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SAP seeks to rejuvenate its mobile strategy with Apple partnership

Updated: May 14, 2019


A few days ago Apple and SAP made a joint announcement of a partnership to much fanfare.

Here’s an excerpt …

“Apple® and SAP today announced a partnership to revolutionize the mobile work experience for enterprise customers of all sizes, combining powerful native apps for iPhone® and iPad® with the cutting-edge capabilities of the SAP HANA platform. This joint effort will also deliver a new iOS software development kit (SDK) and training academy so that developers, partners and customers can easily build native iOS apps tailored to their business needs.”

This was then followed up with this post by SAP’s Steve Lucas, in which he adds …

“Specifically, we are developing dozens of new, native iOS industry apps for core business processes, built with Swift, Apple’s modern programming language, which will allow customers to fully leverage the data in their SAP enterprise systems to transform how they run their business anywhere.”

And ….

“In addition to the app goodness, we will provide SAP’s 2.5million+ community of developers with next-generation tools and training – including a SAP HANA Cloud Platform SDK for iOS and an SAP Academy for iOS – to build, extend and run a new class of native iOS apps powered by the HANA Cloud Platform (HCP).”

There are so many angles with which to view and assess this announcement. Here I’ll share a few of these along with my own thoughts and opinions.

Lets deconstruct some of the statements in this announcement …

Ignoring BYOD Trends

“… a partnership to revolutionize the mobile work experience for enterprise customers of all sizes, combining powerful native apps for iPhone and iPad ..”

I’ve worked on a number of mobile strategies for customers over the years, and one trend that is unstoppable in the enterprise is that of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Even SAP acknowledges this trend. It means that as an enterprise you ultimately want to position yourself to support different mobile client platforms based on personal device choices, such as iOS, Android & Windows. A solution that targets only iOS is, whilst beneficial to Apple’s aspirations to sell more iPhones and iPads in the Enterprise, may not be well suited with an organisation’s ability to support BYOD.

What happened to HTML5?

“… combining powerful native apps …”

This statement is significant on many levels and raises many questions in my mind. When we refer to ‘native’ here we contrast this with other mobile development technologies such as ‘HTML5’ and ‘hybrid’ apps. To refresh your understanding of these concepts and their relative merits you can view the presentation below which I delivered a few years ago.

SAP made a strong foray into building native apps to front-end SAP a few years ago, but then decided to pivot towards a HTML5-based strategy with the birth of Fiori apps. Has SAP rounded back and decided that HTML5 is not the panacea that it hoped it would be? Or like Facebook did SAP bet too much on HTML5? Or am I reading too much into this?

Perhaps this announcement is just one in a long line of mobile SDK announcements of the past such as those with Sencha, Appcelerator and Xamarin. However I feel we should not dismiss this as yet another announcement. Especially when it is delivered by Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott themselves. When you look at the Fiori Design Guidelines site you’ll see that SAP Fiori for iOS has been elevated to a very prominent position.

It leads me to think that perhaps SAP is dead serious about this. And if so, does this foretell fault lines in the strategy to leverage SAPUI5 across all devices? Is the performance of SAPUI5 such a limiting factor in the delivery of UX to mobile devices that SAP have felt the need to re-introduce a native-development option?

Will SAP’s Developers make the grade?

Another excerpt from the announcement, where Tim Cook hopes SAP’s legions of developers will reinvent themselves as iOS Swift developers …

“Through the new SDK, we’re empowering SAP’s more than 2.5 million developers to build powerful native apps that fully leverage SAP HANA Cloud Platform …”

I have strong opinions on this one. Yes SAP has more than 2.5 million developers. But I’m familiar enough with this ecosystem of (primarily) ABAP developers to know that only a fraction are making the leap to HTML5/Javascript with SAPUI5, and to then expect a further leap into native iOS development using Swift is wildly optimistic. That said, I believe there would be a strong case to open up the existing community of iOS developers out there – giving those developers the opportunity to build front-ends for SAP using the technologies with which they know and love is one way of attracting new talent into the SAP ecosystem.

Platform Dependencies

Then there’s the other part of the above quote …

“… that fully leverage SAP HANA Cloud Platform …”.

Oh. Do I read into this that the new SDK is hardwired to SAP’s HANA Cloud Platform (HCP)? If so, customers who want to leverage this will need to license use of HCP.

Different Perspectives

In Steve Lucas’ post he posits that …

“The objectives of the partnership are to enable newer, faster ways to perform a task, access data, and do your job”

  • From an SAP perspective, I’d expect an underlying motivation to drive more sales and adoption of HANA Cloud Platform mobile services (HCPms) along with complimentary services such as Mobile Secure.

  • From an Apple perspective, I’d expect a motivation to elevate their penetration into the enterprise and presumably uplift sales of iPhones and iPads.

  • From a traditional SAP developers’ perspective, this adds the burden of yet another technology with which to build some competency in, when so much time is being spent building competency in SAPUI5 etc. However from an iOS Swift developers’ perspective, it creates an opportunity to bring their craft into the SAP ecosystem.

  • From a customer IT perspective, this adds burden to the IT skillsets which may need to be supported in-house and the associated people-cost, as well as the need to license middleware such as HANA Cloud Platform.

  • From an end user and customer line of business perspective, I think it’s great that SAP is seeking to uplift the mobile user experience with the possibility of native apps with Fiori design elements, albeit here for iOS. And if we think that end user experience (UX) IS THE MOST IMPORTANT focus of our times, then I would suggest that this alone underlines the importance of this announcement.

Do I think this announcement is a good thing? Yes for sure. With native development there is an opportunity for SAP or customers to delivery truly outstanding applications unencumbered with the performance restrictions we might see with some HTML5 approaches. But that will be at a cost of development targeting only iOS devices. Do I wish this solution were available to SAP customers without the requirement for HANA Cloud Platform? Yes absolutely, especially if SAP wishes to fuel rapid adoption.

One thing is for sure, SAP’s twists and turns in mobile strategy and announcements over the years continue to keep SAP customers and partners on their toes. But perhaps that’s the world of mobility in general.

So there we have it. My thoughts and opinions. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.


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