Mobility now the starting place for SAP application development

For months now, SAP has been saying that mobile devices are the starting point for application development. But what does that mean for customers?

SAP's new focus on mobility as the starting point for SAP application development and design amounts to a fundamental shift in how enterprise software is created -- one that will lead to apps that are more in tune with what customers really want, according to executives with the enterprise software vendor.

For SAP, focusing on mobility means beginning development with the functions needed for a smartphone, then moving inward towards the system of record, instead of simply carving off parts of an existing on-premises application for mobile devices, according to Nick Brown, senior vice president of mobile strategies at SAP. "You start [with] mobile first, and as you go from a smartphone to a tablet, you may enhance what you can do. You've got more landscape, more real estate," he said.

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The concept of beginning with a mobile app -- where a premium is placed on systems that include only the most relevant functions and offer a user-friendly experience -- amounts to a sea change from how some SAP developers have operated in the past, Brown said.

SAP says it traditionally developed on-premises applications by focusing first on the core processes needed to make the application function properly. The key difference in the new era of mobility is that SAP will begin its development processes by emphasizing the "experiential side of things," said Richard Campitelli, head of SAP's mobile services division, which helps clients build custom mobile apps. That means SAP will work closely with customers to learn just how they'll use the software and find out what can be done to improve the overall user experience. In Campitelli's words, the application development process will progress "from the end user in, as opposed to the core systems out."

SAP Enterprise Performance Management

SAP's new SAP Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) on-demand applications are one example where SAP has most recently employed the mobile-first design, the company says.

For more casual users, the SAP EPM OnDemand apps were designed to be used on an Apple iPad "right out of the box," but a Microsoft add-on enables more sophisticated users to work in an Excel spreadsheet environment, if needed. "We're [helping business users], but we're also filling in the needs of finance [and] business analysts, who need more sophisticated types of tools for analytics," said David Williams, a marketing manager for SAP EPM.

Keeping mobile application development simple

The idea of developing applications with mobility in mind makes sense to Melody Frinzell, SAP project manager at Pacific Coast Building Products Inc., a company that recently launched several SAP mobility projects. An emphasis on mobility means an emphasis on ease of use, she said, and that new attitude could carry over into the realm of on-premises and desktop applications.

"[With] mobile apps, you only have so much space and you want to get your point across to the user without requiring a lot of training, a lot of explanation," Frinzell said. "So, taking that part of the mobility app concept and applying that to what we'd do at a typical desktop seems to make sense. If [you can] lower the cost of learning applications and training new people, that's a good thing."

Mobile-centric development will get SAP only so far

It's hard to gauge how well SAP is executing on its mobile-first design strategy, given that SAP is still learning about mobility -- along with everyone else in the market, according to Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and head of JonERP.com.

"I do think SAP takes mobility as a mantra for development seriously. But what's not as clear is exactly how that's going to work out for the customer," Reed said. "SAP will tell you they are a leader in enterprise mobility, and I'm not totally sure what that means. I think it means no one knows what they're doing yet."

Confusion among customers about SAP's licensing model, and concerns about the cost of mobile applications could stand in the way SAP's success, Reed said. "You might be developing applications with a mobile-first mentality, but if customers don't find it affordable and if they don't understand the licensing behind it, then the plan's not working."

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