DSAG: When Will We See a Central Mobile Platform?

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Fifteen years ago, Michael Wessendorf developed solutions for SAP for the Palm Pilot, one of the first mobile devices used at the company. It was a pioneer at the time – a bit smaller than today’s iPad, but thicker, with a green 160×160 pixel display and half a megabyte storage capacity. Wessendorf has his own company these days but still deals with SAP. Modern devices are now smaller, smarter, and more important than ever for the business world. As spokesperson for the Mobile Business Community special interest group within the German-Speaking SAP User Group (DSAG) e.V., Wessendorf has been keeping a close eye on developments in SAP’s mobile business. SAP has managed to strengthen its position in the mobile market thanks to a number of acquisitions, including Sybase and Syclo. But not everyone has welcomed these developments. “It has made many users uneasy, especially those who have come to depend on the homegrown SAP NetWeaver solution,” reports Wessendorf, who says that users prefer the homogeneous platform offered by SAP software and don’t want to be sold a mishmash of acquired applications that have been cobbled together.

The pros and cons of SUP, Syclo, and NetWeaver

Sybase Unwired Platform in particular was a sticking point for users – they quite simply did not know how it fit into the SAP world of mobile solutions. “Sybase Unwired Platform totally eclipsed SAP NetWeaver from a marketing aspect,” says Wessendorf. Together with his colleagues in the special interest group, he developed a criteria catalog to document in writing the pros and cons of SAP’s current mobile solutions. How device-independent are the solutions? Is partner support provided? How long-term are maintenance commitments? How much special mobile know-how is required to develop the solutions? These are just some of the questions the DSAG experts have asked. (See graphic below)

The criteria: 1 – Device independence; 2 – Ability to develop solutions without special know-how; 3 – Support from partners; 4 – One platform for all applications; 5 – User experience/design; 6 – Long-term maintenance commitments; 7 – Upward compatibility; 8 – Efficient middleware; 9 – Controllable complexity//Graphic: grasundsterne GmbH

The acquisitions of Sybase and Syclo opened up a plethora of new mobile solutions for SAP. And although this ultimately means new options for users, too, there are some challenges that come with such a broad portfolio. “SAP has emphasized a different element in its product line every single year,” notes Wessendorf. “This throws IT managers off balance completely, because they can’t just up and change their course of business every two years.” They would prefer to have a stable, evolutionary approach to innovation. Wessendorf gives an example: In 2011, SAP announced a maintenance solution based on the Sybase platform. Half a year later, though, it purchased Syclo, a company that also develops such solutions, albeit based on different technology components. “It makes more sense to have only one solution for one problem,” comments Wessendorf.

Next page: After the critique, some praise for SUP and Syclo

Another example: SAP’s in-house mobile solution, SAP MAM (Mobile Asset Management), is already being used by many SAP customers in Germany, but has been less successful in the United States. SAP now intends to fill that gap with Syclo, which has a solid customer base in the U.S. “But Syclo, an SAP partner company, would have had a tough time of things if it had not been purchased by SAP, because then it would have been forced to use Sybase Unwired Platform,” explains Wessendorf. And that would have thrown its entire business concept into whack. It’s now up to SAP to deal with this “problem.”

More developers needed for SUP/Syclo

Back to the evaluation criteria: The maintenance commitments for Sybase Unwired Platform extend to the release after next, although it is still unclear when that release will be ready. Syclo is keeping mum about that. At the moment, a reliable project schedule is only available for SAP NetWeaver and SAP MAM, with a maintenance commitment guaranteed until the end of 2020. Another point of critique is the fact that an expert environment has yet to evolve and mature, especially in Germany. The Sybase and Syclo technologies are new and have to establish themselves among developers and partners. According to DSAG, SAP NetWeaver fits best in the SAP world, technology-wise. “In our opinion, the approaches based on SAP NetWeaver outperformed the others,” says Wessendorf. Upward compatibility, controllable complexity, and “one platform for all applications” were three of the criteria that only SAP NetWeaver could fulfill.

The DSAG experts did have some praise for the newly-acquired technologies: They liked Sybase’s user friendliness, while Syclo earned points for its device independence, down-to-earth development and adaptation of software, and powerful – though new – middleware. Their overall impression, however, is that the new technologies haven’t yet substantially reduced implementation effort.

To sum up, every technology brings with it clever innovations that can be used wisely – such as in a consolidated platform like the planned SAP Mobile Platform. (See “Road Map: SAP Mobile Platform” for more information.) As far as Wessendorf is concerned, SAP’s target portfolio is free to be inspired by innovations from Apple and Google (“The interface has to be state-of-the-art”), but this does not mean that SAP should follow every trend. “What we need is controllable complexity, a manageable number of functions. And once you’ve made investment decisions, you have to be able to stay independent – from implementation partners, hardware providers, and host operating systems.”