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SUP mobile ecosystem slow to take off, SAP admits

SAP’s plan is for its ecosystem to deliver the vast majority of its mobile applications. The company concedes it’s got a way to go before it hits that mark.

SAP’s plans for its mobile ecosystem to deliver the vast majority of mobile applications for its Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) have much further to go before they become a reality, according to Param Kahlon, vice president and general manager of enterprise mobile applications at SAP.

While the plan was for the ecosystem to deliver 80% of the applications, with 20% of those apps coming from SAP, the exact opposite was true last year, Kahlon said.

“Last year we only had a few applications that our partners had released,” he said.  

That’s because while many of SAP’s mobile partners may be well versed in SAP’s mobile applications and processes, especially when it comes to specific industries, they had limited experience with the SUP or SAP’s mobility plans, Kahlon said.

“That was just the maturity [process] of companies trying to understand what our roadmap is, what we’re building and what can they can work on and build,” Kahlon said.  Most of the challenges that SAP encountered were to be expected, he said. 

SAP spent time working with partners explaining to them that they wanted streamlined applications that use mobile technology -- such as pushing information out to users as they need it -- and aren’t just mobile interfaces connected to on-premises applications, Kahlon said.

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But SAP shares part of the blame, Kahlon acknowledged.

“We didn’t do a good enough job of ensuring that our partners had all the tools and training programs to get up to speed and to be able to build applications quickly,” he said.

Making progress with SAP mobile applications
SAP declined to say how long it might take to get to the ratio it wants. Yet the company insists that it is clearer now who is responsible for what and that progress is being made. In fact, partners will be unveiling about twice as many applications as SAP at the upcoming Sapphire Now conference in Orlando, Fla., in May, Kahlon said. SAP would not say how many applications will come from SAP’s partners during the rest of the year, however.

So far SAP has relied on its implementation service providers with mobility practices like Accenture to do much of the lifting. On Tuesday, SAP announced it had struck additional partnerships with AppceleratorAdobe and Sencha, three companies whose community of developers -- which SAP says numbers in the millions collectively -- can also build on the SUP.

The network also contains what Kahlon said were smaller -- but still large -- providers. That includes companies like Sparta Consulting, an implementation services provider based in Folsom, Calif., which employs more than 6,500 employees worldwide and specializes in the automotive, manufacturing, utilities and telecom industries.

Sparta is building out its mobility practice, Kahlon said, taking some of the work they’ve done for customers and using those as models for SUP applications. Sparta has not yet created any mobile applications for the SUP.

But while those services providers aren’t mobile specialists, Kahlon said there are a few in SAP’s ecosystem that are smaller, mobility-focused companies like Liquid Analytics, a boutique-sized enterprise mobility consulting business in Jacksonville, Fla.

Not long after it was founded, the now five-year-old company went on to become one of Sybase’s partners, creating an application used to connect mobile devices into SAP CRM, according to Lyn Nguyen, the company’s vice president of program management.   

“It was developed for Sybase, as part of the SAP-Sybase partnership,” Nguyen said.

Once SAP acquired Sybase roughly two years ago, Liquid Analytics became part of SAP’s ecosystem as well. “A lot of our customers that we were working with had SAP at the back end,” Nguyen said. “It was really a logical extension.”

Liquid Analytics is working on a number of analytics applications for the SUP, so understanding the architecture only helps, she said. “It makes sense to understand the back-end systems that’s driving the data.”  

The company, which also creates custom applications for companies, sells four different applications specifically for the SUP, with more on the way.

Casting a wider net
Although this week’s announcements regarding its latest mobile partners is a step toward bringing in smaller firms that can help grow the SUP ecosystem, SAP will have to continue to partner with those kinds of businesses if it’s ever going to get to the kind of 80-20 split in applications it’s looking for, according to Jon Reed, an independent SAP analyst and owner of

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it with their established partner channels,” Reed said. “I think they’re going to need to engage a lot of smaller developer shops and individuals to build these apps.”

Licensing is another issue SAP will have to solve when it comes to bringing smaller shops into the fold.  Niche firms wanting to join the SUP ecosystem for the first time may not have, or be able to afford, access to a NetWeaver instance to fully test and model mobile applications, according to Reed.  

SAP needs to tap into smaller firms, because while they may not have the breadth of experience in SAP applications and processes compared with their larger ecosystem competitors, they understand the still nascent area of mobile technology better, he said.

“You have a design issue. I think UI [user interface] expectations on the mobile are more intense because the screens are generally smaller,” Reed said. “You kind of have to redesign those apps as you go, which is why existing partners can struggle with this.”


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