SAP Run Better Tour: Unwired

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My TEC colleague Aleksey Osintsev and I recently made our way to the last stop of the SAP Run Better Tour in Montreal to get a taste of what SAP was cooking up in terms of improvements and strategies for 2011. I was hoping for some developments regarding mobile technology and support. Did I get my fill? Let’s just say I was still feeling a bit peckish when I left. Here’s the lowdown on SAP’s mobile strategy.

I was pleased to hear that SAP is viewing the integration of personal mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, into the workspace as an actionable opportunity. (I’m one such opportunity myself—a gadget marketer’s dream, I recorded and filed each presentation on my Google phone.)

SAP presented its mobile device management solution, Afaria. It allows businesses to register mobile devices (personal or not) to the platform in order to provide support for business mobile applications and security for corporate information, via functions such as encryption, locking, and remote wiping, among others. Additionally, Afaria allows businesses to control mobile device features based on employee roles and authorization levels (such as restricting browser activity for business purposes, disabling camera functionality within secure areas, etc.). Of course, there’s the little matter of securing the privacy of personal data, which will require clarification further down the road. But the concept is sound and merits attention.

What I was most curious to find out about was what to expect from SAP on the mobile application side of things. The mobile world has already seen its share of business intelligence (BI), warehouse management system (WMS), and customer relationship management (CRM) mobile applications, and I was hopeful to find something fresh on the menu. The scope of the current mobile solutions is rather limited and serves primarily decision processes and information management. I want supply chain management (SCM), operations management, workflow management—with actionable functionality beyond yes/no features. I was left to understand that more in-depth functionalities touching the enterprise resource planning (ERP) realm would be going mobile—it’s on the roadmap. However, the roadmap wasn’t defined in terms of timeline or which specific ERP functionalities we could expect to see. That left my stomach rumbling…

But as much as I enjoy smartphones, I know they will not be the champions of business mobility. Tablets will take up that mantle, for the form factor—they offer the screen size and processing power required for more complex operations on which smartphones simply can’t compete.

After this mobility session, kismet led me to Communi-T. This SAP partner offers a platform-oriented solution built on SAP’s Business Application Programming Interface (BAPI) that allows you to create a Web-based portal with a variety of custom forms—designed by you. This gives you the opportunity to extend your on-premise SAP installation to the Web, de facto supplying a tablet-friendly configuration. So you could extend your SCM capabilities, for example, by generating a Web version of your procurement platform, providing fast and convenient access for your employees . The solution is also available as software as a service (SaaS) for deployment convenience, which is a substantial leap for SAP in being able to offer an extended mobile solution as SaaS, their only other enterprise-wide SaaS offering being ByDesign.

For the great majority of vendors, mobility is still in its early stages, despite their best marketing efforts, and SAP is no exception. But the energy they are putting into driving this trend is certainly a move in the right direction, even if it means involving partners rather than nurturing in-house development. Vendors that actively push integrated mobile will maintain favor among their existing customer base, but they’ll also gain consideration from companies looking to move from a legacy system to a new platform that embraces a wider range of capabilities.

Did any readers catch the tour? Did anything capture your mobile imaginations?

Stay tuned for further impressions on some of the non-mobile-specific aspects of the SAP Run Better Tour.
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