While SAP has spent the past year spinning a vision for on-premises, on-demand, and on-device computing, its Sapphire conference is an opportunity for the vendor to lay out some important specifics on these plans for the thousands expected to attend.
SAP also needs to avoid giving short shrift to the concerns of customers still reeling from the effects of the economic downturn, who are more interested in getting greater value from their current SAP investment than shelling out cash they don't have for the latest and greatest.
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Here's a look at some key topics to be broached and questions to be answered at Sapphire, which kicks off this week in Orlando.
The move to mobile apps
One of the biggest announcements expected at Sapphire concerns a converged mobile-application development platform composed of SAP technology and the tools and middleware it gained through the acquisition of Sybase last year.
There's no question SAP's customer base is clamoring for mobile applications, but the company needs to tell them the best way to plan their purchases and projects, said Kevin Benedict, CEO of Netcentric Strategies, a consulting firm focused on enterprise mobility. "I believe they are attempting to do that," he said. "In the past it was challenging because they were a little bit unfamiliar with mobility."
There are several categories for enterprise mobile applications, each with their own technical demands, Benedict said:
- Complex applications that can also run in offline scenarios.
- The "container" approach in which applications are written in HTML5 code and can dynamically reorient themselves for various devices' screens.
- The use of a simple mobile website that users can access on any sort of smartphone.
"Each of those have [their] own product stack and methodology that goes along with it," Benedict said. "In the past [SAP] didn't even know what to say, so I hope they spent the last year learning that and developing these buying-decision learning trees, so people can decide what might be a prudent place to start."
SAP is not trying to do mobility on its own. The company is "very aggressively" recruiting partners to build applications for its mobile platform, according to Benedict. Sapphire showgoers should expect quite a few to be showcased, "because it shows things work, and shows platform acceptance and success," he said.
Making sense of SAP's SaaS strategy
SAP is using a two-fold approach for on-demand ERP software, and has taken some time to figure out the strategy.
After some fits and starts, its Business ByDesign suite for midmarket companies and divisions of larger ones is ready to be sold at scale. SAP expects to have 1,000 customers on it by year's end. SAP should and probably will deliver strong Business ByDesign customer stories at the show, said Jon Reed, an independent analyst who closely tracks the company. This will give attendees a better sense of the software's stability and potential benefit to their businesses.