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Can SAP create a true mobility ecosystem?

by Davin Wilfrid

November 10, 2011

By Davin Wilfrid, insiderRESEARCH

In early 2008 I signed up for two different microblogging platforms: Twitter and Pownce

Twitter was the originator of the rapid fire social networking platform. Pownce was founded by tech wunderkind Kevin Rose (of Digg fame) specifically to improve on what Twitter had started. Pownce offered several features Twitter did not, including discussion tracking, image uploads, and group contact lists. 

But Twitter had already grabbed a few million users, many of whom were highly active technorati. By the end of 2008, Pownce was dead and Twitter was on its way to global stardom and exploding adoption. The ecosystem had spoken: Twitter was king. 

Ecosystems are powerful growth engines, which is why big companies invest so much in their care and feeding. SAP has proven especially adept lately at nurturing its ecosystem of partners and users through initiatives like SAP EcoHub and the SAP Community Network

Now SAP is expanding that effort to support its push into enterprise mobility. SAP knows well it can't develop every possible app for every business scenario, so it is attempting to foster an ecosystem of mobile app development similar to the iTunes Store from Apple. This article by in-house blogger Eric Lai goes into the strategy SAP is pursuing here. 

"Even as SAP rushes to release more and more apps that connect with our applications, our goal is to have 80% of all mobile apps be built by partners," writes Lai. 

Thus far partners have submitted more than 200 apps to SAP's Enterprise App Store, and more than 100 of those have been accepted. Enterprise app stores offer companies flexibility (you can pay by credit card or corporate invoice, for example) and the assurance that SAP has certified the validity of each app in the store, says Lai. 

It's a sound strategy, and I imagine there will be no shortage of developers who would love to get their solutions in front of the large (and generally quite rich) SAP customer base. 

However, there are some risks to SAP's overall approach. As Dennis Howlett has pointed out numerous times, the cost of developing an app to be certified on the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) is still higher than most small development shops would care to pay. He suggests SAP give away SUP licenses to developers to foster innovation. 

"Apple managed to build a highly successful business by making the barriers to developers trivial. SAP is still trying to wean itself on the idea that everything has to come with a Veuve Cliquot price tag," Howlett writes. 

It's hard to disagree. If SAP wants its mobile ecosystem to be growth engine, it will have to find a way to smooth the way for the little guy to make a big splash. Relying on a "top down" approach (as senior SAP executives told Howlett they were) may prove too limiting to spark the expansion of apps SAP is looking for. 

To demonstrate my point, I created the following visualization of all the partner apps listed in the SAP Partner Mobility App Catalog. The small nodes are the apps themselves. The larger nodes are the companies that created them. As you can see, IBM and HP offer exactly as many apps as Movilitas Consulting and tieto. A year from now, I expect a vast majority of partner apps will have been creat ed by companies you and I have never heard of. 

(Click image for full-size)

SAP also plans to take 15% of all revenues generated from the app store (including from in-app purchases), according to Lai. I don't see this stopping any developers from bringing their apps to market, but it does reinforce Howlett's "Veuve Cliquot" dig from before. 

An ecosystem will thrive only if the conditions are right. SAP has a lot of conditions in place already -- including an active partner community and an enterprise-class platform for mobile app development. Here's hoping the developer-focused strategy falls in line, too. 

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Daniel Levin

9/25/2013 8:59:06 PM

Hi Davin,

I concur. I can see a niche market for SAP Apps, but I don't see the App Store as proving corporates' mobility solutions. I wonder what you think of these additional obstacles, in the context of the usual SAP client, which is: a large enterprise with substantial investments in SAP enhancements
* IT Administration: users choosing, downloading and paying for their own apps is the opposite of state-of-the-art admin
* Enhancement: mobile devices require excellent Ux, and a good Ux depends on having an integrated, company-specific, and if possible user-specific App. Good Ux certainly can't be achieved with a hodgepodge of independently developed and installed standard Apps.