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Flying cars, a la Back to the Future, may still be a futurist fantasy, but connected vehicles are more of a reality every day. Now SAP has introduced the SAP Vehicles Network, an Internet of Things-driven and cloud-centric platform for connected vehicles.
Announced at TechEd this month in Las Vegas, SAP Vehicles Network is built on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform and allows member companies and partners to create mobile services and apps for consumers, according to the vendor. The first applications enable fueling and parking services through a digital wallet or app.
Although many newer-model cars come already connected, the Vehicles Network also takes advantage of technologies, such as on-board diagnostic (OBD) devices and Bluetooth wireless, that can turn older connected vehicles. Telcos are developing apps that use these technologies to deliver diagnostics and other services for drivers, and SAP wants to be the connective tissue for all of it, according to Gil Perez, SAP senior vice president of products and innovation.
"There are lots of large telcos to small companies that are not only going after the new cars, but have multiple ways of making a car a connected vehicle," Perez said. "SAP is focusing on fueling and parking, which are vehicle-centric services that apply to every car."
SAP has been working with several companies to develop connected fueling services, including Toyota, BMW, Volkswagen, Shell and Verifone. It has partnered with Samsung Pay, First Data Corporation, FIS, Discover Financial Services, P97 and Zipline to deliver mobile pay-at-the-pump apps. For parking services, SAP has partnered with parking aggregators including ParkWhiz, Parking Panda, and others to deliver real-time parking access and integrated mobile payment apps.
Perez explained that fueling services will tell drivers when fuel is getting low, then locate the nearest preferred gas station. It then automatically identifies the correct pump and authorizes the transaction from inside the car. All the driver needs to do is get out and pump the gas. Single-click payment completes the transaction and all of the day's transactions accumulate on the user's account.
Parking services will allow drivers to find parking, open parking-lot gates from the car or an app, and pay from the app.
SAP Vehicles Network is available now in an Ariba-like network model. "We're providing a marketplace in that sense," Perez said. "We're not a financial institution so we don't settle the transactions, but have partners that do that. We provide a set of [application programming interfaces] and on both sides we have a channel which can be an automotive OEM or a wallet like the Samsung. They integrate our APIs into their interface, and we also work with the gas stations and the parking operators to integrate into their business processes."
Starting up connected vehicles
Some observers believe SAP is on the right road, but the connected vehicles journey is essentially still in the driveway.
It's a good showcase for how SAP wants to be at the center of the networked economy and for the HANA Cloud Platform, according to Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at San Francisco-based Constellation Research Inc., but SAP still has work to do.
"SAP certainly has the customers on the manufacturer, supplier and distribution side, but needs to solve a problem that's much bigger than what it traditionally does with it enterprise product," he said. "It needs to create a marketplace and platform for a whole market -- which is a formidable challenge -- and it needs to be vendor agnostic, which is traditionally hard for enterprise vendors to do. In general, I could see more neutral vendors from an application perspective, such as [Amazon Web Services], or owning a piece of the vehicle to be a more likely contender. But SAP could partner with longtime customer and partner Apple and make up some of that gap."
Dick Hirsch, an analyst with Diginomica, believes that SAP's connected vehicles effort could be very big. "This is for real and is very interesting as a pattern for other IoT networks," he said. "Although the HANA Cloud Platform technology is important, it's the relationships that SAP has built up over the years that are the offering's real strength."
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