Heavyweight Apps Enter the Ring

SAP introduces two new mobile apps for Field Services and Retail Execution (photo: SAP)
SAP introduces two new mobile apps for Field Services and Retail Execution (photo: SAP)

What’s significant about the two apps announced by SAP in June?

Raj Nathan: Firstly, these are applications that target customers in verticals where we have a strong presence like consumer packaged goods, retail, and utilities thereby helping our important customers and strengthening our presence with these customers. These applications are also among the first of what I would refer to as heavy-weight applications. Secondly, what is very encouraging for me is that we started developing these applications at the end of February and five months later we are able to release the first version whilst meeting our company standards.  This proves that we can not only bring to market mobile applications with the agility of a startup, but also do it with the quality of an enterprise software vendor.

These are part of the set of apps targeted at extending our backend business processes to the mobile end user.

Why is SAP kicking off the portfolio with these two apps?

Raj Nathan: We refer to these two apps as process apps because they help mobile workers transform business processes by providing convenient, easy, and reliable access to real-time information that was not available before while they are on the go. The first app serves all tasks around field service, and the second around retail execution.

The field service app addresses the service market in industries such as utilities, high tech, and industrial machinery and components (IM&C), where SAP is particularly strong. It is targeted at the field service technician who is fixing customer’s equipment. In North America alone, there are over 25 million mobile field service workers who could increase their productivity with direct mobile access to back-end systems running SAP. Even a 10% improvement in productivity for these workers has a major impact to both the cost and the quality of service.

The retail execution application is targeted at companies like Proctor and Gamble which sell consumer goods through retail channels. This app helps the product companies ensure that their customers enjoy a uniform and delightful brand experience through the right promotional material, banner, pricing, product placement on the shelf, etc.  By improving the customer experience, the enterprise may gain a bigger share of consumer spend.

Why are you concentrating initially on the process-oriented mobile apps?

Raj Nathan: SAP has two audiences for mobile applications: customers’ employees and consumers. In our company we already develop and sell applications for both audiences. This year, within the Mobile Applications Unit we are concentrating on apps which enable employees to access SAP Business Suite data and business logic. Next year, we will also bring to market consumer-centric apps that our customers can roll out to their own customers. We already provide a host of consumer-centric applications including end-to-end mobile commerce, mobile CRM and mobile marketing. Whether consumer or employee applications, our company philosophy is that we will develop 10-20% of the applications and partners will develop the rest. We will concentrate on developing applications that are more replicable in nature and let partners develop and deploy applications that require a lot of customization.

Dr. Raj Nathan, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Mobile Applications Sybase, Inc. (photo: Sybase)
Dr. Raj Nathan, Executive Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Mobile Applications Sybase, Inc. (photo: Sybase)
The app for retail execution on the iPhone (screenshot: SAP)
The app for retail execution on the iPhone (screenshot: SAP)

How are the teams from Sybase and SAP working together to deliver the apps?

Raj Nathan: The story of these apps showcases a textbook example of how the cooperation between SAP and Sybase should happen. To start with, the applications were built by a very talented group of SAP developers working under the direction of Sybase management. And they built the applications on the Sybase middleware platform. So not only have we mixed the technology of applications and platforms from the two companies, but we have also mixed the people and management structure.  And yet we have been able to release heavyweight applications in five months from start to finish.

This is a successful example of collaboration where 1 plus 1 effectively becomes 2.5.  The credit goes to all the employees involved — from application development, middleware platform, solutions management, standards, product qualification and the field.

The development pipeline is very encouraging. We are poised to release a further set of applications over the remainder of the year, and we also plan a healthy ecosystem of applications from our partners. By the end of the year we expect, as planned, 40-50 apps to be released.

Aside from development, we have been equally successful in the field.  The SAP Global Customer Operations (GCO) team is being supported by a Sybase SWAT team to develop the mobile market.  Results have been stellar, with a very strong and growing pipeline.

How do you explain the current demand from customers for mobile applications?

Raj Nathan: Firstly, there is demand from users both in their role as employees as well as consumers.

Secondly, companies see mobile technologies as a new and cost-effective way to not only reach more consumers, but also provide them with a direct and rich user experience.  Thirdly, companies see mobile applications as a way to increase employee productivity, make real-time decisions, and improve process and task quality especially for workers in the field. The pipeline for our mobile products, if nothing else, certainly speaks to the tremendous interest in our mobile solutions on the part of our customers.

Mobile Application Types: Process, Employee, Consumer

SAP will deliver a mixture of three mobile app types by the end of 2011:

  • Process apps help mobile workers who seldom sit in front of a computer, such as service engineers or merchandisers, to perform a business processes and collaborate with coworkers and partners in the field and in the back office.
  • Employee productivity apps are designed for knowledge workers such as managers who get requests to make a specific decision – so-called single purpose tasks, such as a travel requests, viewing the status of the last request and approving the workflow.
  • Consumer apps make it possible for end users (usually the customer of an SAP customer) to perform simple business processes affecting their account with a producer or service provider. A consumer app could, for example, be a reservation application provided by a global hotel chain running SAP Business Suite. The app could also contain features that provide alerts or special offers to the user.