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Mobile Development for SAP authors on mobile platforms, cool enterprise apps and SAP

by Ken Murphy, Editorial Director

September 27, 2013

Ken Murphy: Hi, this is Ken Murphy with SAP insider, and I’m pleased to be joined by Dave Haseman and Ross Hightower, the authors of Mobile Development for SAP. Welcome to the podcast, gentlemen.

Dave Haseman & Ross Hightower: Thank you.

Ken: You’re both with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Dave as the founding director of the SAP University Competence Center, and Ross as the Associate Director of the Center for Technology Innovation, where you’ve also been active with the SAP University Alliance.

So, to get started, if you could share with our listeners how you teamed together to author the Mobile Development for SAP book?

Ross: Sure.

The University Alliance provides access to SAP technologies for faculty at universities and high schools. And one of the things we do is create curriculums so that faculty will have some way of teaching the technologies in the classroom.

And at the time the Sybase Unwired platform came out, Dave and I volunteered to create that curriculum. One of the things we found out pretty quickly was that there wasn’t a lot of information available, and what information was out there just wasn’t very well organized. So we decided that because we were learning all of this, it would be good for us to create a book so that we could provide that book to the faculty members, they could use it in the classroom, or whoever wanted to learn the platform.

The situation’s a lot better now, there’s a lot more information out there, but this is one source where we bring all of that together, so if you don’t know what the platform is and you want to get started, you can use this as a resource.

Ken: At more than 600 pages, your book certainly covers a lot of ground. Before a business dives into mobile app development, do you have any advice for how a company should form a mobile strategy?  Any key things that SAP customers in particular should know ahead of time?

Dave: One of the things that’s pretty significant about the SAP mobile platform is it’s really designed to address providing what I would call corporate information, as opposed to say the more traditional gaming kind of thing that we think of when we think of smart devices.

So when you’re concerned about developing applications using the SAP Mobile Platform, you really need to get a good understanding of what your situation is, and what your requirements are.

In many cases, you’re talking about replacing what’s historically been a PC or a laptop based information system with one that runs on smart devices. And that starts raising a number of questions you need to really address before you do development.

For example, what kind of devices are your customers or employees going to use? What kind of data sources are they going to need access to? What type of application do you need to have developed? Do they need to be connected, and not connected and so forth? So you need to do a fair amount of study about what your needs are, and what problems you’re trying to solve before you delve into actually learning how to use the SAP Mobile Platform to develop applications.

Ken: I imagine then the other factors – you mentioned quite a few – but some of the other factors in deciding on a mobile are to decide whether to go with native, or web-based, hybrid, online or offline capabilities. So, in addition to a how-to, does the book also help a reader make these decisions a little bit easier?

Ross: Yes. And that can be confusing at first, but it turns out that those different types of apps; hybrid, and native, and web-based, have very distinctive capabilities and strengths and weaknesses. So we spend some time early in the book describing each type; what they’re good for, what the costs and benefits of each type of app, and while most of the book is about the hybrid applications, we do have three chapters on native applications, so by the end of the book someone would have a clear understanding of where each type of app would fit into their strategy.

Ken: You devote a lot of space in the book to the overall importance of design. I’m wondering if there’s a misunderstood aspect of design that can either make or break a mobile app?

Ross: Well, actually, mobile applications remind me a lot of the good old days when the PC first came out, and you had slow computers with very little memory and still developers were able to get an entire word processer in a 5.25” disc. And that’s kind of the environment we have with mobile apps.

"It’s a different type of environment than a typical desktop type of application. Design is very critical to making successful mobile applications."

- Ross Hightower


We have small devices with limited memory, slower processors, we have lots of different screen sizes that tend to be very small, and you’re also dealing with transmitting data over networks which have varying reliability and performance. So from a technical side you have to be very efficient when you design applications.
And then from the user side, users have a certain expectation about mobile apps. They’re typically used on the fly, they have limited attention to devote to the application, they’re used to being able to get in, get the task done that they’re trying to do and then get out.

So interfaces have to be very efficient, very simple. It’s a different type of environment than a typical desktop type of application. Design is very critical to making successful mobile applications.

Ken: Could you give an example of an innovative business app, and an innovative consumer app that have been developed on the SAP Mobile Platform? What was it about them that made those apps innovative?

Dave: Well, first of all the SAP Mobile Platform is really focused toward the development of what you referred to as a business app. It was not designed to produce what I would call a typical consumer app. Business apps tend to have a number of fairly unique requirements.

Typically there are a lot of back-end data sources involved, where most consumer apps are not. Certainly security plays a very important role because the data you’re wanting to deliver in that business app as a general rule is data that you would not want to normally release to the public. So security plays a role.

So let me answer the first question with a really innovative business app I’d like to chat about - and let me tell you where this came from:  This was actually an app I saw this spring at SAPPHIRE NOW, and the app was developed by a construction company. And it was actually their first application that they had developed in the mobile arena, and they did use the SAP Mobile Platform to develop that app. And what the app provided was an on-site ability to receive goods.

They were the classical construction company; they had a number of construction sites. And what they developed was an app that would run on their smart devices so that when a delivery took place at the job site, they could immediately bring up the app and record the goods that were received. That would immediately go back to their main data store, instead of getting an invoice, writing on it and collecting the invoice and bringing it back into the office. So they gave the field ability to record entries as the goods were received, and it also gave them the ability to take a look at what anticipated deliveries were in the future.

It gave them all the ability to take a look at the goods and services that were arriving on the job site, directly from a smart app, as opposed to needing access for, let’s say, a laptop to a classic application.

Ken: The reviews of the book are in. One reader said that it’s “an excellent book for beginners.” Another said it’s “the most comprehensive SAP mobile book” that they’ve read. These both suggest that the book is pretty thorough.

With potential readers in mind, what are the one or two things they might be surprised to learn about mobile app development with the SAP Mobile Platform?

Dave: Well, I think probably the most interesting idea is the flexibility of the platform. The platform fits into a category of platforms that are sometimes referred to as a MEP (Mobile Enterprise Platform) but SAP has done an extremely good job at developing a platform that’ll meet the number of different needs.

 The mobile SDK is the tool that’s being used to develop hybrid apps today, and certainly while that’s the focus of the book we talk about other capabilities. But the platform has been designed so that it can expand to come up with a number of different tools for developing applications. For example, SAP has some sort of loosely defined partnerships that allow a number of third-party frameworks to be inserted within the product. They’ve purchased a Syclo product for example; they’ve now been able to integrate that into the platform.

So basically what you have is a single platform that can support a number of different design techniques and technologies based upon the developer.

And the final piece that’s extremely important, as I mentioned that earlier, is the ability to leverage the security and administrative features. So one single platform has one level for supported security and administrative features while at the same time providing multiple tools for the developer to design and implement their mobile applications.

Ken: We have time to sneak in one more question here:  Since you’re both from Wisconsin, and with football season approaching I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the Packers. How do you think they’re going to do this year?

Dave: I think the only question is how many points they plan to win the Super Bowl by.

Ken: All right. We’ll check back with you at the end of the season and see how that prediction turns out!

Again, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I’ve been speaking with Dave Haseman and Ross Hightower of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about their book, Mobile Development for SAP. Dave and Ross, thanks for joining us today.

Dave: Thank you. We appreciate it.

About the authors of Mobile Development for SAP:
Dave Haseman is the founding director of the SAP University Competence Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). He has developed and taught extensive curricula in the area of SAP. Ross Hightower is the associate director of the Center for Technology Innovation at UWM, as well as an active member of the SAP University Alliance and an SAP trainer.

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