Tuesday, January 29, 2013

SAPs mobile audience

The Apple of the enterprise? A goal for one billion users (please read that with a Dr Evil voice). Makes a lot of sense for any software licensing organisation. Of course I don't mean to be cynical and firmly believe the mobilisation of enterprise software like SAP has wide ranging benefits. Reading great articles like Joshua Greenbaum's blog you can see that there is confusion in the market wrt how SAP will effectively achieve its goal.  Buying products to expand the portfolio (like the Sybase and Syclo acquisitions) as well as leveraging partner license sales is certainly part of the strategy. For me of interest is where are the users coming from? Take a quick look at each of the mobile user categories i.e. B2E, B2B, and B2C.

Business to enterprise, typically applications that an organisation's users are doing at a desktop. SAP has quite an extensive user base entering their SAP transactions into the GUI. Certainly there is a good case to mobilise a number of these users. You could read business value of B2E applications for a few ideas. So if existing users move from the desktop GUI to a mobile device do they count towards the one billion goal?

Of course there are opportunities in greenfield and replacement projects. When an organisation is moving from legacy to SAP then most will (or should!) consider mobile as an option for some user groups. However if these users would have previously been desktop users and are now mobile users then there is a degree of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' happening with the licenses. Regardless the licensing concept is fairly simple, users tend to be named, and hence a fee can be charged per user.

Business to business, typically these applications are in the domain of 3PLs or marketing, HR and similar industries. Where by definition one company has a mobile application that is used by another company. For example a business may want an application for their customers (not the general public) to order directly or a 3PL may capture information on behalf of another company. Historically the B2B space has been achieved with interfaces, Edi, portals and the like. As with B2E the licensing can revolve around named users but sometimes there can be challenges here with subcontracting scenarios and the like. There are some great use cases for mobile B2B but compared to the final category the potential number of users is limited.

Business to consumer, the untapped holy grail of enterprise mobile applications.  How can SAP effectively provide valuable mobile applications to consumers? What is the most practical licensing model? The acquisition of the Sybase product suite has immediately brought a lot of consumer banking users under the SAP banner but what about the non-finance sector.

For example a hypothetical business sells, makes to order, and delivers goods to a customer. This business wants to provide a mobile application connected seamlessly to SAP that allows ordering, tracking, and customer self service. Here is an opportunity for SAP to add thousands of potential users to their 1 billion target. However the sticking point is that no one wants to pay for the mobile application. The app store phenomenon has set a low value expectation for mobile applications. How can SAP effectively monetize all these users?

While consumers might believe that B2C mobile applications should be free most businesses understand that they have value. Mobile apps reduce cost by moving some of the effort from employees to the consumer. Apps form part of a marketing, branding, and the advertising strategy. Dammit it's just plain expected these days.

Websites like Google, Facebook, Linkedin, etc. have done a fantastic job of grabbing an audience and these sites continue to evolve their strategies to monetise. One thing they have in common is they don't charge their audience directly to access the service. Often they make money from clever (sometimes unpopular) advertising or market research. Take the online electronic game industry that can now serve advertising between game rounds thus enabling premium games to be played for free. Consider also that in the case of programming languages arguably the most popular are free or in some cases offer premium content for a fee.

To get hold of the largest audience should SAP consider making the SAP Mobile Platform (SMP) for consumer applications free? Or charge for the platform only but not by user volume? Can their creative marketing geniuses come up with a model that would enable wide spread adoption of the platform? I'm sure ideas are being thrown around. What about mobile OS specific container application running html5 with SAP branding that was free to use for consumer applications, but a company could pay to self brand? How about a model where specific services/data sources/tables where able to be mobilised to consumers for little cost?

Over time the technologies and licensing models will continue to evolve and in a lot of ways the explosion of mobile apps is like the Internet bubble. Suddenly there is a way to reach a large potential audience along with the challenge of getting a return on investment.

Edit: For those of you mystified by SAP's licensing Sharon's blog does a great job of providing an overview of how it currently works.