There’s a lot riding on SAP’s avowed goal of reaching one billion users by 2015, and perhaps no single element expresses the hopes and complexities of this “moon shot” more than the concept of an online store for discovering and buying SAP’s mobile apps.
And while there’s already a store of sorts in the form of an iPhone app called SAP Mobile Apps, this is only the onset of the beginning. A whole lot more has to happen — within SAP, in the market, and in the enterprise — before SAP’s mobile aspirations can be considered a success. When all is said and done, reaching a billion users will have been the easy part.
Part of the problem is that while it’s tempting to think of Apple as the ideal model to emulate (and the fact that Apple uses SAP software to run iTunes adds to the temptation), Apple’s App Store doesn’t cut it, and the bring your own device (BYOD) buying patterns and policies currently in the enterprise aren’t a model for SAP’s future mobile apps strategy either. Indeed, even the iPhone and iPad won’t be enough for SAP’s mobile strategy.
In fact, looking at Apple as the anti-model for SAP mobility showcases how hard, and how equally important, SAP’s aspirations for mobile greatness will be to achieve.
It’s Quality — Not Quantity — That Counts
The consumer shopping experience that the Apple App Store provides for the millions of apps it offers has little relevance to the enterprise. Rather than hiding a few great apps among oodles of useless, pointless, time-sucking apps, what enterprises need are three key categories of apps that make quality, not quantity, the key metric for the future SAP app store.
Category number one is a set of horizontal apps that are specific to SAP’s business processes and user base. This effort is already under way, and by SAP’s annual SAPPHIRE NOW conference in May 2013, there will be well over 100 mobile apps spanning a broad set of horizontal functions in human capital management, customer relationship management, field service, and many other areas. These apps will be largely, though not exclusively, distinguished by their ability to share data with SAP Business Suite software and other SAP applications — not exclusively, because it’s clear that there will be a market for horizontal apps that SAP customers will want to use as standalone apps as well.
The second category is vertical industry apps specific to key industries that, like their horizontal counterparts, interact with specific components of the rest of the SAP portfolio. The difference will be in the industry to which they are targeted: a mobile asset management app for a hospital will look very different than one for upstream oil and gas. The SAP app store should also carry a library of verticalized apps that do not access the SAP portfolio but could be useful adjuncts to the rest of users’ app toolsets.
Third, there are custom apps developed either in house or by consultants. These apps will only be available to users of the particular company they were developed for, and the functionality they cover will be either proprietary to the company, specific to the company, or both.
It’s possible to envision a fourth category, a pure consumer app that makes its way into the SAP app store the way t-shirts are sold in the SAP merchandise store on the show floor of SAP TechEd and other conferences. These apps will probably either be free or require that the user, not the enterprise, pay for their use. The key characteristic will be that they have been deemed “safe” insofar as they do not violate enterprise security or usage requirements.
Safety Must Be Guaranteed
A key functional difference between the SAP app store and the Apple App Store is that SAP apps must all be deemed safe for use on a mobile device that will potentially be used as a consumer device, and must therefore conform to enterprise-class usage requirements.
Data safety and user qualification are key to the enterprise-class experience SAP must provide, and that’s where a rigorous approval process and the use of the Afaria mobile security platform come into play. Use and user validation management, as well as other monitoring functions, must be available to satisfy a host of regulatory, governance, and compliance issues.
The apps also have to be appropriate for use by the individual person who tries to use them; clearly, an enterprise performance management app that can display key corporate performance indicators can’t be available to just anyone. Also, they have to be licensed for use from the company that built them, and there must be a means by which those licenses can be tracked and paid for.
It will also make sense for the SAP app store to have an in-house option that is not required to be part of a general-purpose app store. Even though the store will by definition function in the cloud, that cloud may need to be a private one, branded for the company’s users and housed inside a virtual firewall. Some version of this in-house capability will also be essential for the deployment of custom-developed apps, which for a host of reasons cannot be discoverable by non-employees and other unauthorized users. The store will also likely need to be tied directly to the human resource management, billing, risk management, security, and other systems that need to monitor use, misuse, and abuse on an on-going basis.
This capability is clearly not within the functional parameters of the Apple App Store today, where basic levels of functionality and compatibility are about the only real restrictions placed on which apps are available. This kind of enterprise-class management, monitoring, and personalization has its best analog in the online procurement world of Ariba, where in-house procurement catalogs have been around since the dot-com days.
Finally, the iOS and Apple mobile user experience is only one of the platforms that SAP has to address and, in my opinion, may prove to be less of a strategy play than others — in particular, Windows 8. Certainly, if Windows 8 succeeds, the differences in form and function between iOS and Windows 8 will make for a completely different enterprise-class mobile experience. And with those differences will go much of Apple’s current enterprise dominance and applicability to SAP’s requirements.
When Will SAP’s Mobile App Store Emerge?
From SAP’s standpoint, the business can’t deliver the app store fast enough. Without this enterprise-class commercial experience, SAP will be seriously handicapped in its ability to actually monetize the one billion users it wants to attract. It’s theoretically possible to build apps that could appeal to that many users — an SAP Angry Birds app could fit the bill in a heartbeat. But without an enterprise-class commerce platform, SAP and its mobile partners won’t be able to recoup their costs, much less make a healthy profit. And if there’s one thing that’s certain about SAP’s mobile aspirations, it’s that the “freemium” model just won’t work. For SAP to succeed, there has to be a better way.
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