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SAP’s Call To Action: Embrace Simplicity With Mobile And SaaS


Maribel Lopez, Contributor

June 17, 2014

The software industry must reinvent itself to support the new mobile and cloud era. Never was this more apparent than in the latest SAP SAPPHIRE and ASUG conference that was held in Orlando earlier this month. Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP, kicked off the conference with a speech that focused on eliminating complexity in business. He said, “Complexity is the most intractable CEO issue of our time.” McDermott noted that one difference between leading and managing a company is that managers create complexity while leaders remove it. This discussion of simplicity may come as a surprise to those familiar with SAP. Its software has long been considered the poster child of complexity. This was never more evident than in the move to mobile and Cloud. The PC version of SAP was unusable on a mobile device. McDermott claims SAP Fiori has come to the rescue to deliver that simplicity.

SAP Fiori is the new user experience for SAP software that uses modern design principles. The company says there are more than 300 role-based apps that apply the SAP Fiori UX for customers using SAP Business Suite on any database and SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA. To drive adoption, McDermott announced that SAP Fiori and SAP Screen Persons are now included without a separate fee for existing SAP customers. McDermott talked about taking an existing business process from a 10 clicks to a 2 clicks user experience as one example of creating simplicity with these new Fiori roles-based apps. During the keynote, SAP showed a video highlighting Nestlé’s mobile experience and noted the new process reduced keystrokes by 75%. This simplicity creates a better user experience for Nestle and a streamlined operations environment for its employees.

He said 72% of a company’s money goes to maintaining the status quo of hardware and services that don’t move the needle. This figure is similar to what I’ve seen in my interviews with companies. It’s part of the “complexity” that we need to eliminate. The keynote also provides several examples of how you can integrate cloud-based services to streamline or create new business processes. One was the integration of eBay’s store with the Ariba network to facilitate corporate procurement and approvals of purchases.

However, the move to mobile and the cloud is not without its costs. Many SAP customers spent a great deal of time customizing company solutions. The benefit of the cloud is many companies can use one standardized instance of software or a service. The detriment is you can’t readily transfer your customized environment to the cloud. The challenge for SAP customers, and companies in general, is how do you take advantage of cloud computing when you have a highly customized software package that is mapped to your business processes.

Every company wants to gain a return from the investments it has made. In some cases, we’ve set up our systems in such a way that it is impossible to do this. As business leaders, you need to find a path that allows you to leverage a part of your existing systems while transitioning to the new world of technologies.

This is uncomfortable but it’s not unlike technology transitions of the past. I’m certain the move from mainframes to PC was equally daunting. It also didn’t happen as quickly. Today, technology change is happening faster. This change is creating advantages for those that can leverage these new tools but disadvantages for those that are slower moving. Even if we want to maintain business as usual, we’ll be faced with limited support for our existing solutions. We’ve seen this happen with the end of life for Microsoft XP. Apple made a similarly difficult change with its move to a new operating system called OS X. We’re seeing this happen with the move from older mobile operating systems and now we’re seeing it in the enterprise software market.

For many years, customer’s complained that SAP wasn’t moving fast enough and wasn’t embracing the new world. Today, I’m hearing a different story. While SAP may be offending many customers with its move to Fiori UX and SaaS apps, it has recognized that the world is changing. SAP understands that it needs to do something radically different to maintain its position as a leading software vendor. This is why it’s moving aggressively into technologies such as HTML-5 and SaaS.

But it, or any strategic software vendor, can’t leave its customers behind. It needs to be transparent about its journey and make its customers a part of the transition. To be successful, the company has to help its customers create better bridges between their customized on premise solutions and the new mobile cloud world. Some of this will be accomplished by providing better tools such as a flexible mobile app development platform. Some of it can be accomplished by providing hybrid cloud solutions where customers can test the waters.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that all business processes can or should be run as generic SaaS services in the cloud. But at the end of the day, the enterprise buyer must decide if, and where, it will use a highly customized technology process. Many software applications were customized because the functionality a business needed didn’t exist within packaged software applications. This isn’t necessarily the case today. If the customization isn’t core to creating differentiation, your business should consider eliminating it. Many people have already seen success by embracing CRM, HR and Expense management SaaS apps.

Are you ready for simplicity in a mobile cloud world? Or are you hanging on for dear life to a set of technologies and processes that can’t make the transition to the new world.

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