long-time leader in its market - mobile device management software. According to IDC Corp., Afaria has led the MDM market for 10 straight years, with about 20% market share and 1,000 corporate customers.

Like Office, the 16-year-old Afaria was originally built for a prior era. In Office's case, it was an era in which 14-inch monitors reigned, and the Internet didn't exist. In Afaria's case, it was an era in which mobile devices were primarily laptops and PDAs.

As a result, like Office, Afaria has a wealth of powerful features and supported device types. In Afaria's case, this includes not only iOS and Android, but also the many Windows Mobile devices used by field service workers, Windows laptops, tablet PCs and servers, Nokia Symbian phones, even Windows Point-of-Sale (POS) cash registers.

This is where I think things diverge. Microsoft's solution was to build a new UI for Office 2007 called 'The Ribbon'. The Ribbon is a chunky strip at the top of the screen that is intended to better organize and expose Office's deep reservoir of features (reported to be in the many, many thousands).

Intended to ride on ever-growing size of monitor screens, the Ribbon was supposed to both simplify Office 2007 and simultaneously expose even more of its features, in order to convince price-sensitive consumers and small businesses to keep buying Office when slick, free alternatives like Google Docs abound.

It's a schizophrenic pair of goals, and it was no wonder that the Ribbon has created a backlash from users who report more mouse clicks and more wasted productivity.

Also, the rise of tablets with their small screen sizes has forced Microsoft to backtrack and shrink the Ribbon again.

Afaria 7.0: Unabashedly about Productivity

Sybase wasn't in the same dilemma as Microsoft. We don't have to justify ourselves against free competitors by showing off all our features.

Also, we weren't blindsided by the rise of mobile like Redmond. We knew that IT administrators were spending much more of their time using Afaria on the go with their iPads.

So with the Afaria 7.0 we just officially released at Mobile World Congress today, our goal was unabashedly to cut down on the clicks, simplify the UI so as to make it easier and faster for IT administrators to use.

I was given a demo of Afaria 7.0 by Sybase product manager Mark Jordan. It is definitely modernized and time-saving. While all of Afaria's features remain, its workflows have been rebuilt to make more sense for today's devices.

Browser support has been expanded to Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari from Internet Explorer only. And the touchscreen-enabled tablet version of the Afaria app has been enhanced so that Afaria administrators can do much much more from their iPad.

"With the latest release, SAP has completely revamped and streamlined Afaria's administrative console, speeding up and simplifying mobility management for end users, IT managers and managed mobility providers," said IDC analyst Stacy Crook. "These enhancements have the opportunity to significantly benefit customers as the number of mobile devices surpasses PCs in the enterprise and IT requires more simplified, cost-effective mobility management."

There still are powerful improvements in Afaria 7.0. Integration with SAP BusinessObjects is one, allowing you to bring a market-leading BI tool to analyze your employees' mobile usage, even from your iPad.

Telecom expense management (TEM) features are another. There's also a new Web services application programming interface (API) that lets customers and partners better integrate Afaria 7.0 with their other software.

If you want to see this new UI in action or have questions, sign up for this March 21 (8 am PT/11 am ET) webinar hosted by SAP EcoHub. Russell Fry, a senior director at SAP's Mobility Center of Excellence, will demo Afaria 7.0.

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