SAP Delivers Consumer-Style, Enterprise Apps

By Stephanie Blanchard, Assistant Editor — May 17, 2013

“Leaders owe their companies a clear vision,” said Bill McDermott, CEO, SAP, in his opening address at the 25th anniversary of SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando, FL on May 14. “Without a winning strategy, the sad truth is, no matter how hard people work, they just dig themselves a deeper ditch to nowhere.”

To create that winning strategy, he explained that the technology giant decided — more than three years ago — to apply “design thinking” based on where the world was going: mobile.

The result? Among its other aggressive mobile initiatives announced at SAPPHIRE — including a major move to the cloud, big data and mobile security solutions — the company has launched SAP Fiori, which turns frequently used software functions into a collection of simple, easy-to-use apps. As goes the consumerization of IT with devices, enterprise users also now expect the same experience from their work apps as they have with  their personal  apps, and this is a key idea behind Fiori.

Leveraging responsive design, which adapts to different form factors, the HTML5 apps work across a variety of devices —tablets, smartphones and desktops. The first release includes 25 apps for the most common business functions, such as approving leave requests/ travel expenses, creating customer invoices and tracking purchase orders, as well as managing timesheets and paystubs. Configuration can be set to give access to a sub-set of apps based on user roles.

With a consumer-style UX, each app is dedicated to a core business process. “The apps are business oriented, not consumer oriented, but represent a different approach to delivering capabilities,” said Brian Prentice, Research Vice President, Gartner, in an interview with Mobile Enterprise.

A Break in Tradition
Contrary to what many might believe, an “app” is not just the short name for an application, but a completely different packaging construct, Prentice said, noting that different processes would be applied —with an “application,” the more capabilities that exist, the more value. The “app” is doing one thing well.

Also, engineers create applications. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, for example, breaks down the processes by figures and functions. Apps, in contrast, start with the design. “Instagram is a good example of a purposeful app which was not developed in the traditional way,” Prentice said, adding that its creation was led by seven designers, not engineers.

Indeed, that is the approach that SAP utilized – a design-focused development method. The company worked with more than 250 customers to understand how business functions were used, and figured out how to improve and simplify them for a better user experience.

One of those customers was Colgate, which received positive feedback from employees after an initial deployment. "We worked very closely with SAP on the vision and mission of SAP Fiori and we think the first release looks great,” said Tom Greene, chief information and business services officer, Colgate. “We believe SAP Fiori will help to provide a consumer-grade user experiences to our employees.”

Questions to Ask
Is consumer-style enterprise apps an overall trend, or are vendors playing catch-up?

“Am I allowed to say ‘both’?” Prentice replied, explaining that vendors are figuring out how to take advantage of a new trend. “Salesforce is doing the same thing: decomposing the broad front office systems into a set of apps that use the services that underline the system. Microsoft Dynamics is doing something similar with two ERP products. Yes, more providers are delivering solutions in this way.”

Cathal McGloin, CEO, FeedHenry, recently told Mobile Enterprise that companies are looking to create multiple “easy-to-use apps” that address single business processes, instead of one that connects to a legacy system and does 354 different things. Whether it’s off-the-shelf or created by in-house teams, simplified apps are what’s happening.

Benjamin Salter, enterprise architecture and application development, Valero, is certainly pleased with SAP’s latest initiative. "The apps in SAP Fiori are as easy to use as Facebook, Google or Amazon. This is exactly what end users are looking for," he said.

When apps are easier to use, it logically follows that employees are likelier to use them. With an increase in user engagement, is there a correlation to increased business productivity? “In the IT industry, everyone talks about how this or that increases productivity,” Prentice replied. “I’m not skeptical, but in order to ferret it out, you generally have to do deeper analysis of business metrics.”

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