Will SAP get a second chance to create a good first impression with mobile developers?

I was part of the judging panel on Thursday for SAP’s HANA innojam at Palo Alto. And I had a chance to think about it some more on my plane ride back home Friday morning. Thanks to turbulence, I did not get a chance to write this during the plane ride as I usually do, so I am doing it now – cuddling with my little daughter and our 2 dogs on the sofa.

At least 3 senior guys at SAP – Jim Snabe, Vishal Sikka and Sanjay Poonen – have me convinced over the last year that they will do something about making the developer ecosystem whole. I have a ton of respect for all three, and I am sure they will do the needful. But as I think more about this – it does feel like quite a steep climb for SAP.

First things first – how do you get a developer started?

As Tobias Hoffman mentions in his awesome SCN blog scn.sap.com/community/portal/blog/2012/03/09/why-makes-sap-this-so-complicated , SAP has a lot of road to cover to even get developers access to all of its software. SAP are not just waking up to these issues – they have been aware of this at least since Sybase acquisition.  And a lot of analysts and bloggers have been harping on this for a while.  Granted SAP is a big company, and have legal challenges as we are often reminded- but if IBM, ORACLE and MS can all do it, it is hard to make a case that SAP has to do something that has never been done before in the industry.

SAP can do the developer outreach incrementally or in an all-out fashion. I am not holding my breath on SAP going all-out since it has a nice annuity from maintenance, and a large corporate inertia to over come. But they have made a bold statement  that their vision is to have millions of mobile developers. Other than partnering with Adobe and Sencha and others who have millions of developers ( majority of whom probably have no interest in the enterprise world SAP operates in) – I cannot see how SAP is going to get to that number, and in what time.

Who should SAP target ?

Some time ago, I had already outlined my thoughts on how SIs fit into this picture.  https://andvijaysays.wordpress.com/2011/12/21/sap-mobility-solutions-should-sis-play-or-stay-on-sidelines/ . My thoughts have not changed much on that front.

There are 2 constituencies of developers in my mind, of course with some overlap, that SAP needs to cater to.

First Group – the bird in hand

This is the traditional community that plays primarily with netweaver and business suite. For this group – their major concern is to see if all the cool new stuff that comes out of SAP will solve some problem they already have in their projects. Generally, I expect majority of them to do consulting/enhancements type work – and less of product development with SAP.

At the moment, SAP is only trying to attract the first group in my opinion. It is probably the right first step for SAP. The good thing with this group is that they are already very passionate about SAP, and they provide a path of least resistance for SAP to get to a large number of developers. There are exceptional independent consultant types in this group who would appreciate better access to systems to keep up to date with skills. The rest are customers and SI/ISV types who generally have some way of downloading software and playing in their company sandbox via . They participate eagerly in innojams/demojams and generally will try out anything SAP throws at them on technology front. I count myself squarely in this group.

Generally this is not a group I would bet big on to create a large number of “products” based on SAP’s technology. They will mostly contribute to incremental addition to existing license revenue. More over, this is a group that already knows many work arounds in SAP – and might not need Gateway or SUP to make mobile applications.  They are also generally weary of SAP’s existing licensing model, and the speed at which SAP moves on these topics – so their instinct might be to not even try commercializing mobile apps. But they are still a viable group for SAP to target as a first step. If SAP makes access to software easy for them – via downloads or a hosted environment, or a combo of both – this group will do all they can to keep the old SAP flag flying high. With this group, it is SAP’s game to lose, unlike the next one below.

Second Group – tempted to say two in the bush, but may be not…yet 🙂

This is the zillion other developers who mostly don’t know much about SAP, but are up to speed on a variety of non SAP technologies. These people typically have a product mindset – and not a project mindset.

If SAP needs to make it big – they need to make it worth the trouble for the second group of developers to jump into the ring. This group needs a subset of everything that the first group needs for access to software, but in addition they will need to see a rapid path to monetization. From mobility side, Apple has set the bar high with their development ecosystem. It has an easy-to-understand way of how to build an app and make money off it. Any model more complicated will make it near impossible to attract this group to SAP.

While we are on the topic – I wonder if SAP’s mobile store is the way to go for selling mobile apps. If I have a smart phone – my instinct is to check the app store I have for SAP mobility apps. I might not even be aware of SAP having its own app store.  May be it is enough to have a free SAP shopping app on things like itunes which points to what all SAP has to sell.  But then, Apple might not like that at all.  I have to think through this some more – but curious on your thoughts on how you see people buying SAP apps in future.

Innojams/demojams – can they help?

SAP has a neat idea to generate developer interest with innojams and demojams. At the moment, only the first group of developers takes part in jams.  However, jams in its current form have limited utility in the bigger picture. Innojams definitely stir up the pride and technical curiosity in developers . But then what? once you present on the big stage, or you win the prize – there is not really a real second step, that I know of, to take it forward. Also, the world outside the first group hardly knows about innojams today. It will be good to expand the reach of innojam to a larger target audience in near future.

What is in it for developers any way?

I cannot stress enough on the licensing and monetization model to be figured out upfront – without that, access to software is practically meaningless. Developers have a lot of choice today, including many OSS choices. SAP needs a compelling story for them to use SAP technology. With the announcement of the VC fund for HANA – SAP has shown that it is serious about this. But I could not understand why they would want to restrict such a fund to just HANA as opposed to all SAP technologies for DB, mobility and cloud. End of the day – isn’t the value of DB+Cloud+Mobile together better than just DB alone?

But not all developers will want to get into the start up business. So SAP will need an additional model to attract the majority who just care about building and selling  many small apps. In this regard, I really liked what they did with the partnerships it announced with Sencha, Adobe etc.  Their model is simple – a free SDK for HTML 5, an MVC paradigm for development, flexible licensing and some paid options, and OData connection with SAP backends.  Like my daughter says – easy piecy lemon squeezy 🙂

Except, we are not sure how SAP handles the licensing/pricing in this scenario . And without that clarity coming real quick – I doubt if scores of developers will jump in and start developing cool apps.  Sanjay Poonen responded on twitter few days ago than SAP will get it right quickly, and I totally  trust him to do so – hopefully by SAPPHIRE in Orlando.



11 Comments Add yours

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  2. This blog is very informative. BR also in SAP Development. Provide all the information regarding sap development.


  3. ranjan says:

    SAP is at the crossroads and finding it difficult to attract developers, few years ago they wouldnt have bothered with. Why ? because UX is starting to make an impact in ensw and SAP is clueless. It has 26+ UI frameworks ( yes thats true ) and not a single UX coherent strategy. Developers are not turned on by rhetoric, they.are.very picky bunch of people, look at github. SAP knows abt the problems, admits it, but doesn’t do anything. The whole Netweaver crowd is disillusioned now about.SAP commitment otherwise you wouldn’t had to write this post today, hope they atleast listen to you.


  4. > It has an easy-to-understand way of how to build an app and make money off it.
    The sad part is, that the money in apple apps is in the great majority of cases not enough to put food on the table of a developer’s family.
    If we as SAP are able to find a model that let’s developer laugh all the way to the bank they will come.
    I must add, that this is my opinion and I am not involved in setting up the coordinates for developers within the SAP ecosystem.


    1. den says:

      @mark – how do you know that? Graham Robinson has built a sweet workflow app that works on any device and which is modeled on a transaction sale basis from which he is doing quite nicely thank you. Daniel Graveson had an idea for an app that IBM would happily buy in multiple numbers because it saves them money and time. Daniel couldn’t see a way past the initial $20K+ investment in tooling.

      It’s not about SAP providing a model, it’s about SAP enabling the developers to find their own model. They will get inventive quickly enough and dream up all sorts of apps exactly as Apple has demonstrated only better and enterprise focused. That’s never going to be the issue.


  5. finnern says:

    > It has an easy-to-understand way of how to build an app and make money off it.

    The sad part is, that the money in apple apps is in the great majority of cases not enough to put food on the table of a developer’s family.

    If we as SAP are able to find a model that let’s developer laugh all the way to the bank they will come.

    I must add, that this is my opinion and I am not involved in setting up the coordinates for developers within the SAP ecosystem.


    1. Good point, Mark

      But since it is inexpensive and fast to build an individual app on AAPL ecosystem, developers can create many apps with the time and money it takes to build one in sap land. That is probably what sap needs to tackle.


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