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SAP strives to attract app developers with BTP

SAP wants its Business Technology Platform to compete with development platforms from AWS, Azure and GCP and help it to modernize its image.

SAP is making the SAP Business Technology Platform more attractive as a development environment to compete with cloud hyperscalers and shed its image as a back-office IT vendor.

SAP BTP is a collection of existing products that SAP hopes will provide its customers with a development environment on par with what other enterprise vendors and public cloud hyperscalers offer.

While some developers like what they see in the Business Technology Platform, SAP may still have some work to do to clarify what BTP is and how customers can benefit from it.

The SAP BTP provides a bevy of development tools, including:

  • databases and database management, which enable businesses to store and process data;
  • application development and integration tools, which enable businesses to build new applications, extend existing ones and integrate them with third-party systems and partner-built apps;
  • analytics tools, which enable businesses to plan for and predict future business outcomes; and
  • intelligent technologies, which enable companies to automate processes, include conversational UX features and integrate IoT.

The list includes a mix of old and newer SAP products, including SAP HANA and SAP HANA Cloud for database; SAP Integration Suite and SAP Extensions Suite for application development; SAP Analytics Cloud for analytics; and SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation and SAP Conversational AI for intelligent technologies.

At SAP TechEd in November, the company added new applications and services designed to attract more developers and make it easier to use, including access to a free BTP tier, the SAP AppGyver low-code/no-code development platform, and SAP Learning, a new platform designed to provide accessible training for BTP tools.

"We're taking things like SAP Integration Suite and SAP HANA Cloud and making them part of the free tier from BTP," said John Chirapurath, SAP chief marketing and solutions officer. "This means you can experiment with building something and then tear it down if you don't like it, but if you build something and decide that it's meaningful, you can put it into production."

Free tier should spur adoption

The new free tier access to BTP is a welcome addition that demonstrates how SAP is serious about building capacity and adoption, said Shaun Syvertsen, CEO of ConvergentIS, based in Calgary, Alb., an SAP partner that focuses on application development and consulting.

Shaun SyvertsenShaun Syvertsen

BTP enables developers to build sophisticated applications that can be deployed directly from the SAP App Store ConvergentIS has built apps on the BTP and SAP customers are now coming to understand that these are easy to download and use, he said. SAP customers that have signed up for the cloud consumption model Cloud Platform Enterprise Agreement (CPEA) can now install and use these prepackaged applications.

"There hasn't been a shift this big in the SAP ecosystem since HANA changed how complex of a question you could ask and quickly get a response," Syvertsen said. "What we're finding with BTP is that those prepackaged apps that we've put together over the years around supply chain, procurement and time entry are now instant use cases that you can just deploy to BTP and run."

The idea that there's an SAP Store stocked with apps that can be quickly deployed to BTP is a "mind bender" for many SAP customers accustomed to spending millions of dollars and months to develop custom applications, Syvertsen explained.

"It feels like there's this black and white sense that it has to be either SAP standard or custom. But there's this emerging space in the middle where it's a packaged solution that's installable, deployable and configurable," he said. "SAP didn't build it, but it installs into SAP in BTP. This is still very new, and it doesn't fit in the strictly standard SAP or custom headspace that a lot of customers have."

More consistent messaging

SAP has been more consistent with its messaging about BTP in the last few months, which has led to more interest from customers, said Robb Neuenschwander, principal architect and BTP analyst at Mindset Consulting, an SAP partner based in Minneapolis that specializes in developing SAP apps.

If they can entice organizations to dip their toe in the water by making [SAP Business Technology Platform] very approachable -- both in cost and complexity -- they could start to establish a bigger base.
Robb NeuenschwanderPrincipal architect and BTP analyst, Mindset Consulting

The interest has been enhanced by the access to a free tier in BTP and the new SAP Learning platform, he said.

Robb NeuenschwanderRobb Neuenschwander

"If they can entice organizations to dip their toe in the water by making it very approachable -- both in cost and complexity -- they could start to establish a bigger base," Neuenschwander said. "Another thing that would be really useful to see from SAP is a clearer picture and use cases depicting how customers who are not yet on S/4HANA, like ECC or Suite on HANA customers, can best use BTP to gain advantages and the technical path to enable that."

Doing so would illustrate the value customers may be able to reap from capabilities like RPA and improved workflow, as well as using the low-code AppGyver to include mobile-ready UIs on the front end, he said.

"It might be worthwhile to leverage some of these use cases to start gaining familiarity and experience -- the crawl and walk phases -- leading up to bigger use cases and deeper integration with the core business suite modules and processes -- the run phase," Neuenschwander said.

BTP one of many EAPs

SAP BTP is the vendor's entrant into enterprise application platforms (EAPs), a suite of tools to build modern, cloud-centric intelligent applications, said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

"SAP BTP is more relevant for SAP customers with transformation ambitions than SAP NetWeaver, which always was about running SAP ERP, so if you stay on SAP, BTP is critical and important," Mueller said. "It's very similar to HANA: Like it or not, you got it."

It's unlikely that BTP will become a company's overall development platform, according to Mueller, as there are other EAP options including those from Infor, Microsoft, Oracle NetSuite, Oracle, Salesforce, Unit4, Workday and Zoho, which perform similar functions.

"But for projects that are near to SAP users and automation, it is definitely a candidate," he said. "[SAP has] to make it a strong contender here, as building applications is critical for enterprises these days."

BTP is critical for SAP if it wants to keep its developers from moving to development environments from the likes of AWS, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure to extend and integrate SAP applications, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal with Enterprise Applications Consulting.

Joshua GreenbaumJoshua Greenbaum

"A lot of the components of BTP are very important and certainly reaching out to developers is an essential part of it," Greenbaum said. "To a certain extent, this is SAP's attempt to counteract the huge number of tools and services that the hyperscalers are providing."

SAP looks to shed back-end image

Greenbaum stressed that BTP is an important development for SAP, as it wants to be known as an innovation center rather than as a back-end services firm.

"Lots of folks in new lines of business don't look at ERP as a place to stage innovation, so that's why BTP needs to find its voice with these LOB decision-makers because they're the ones who also need to understand that innovation can happen in the SAP infrastructure even if it's not running directly on S/4HANA," Greenbaum said. "Otherwise they're going to be lured very carefully and successfully over to other platforms that are speaking their language."

Jon ReedJon Reed

BTP may suffer a bit among SAP customers because it's cobbled together from some existing and newer products and has undergone a few name changes, said Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica, an enterprise computing industry analysis firm. But it also shows that SAP is sticking with the goal of having a standardized cloud platform across their product lines.

"You can potentially build on top of that a real app ecosystem," Reed said. "BTP also becomes very important for how SAP talks about helping its customers move into a more modern software environment -- this whole thing around the clean digital core [with fewer] customizations."

Extending applications via the BTP rather than through heavy customizations enables customers to introduce more advanced technologies and move toward digitized processes, he said.

"An overly customized core is a real problem. Even if you move it into a hyperscaler domain, it prevents you from doing a lot of stuff like AI and it makes integration and process automation tougher," Reed explained.

SAP's challenge is in getting its large partners who have built lucrative businesses by customizing SAP environments to buy into the BTP and beef up their skills around it, he said. Another challenge will be getting developers who aren't as familiar with SAP technology to work with BTP.

"You have to be a little careful with platforms around making sure that the developers can also use the environment that they're most comfortable with," Reed said. "In the past they talked a lot about Cloud Foundry and that the BTP was based on Cloud Foundry technology to a large extent, but there's a question about how welcoming this platform is to developers who don't know as much SAP."

Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.

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