SAP Mobility solutions – Should SI’s play or stay on sidelines?

As many of you know – all my professional life, I have worked for System Integrators – both big and small. And as a result, every time there is something new in enterprise software, I am curious to see if SIs have any role to play , or whether they should just sit it out.  Of everything SAP has come out with in recent past – HANA is the one that got the most air time from SAP and the analyst/blogger community , but I think mobility is the one that will drive the most revenue for the ecosystem in short to medium term. It does not need a lot of convincing to do to get a customer to agree that mobile solutions are the future.

From the consumer side of the world – most mobility apps have typically been built by independent developers, and not by big IT houses.  For Enterprise side – especially for SAP – we need to think through if that is the model that will work exactly that way.  I am a big fan of SAP opening up platforms to developers – as long as developers can do cost effective development, protect their IP and make some decent money out of it.  And along with a bunch of similar minded people – I have been trying to push this message for some time at the highest levels at SAP.

But is there something here for SIs ? I think there is plenty of the mobility pie to go around. Here, I will ignore  the obvious stuff that SIs will do – the mobility strategy, device management , security and so on.  Those are important, but  don’t need added color.

For building and reselling apps – it is hard for SIs to compete on cost with independent developers if the platform is inexpensive.  BUT – Platform access is not inexpensive now – so SIs have an upper hand temporarily till SAP gets its act together. But I can’t imagine SAP not changing this in 2012.

But for the cost to work in SIs favor – they will need to find a killer app that can be resold many times over.  This usually needs the SI to create a few with the idea that some will click, and some will not. This is not consistent with existing SI business models. SIs have a big opportunity cost to consider – every hour spent developing such an asset is an hour they are not doing billable work. So it remains to be seen how many will jump in with both feet.  The bigger SIs probably will do ok – since they have significant abilities to invest, and can wait for longer pay back periods. But in general – I don’t see large number of SIs playing seriously on building such apps.  In everyone’s best interest – this is best done by independent developers, in my opinion.

For SAP systems – a big problem for building generic horizontal applications is that most backend systems are heavily customized.  A consistent abstraction to the outside world for non-SAP developers to use is not always possible.  So, even if a developer creates a generic enough mobile app – in most cases,  there will be a need to do some back end plumbing to get it all working in a useful fashion. This is the model I see evolving in the market from maybe 2013 onwards. Independent developers building the front end apps, may be even contracted by SIs to do so – and existing SIs doing the integration to backend.

Where I see big and small SIs both having a great advantage is building end-to-end mobility solutions for a specific client, especially where the SI has long standing experience.  Ideally – these should be vertical for an industry, and can be leveraged across many projects. This needs a large set of skills to come together – deep industry and sub-industry knowledge,  business process design, UX design, development in multiple technologies, basis, security, industrial strength testing and so on.  This is totally a sweet spot for SIs – and I would expect them to be all over this. And the beauty of this is that there is a production support opportunity right after the implementation, which is again a sweet spot for many SIs. The trick here is that this can and should be done for specific only very high value usecases – something where customer realizes significant value.

Now – for all this goodness to happen, there are a few things SAP need to play well too.

1. Make it easy for regular developers to use SAP platforms to build apps – not just the development, but the whole lifecycle of IP protection,  testing, certification, monetizing, maintenance, support and all that good stuff

2. Keep SAP Education on the front, and not the back of innovation. Unless the ecosystem comes up to speed on the latest greatest technology – it does not matter how cool the innovation is in the labs. Maybe even throw in some inexpensive education for select ecosystem partners. Basically – do what it takes to get partners/developers to trust SUP is the way to go, and get them away from everything else they are using today. This includes ironing out any wrinkles from existing software, and educating developers on roadmap for future.

3. Actively partner with SIs – and I expect this to be totally opportunistic depending on lay of the land – to push mobility solutions at the thousands of clients world over.  For significant mobility sales – the attitude of “Business gets it, IT doesn’t ” should be left checked at the door. IT gets it alright – and usually have valid concerns on security, scalability etc. Work with IT to address their concerns and gain their confidence.

4. By SAPPHIRE Orlando in 2012, have several customers come up and talk about their mobility solutions to the world.

5. Make sure licensing for customer is scalable and not a total rip off.

6. Try not to drown the mobility message with HANA and others


Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

5 thoughts on “SAP Mobility solutions – Should SI’s play or stay on sidelines?

  1. uuuuhhhh…25,000 developers in their managed ecosystem insignificant? Clients like ‘a certain well known retailer’ you’d deffo recognize? Churning apps out in the dozens for custom and general use? Expanding overseas, acquiring other businesses?


  2. There is one massive problem with your thesis Vijay – an implicit assumption that the SI business model does not change *that* much. I think that train has already left the station with companies like Appirio showing a very different fast track delivery model that favors all players in equal measure.


    1. No disrespect to Appirio, but they are kind of insignificant in absolute numbers in the current mix of service providers. As time progresses, probably their model will be the one every one else follows. But why sit around till SI’s change business models – my thesis just assumes SIs will follow a path of least resistance in short term. As Keynes said, in the long term we are all dead 🙂


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