BACKGROUND IMAGE: stock.adobe.com
SAP wants to provide one-stop shopping for application developers and partners with SAP's Business Technology Platform.
The platform, which was a focus at this week's SAP Sapphire Now Reimagined, is an umbrella brand name for products in the SAP portfolio, including SAP HANA database, SAP Data Warehouse Cloud and SAP Analytics Cloud, and SAP Cloud Platform Integration Suite. It also includes advanced technologies like AI, machine learning and robotic process automation. Qualtrics Experience Management features add customer and employee sentiment to the mix.
There are no new products in the Business Technology Platform, but it serves as one foundation for all SAP applications and many more partner and customer use cases, said Juergen Mueller, SAP CTO.
The platform's goal is to help customers that are confronting new challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"These customers are all facing new challenges and what I heard over and over was the need for agility and quick time-to-value," Mueller said. "To achieve both, technology becomes even more important than before, and SAP can play a major role in overcoming those challenges."
The idea is to provide a development environment similar to Salesforce Lightning and Microsoft Azure cloud development platforms, Mueller said.
"To make sure that all SAP applications support end-to-end processes and are easy to use, they must run on one common platform -- and that is the Business Technology Platform," he said.
Three characteristics differentiate SAP's Business Technology Platform from others, Mueller said. The first is business centricity, which takes advantage of business data in SAP's ERP and other enterprise systems. The second is a unified application stack. The third is integration with SAP and non-SAP applications.
An SAP technology 'smorgasbord'
SAP's Business Technology Platform is really nothing new, but it does provide a unified way to access SAP technology, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting. It provides a place to manage data, handle integration and do analysis.
"They're trying to build an umbrella marketing term that they can tuck a lot of functionality under, which is good because it is important not to get stuck in the minutiae of what functionality an individual product has," Greenbaum said. "They're offering developers, partners and customers a smorgasbord of functionality that they can deploy as they need to meet these requirements. That smorgasbord has been available for a while, they've just consolidated it under a single brand, which may not be earth-shattering, but has value."
While it includes mostly existing assets rebranded under one umbrella, the platform also includes technology like Qualtrics, which helps add intelligence into applications, said Predrag Jakovljevic, principal industry analyst with Technology Evaluation Centers, an enterprise technology analysis firm in Montreal.
"Qualtrics comes in handy to intelligently gauge and sense customers' needs on the [customer experience] side, and, rather than reinventing the wheel, they are smartly using affordable open source technologies like Cloudera for integration to other apps," Jakovljevic said. "Flexibility and agility are the keywords, and SAP could be on to something, if they price it right, given the pandemic cash crunch for their customers."
Industry cloud aims at specific industries
SAP also introduced the SAP industry cloud, an initiative based on the Business Technology Platform that's aimed at developing vertical industry applications and services.
Industry-specific applications are particularly important now as each industry has been affected in different ways by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Peter Maier, SAP's president of industries and customer advisory.
"There's not one strategy; it's about flexibility, creativity and responsiveness," Maier said. "Nobody knows what the new normal will look like, but we are working with customers on new ways to be successful while at the same time being scalable and secure."
The SAP industry cloud targets 25 specific industries, from aerospace and defense to sports management, and uses SAP industry experts as well as partners from industries who can help build vertical applications.
Partners will be key to the initiative, and SAP has recently partnered with Honeywell International Inc. on a real estate management application that combines Honeywell Forge building operations data from various sources with SAP Cloud for Real Estate, an application built on the SAP Cloud Platform.
"SAP customers have a great head start on developing innovative applications," Maier said. "They can use the intelligent suite with the S/4HANA advanced ERP; they have the business network, which helps them connect with their customers and partners; and they have experience management, which helps them understand customer sentiment."
Can't go it alone
The SAP industry cloud initiative is an acknowledgement that SAP needs partners to develop applications for the 25 industries it is targeting, but the broad scope may also be a competitive advantage, Jakovljevic said.
Joshua GreenbaumPrincipal, Enterprise Applications Consulting
"Infor, Epicor or IFS only talk about several industries that they target, so that's why SAP is talking about partners and even customers being able to develop their own industry solutions on the platform," he said. "The point here is the stickiness of SAP's platform and its core ERP underneath -- or so SAP hopes. At the end of the day, claiming an industry focus is certainly a winning message these days."
One reason for the industry cloud push is that SAP has an eye on hyperscaler Google, which is making clear indications that it will get into the business of cloud-based vertical industry applications, Greenbaum said.
"It's clear that Google is looking at vertical industries as a strategic pivot for them in the enterprise software space, and every all-hands meeting at Google Cloud is looking more and more like an SAP alumni reunion," he said. "With industry cloud, SAP wants to make sure that everybody knows that this is SAP's legacy -- and they're going to defend it."
The vertical approach that SAP is taking has never been more important, said analyst Vinnie Mirchandani, founder of Deal Architect, an enterprise computing blog.
However, SAP's risk is in trying to sell SAP S/4HANA and other cross-industry products as part of the vertical applications, Mirchandani said.
"It's not a sure thing that companies have enough budget for all that in this environment," he said. "Some SAP competitors are positioning lighter AI, their platforms or other digital overlays and telling clients to not rip-and-replace the legacy transactional applications. Their projects are much quicker, and they allow customers to enhance the edge processes that are unique for their industries while not investing much more in the core, horizontal areas."
SAP industry cloud looks like a good initiative, but SAP needs to do a much better job of explaining what it is, said Paul Saunders, research director at Gartner.
"SAP is hitting the right notes with the discussion on how they can help clients in the current environment; however, they need to do more to remove the complexity," Saunders said. "Industry cloud is a great example of that, and you can't tell what it is by the name alone. It really isn't about industry or cloud, and without a 'Ph.D. in SAP nomenclature,' could a client or prospect understand the difference between SAP industry cloud, S/4HANA Cloud, Cloud Platform or HANA Enterprise Cloud?"