Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Advice for Mobile Start-Ups: Working with SAP, Part 3

Mobile micro-apps seem to be the hot topic now days at SAP. These are small mobile applications for iPhones, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile. These applications can be limited and provide access to one part of one SAP application and business process, or expose an entire business process. For example, travel requests and expense report approvals can be part of a business process that is exposed in a mobile micro-apps.

In the case of an Expense Report approval, a manager can be alerted to an expense report that needs approved before it can be paid. The manager can access the report through the micro-app on his/her iPhone, review it and approve or reject it. There is not much to these applications, but they are novel today and will continue to evolve into more powerful mobile applications.

SAP has some big ambitions about adding mobile users to their systems. They are encouraging these kind of mobile micro-applications to extend functionality to more users. They would even like to see ways that consumers (i.e. the masses) could access appropriate and relevant business processes within SAP systems -think tracking shipments, ordering products, checking University schedules, interacting with financial services companies, etc, on mobile devices.

Here are a few of the challenges with mobile micro-applications that should be considered:
  • How do you manage mobile micro-apps in a large enterprise?
  • Since mobile micro-apps can be developed for just about any part of any SAP business process there could quickly be dozens or even hundreds of mobile micro-apps springing up.
  • Does the enterprise open the doors to supporting all popular mobile devices, or does the enterprise try to standardize so micro-apps can be easier for IT to manage?
  • Many mobile micro-app vendors are considering SaaS business models. This means mobile micro-app users could be expensing these costs, rather than running them through a formal budget process. Is that a problem? Who approves it?
  • What criteria is the IT department of a large enterprise going to use in order to select quality mobile micro-app vendors? By their nature mobile micro-apps can be developed by very small software development companies without a lot of experience or infrastructure.
  • Some vendors of mobile micro-apps provide application development environments that enable non-programmers to develop mobile micro-apps. This is very cool, but now you have the potential of business users importing and exporting data from SAP database systems. Some DBAs would have a problem with that.
  • I can see the scenario where an SAP user downloads and installs 5 different mobile micro-apps onto their device. If these micro-apps were from different vendors, there could be 5 different GUIs, different mobile middleware involved, different security systems, different integration methodologies, etc.

I love the idea of mobile micro-apps that provide the mobile workforce with access to appropriate SAP business processes for the purpose of working more efficiently. The point of this article is not to deter mobile micro-app vendors or enterprises from implementing them, but simply to suggest there are a few things that should be considered.

One strategy is to use a MEAP, mobile enterprise application platform. MEAPs provide a framework for managing many different mobile applications using a standardized methodology, using standardized development environments, standardized security, standardized synchronization methodologies, standardized integration processes and leveraging application code across multiple mobile devices. An example of a MEAP is Sky Technologies.

This article is part of a series entitled Advice for Mobile Start-Ups: Working with SAP. Part 1 and 2 of this series can be found at the links below:

Advice for Mobile Start-Ups: Working with SAP, Part 1

Advice for Mobile Start-Ups: Working with SAP, Part 2

Advice for Mobile Start-Ups: Working with SAP, Part 4
Author Kevin Benedict
Independent Mobility Consultant, Wireless Industry Analyst and Marketing Consultant
twitter: http://twitter.com/krbenedict