One of the more valuable characteristics of the cloud is its ability to connect legacy data and applications to newer capabilities like mobile, the internet of things and machine learning. Recognizing the opportunity, SAP has invested considerable effort into acquiring and building out an ecosystem to simplify these types of integrations.
Indeed, SAP Cloud Platform architecture has numerous tools for integrating new technologies, Gartner analyst Massimo Pezzini said. For example, the system includes a mobile back-end services platform to support development of mobile apps integrated with SAP applications, including an iOS software developer's kit developed in collaboration with Apple.
"There are loads of opportunities for users, [independent software vendors] and system integrators to leverage SAP Cloud Platform for innovation," he explained. "The issues are that SAP Cloud Platform skills are still hard to find and that not all the SAP Cloud Platform components are of even maturity. Some of them are very solid and proven, whereas some are still new and scarcely tested in real-life projects."
Building a cloud ecosystem
Systems integrators are taking advantage of these new features of the SAP Cloud Platform architecture to build out higher-level components for specific vertical industries. Accenture, for instance, developed a personal healthcare assistant called Nursy using the latest SAP technology on Cloud Platform. It runs on mobile devices and includes services like treatment and activity reminders, fall detection, medical history and readings, and patient schedules to help patients take control of their health.
"This goes far beyond IoT and mobile," said Vinzenz Kremer, global managing director at Accenture. "Focusing on a business approach led by data and what you can do with it is key."
Massimo Pezzinianalyst, Gartner
One of the main benefits of SAP's approach is that these new applications can take advantage of the speed of the HANA database. "Existing apps could well see a significant uptick in performance and responsiveness," Pund-IT analyst Charles King noted.
These IoT and mobile connections enabled by the SAP Cloud Platform architecture and integration tools will also be able to take advantage of SAP's ecosystem of enterprise applications, including Business Suite, SuccessFactors and analytics. "SAP is moving proactively to adapt the Cloud Platform for customers' new workloads and strategies, and IoT is at the top of the list," King said.
Bringing design thinking to new apps
SAP is seeking to make implementation of these new technologies easier with a new development tool called SAP Leonardo. "Leonardo puts the front-end design thinking methodology around new products for mobile, analytics, AI, big data, blockchain or IoT applications," said Michael Hill, senior director of SAP Cloud Platform product marketing.
Charles Kinganalyst, Pund-IT
"Line-of-business users can start the design process by creating a proof of concept of the application interface quickly to experiment with the look and feel and basic application flow," Hill explained. "Then, Leonardo makes it easier for developers and integrators to tie this into the various back-end services required to run the app in production." Integrating the SAP Cloud Platform architecture with Leonardo, he added, makes it possible, within six to eight weeks, to demonstrate new apps with stakeholders in a company to build support or identify potential problems before product launch.
Hill cited SAP's collaboration with Sika, a specialty chemical products manufacturer, and the creation of a proof of concept for an IoT app that measured chemical levels in 1,000-gallon rolling vats stored on job sites. In the past, Sika's salespeople would have to drive to a site, look around for the containers and try to figure out how much supply the customer had on hand. If the vats were half full, the salespeople would not get the sale. The proof of concept allowed Sika to build a prototype app to remotely report low chemical levels using sensors on each container. As a result, Hill said the sales director funded completion of the project, which saved the sales team "countless hours" in physically checking inventory.
New integrations help unlock value
Hill expects to see similar prototypes being used to extend the SAP Cloud Platform architecture into other areas as well. For example, telematics in vehicle fleets could be connected to logistics apps to identify certain times when traffic affects delivery dates and to subsequently notify customers.
SAP has developed another app for brand management to track the efficacy of TV advertising. Traditional advertising metrics are based on estimated viewers. But a back-end integration into ERP systems can correlate the impact of new ad campaigns on product sales. "We take the assumption that these technologies need to be integrated into the other parts of the enterprise in order to unlock their value," Hill said.