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Can SAP Win with Windows 8?

by Joshua Greenbaum | insiderPROFILES

October 1, 2012

The new Windows 8 platform represents a potentially paradigm-busting moment for SAP, assuming that both Microsoft and SAP can see the benefits of collaborating with one another. So what exactly are these benefits, and why should SAP customers care about Windows 8? Learn the answers to these questions and more in Joshua Greenbaum’s latest column.
 

I am writing this column on a Samsung Series 7 tablet, running preview versions of Microsoft Windows 8 and Office 2013. The Series 7 is a multi-touch tablet that supports the new Windows Metro touch interface, as well as traditional Windows productivity apps like Office 2010 and the new touch-enabled Office 2013. As a geek, I must confess that I’m having a lot of fun with the mixture of the old and the new: the keyboard and mouse blending with the new multi-touch metaphor, the traditional Office productivity meeting the times of cloud-based mobility, and the world of desktop apps merging with tablet apps. And all of this technology is combined in one device.

But as cool as this new machine is, I wonder what this blending of new and old means for SAP and its customers. Can a new platform like Windows 8 change how enterprise software is developed and consumed, especially by the market leader and its customers? The answer is yes — the new platform represents a potentially paradigm-busting moment for SAP. But this assumes that SAP can grok the opportunity Windows 8 provides, and that Microsoft can likewise see the profound benefits of taking Windows 8 and cozying up to SAP.

If both companies see the light, the result could be, as Captain Renault said so famously in Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Though for various reasons, it might be difficult for the two to tie their fortunes together, but it’s worth a try.

Why Should SAP Customers Care About Windows 8?

Windows 8 represents a means to change the user experience in the enterprise in three fundamental ways that could positively affect SAP and its customers. The first is that Microsoft’s vision of Windows 8 blurs the differences between tablets, PCs, and phones — multi-touch tablets can run the full gamut of Windows 8 apps either as touchscreen tablet apps or as keyboard and mouse desktop apps, and the Windows 8 phone is intended to enable a similar, if not identical, experience. Indeed, right now, I’m blending the PC and tablet quite seamlessly; I’m typing on a Bluetooth keyboard in a Word 2013 document, and when it’s time to save or email it, I’ll use touch commands on the tablet instead of mousing through a bunch of tabs.

Why is this good for SAP? Mixed-mode productivity is ideal for a company that has both a solid base of older enterprise apps — characterized by lots of keyboarding and mousing — and a growing portfolio of new tablet-based mobile apps. The notion that a single device and a single user experience can span legacy client/server apps, and newbie tablet apps should be appealing to the majority of SAP customers that are spanning these two worlds. Adding a phone with the same user experience — form factor permitting — only makes Windows 8 even more valuable.

In the short term, an SAP customer that is looking to refresh its hardware platforms can use a single Windows 8 device that can function both as a traditional desktop and a tablet. The fact that these two functions are covered under the same OS (which can’t happen in the Apple or Android world) should simplify user acceptance, training, and other user experience issues at a potentially lower expense than the cost of buying, deploying, and managing separate PCs and tablets.

In the longer term, as developers better understand the Windows 8 development platform, SAP and its customers will be able to deploy apps that span the desktop, the tablet, and the phone. This ability to take a business process that has mobile and desktop components and create an app that has both components built into the design and user experience will be hugely advantageous. Right now, the separation between the phone, tablet, and desktop user experience is the opposite of seamless, and therefore problematic for vendors and users alike.

The ability to write an app that covers a full mobile-to-desktop business process will also be very advantageous. I was struck by the potential of this opportunity when SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott went on Jim Cramer’s Mad Money last year to showcase SAP’s iPad performance management apps. McDermott’s point was to illustrate how innovative SAP is by demonstrating how he runs SAP from an iPad. The problem with the concept is that no one, not even a highly capable CEO, can totally run a multi-billion dollar company using a touch-based tablet. The real nitty-gritty of the CEO’s job doesn’t just require the display capabilities of a tablet — it also requires the heads-down keyboarding and other capabilities that only a real desktop PC can provide. Again, blending the two in a single device and a single app makes much more sense than the artificial divide of consumption (the iPad) and creation (the PC) that Apple initiated with the iPad launch two years ago.

The Makings of a Beautiful Friendship

The same ability to cover the desktop, tablet, and phone worlds from a single platform works well when it comes to supporting enterprise-class security. Windows 8 and Office 2013 have been designed with both cloud access and enterprise management in mind, and the security features they provide are very much enterprise class.

While having this kind of multi-platform support for its new apps should be right up SAP’s alley, there are obstacles. The newness and lack of apps for Windows 8 is clearly one of them, though that’s less of a problem for an ISV that is developing its own apps than for a customer looking at the relative size of the apps libraries for iOS or Android and Windows 8. And as an independent ISV, SAP clearly has to support everything that its customers support — in no way can Windows 8 be the sole development environment.

More important is the potential contention between SAP’s and Microsoft’s respective enterprise software and cloud services offerings. These two sets of capabilities are in direct opposition to one another, and while both companies have embraced “co-opetition” before, the stakes are so high that there may be a point at which the competitiveness of both companies gets the better of each of them.

Let’s hope not. Windows 8 needs to be quickly relevant to the enterprise, particularly as all the old Windows XP machines come up for replacement and the question becomes whether to pay a little more for a touch experience. If SAP can help Microsoft justify Windows 8, Microsoft will get a huge leg up in its battle to keep Apple and Google out of the enterprise. And SAP could use an exciting new user experience that its competitors might be unwilling to embrace.

It could be a beautiful friendship, a great combination of old and new, and just right for SAP’s user base. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

         
     

Joshua Greenbaum has over 25 years of experience as a computer programmer, systems and industry analyst, author, and consultant. He spent three years in Europe as an industry analyst and a correspondent for Information Week and other industry publications.

Joshua regularly consults with leading public and private enterprise software, database, and infrastructure companies and advises end users on infrastructure and application selection, development, and implementation issues.

You can reach Joshua at editor@insiderPROFILES.wispubs.com.

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