SAP's Metamorphosis: Embracing the Cloud and Openness

By Eric Lundquist  |  Posted 2013-05-14
Cloud computing

SAP's Metamorphosis: Embracing the Cloud and Openness

ORLANDO, Fla.—Manage the security of mobile devices for about $1 a device in the cloud? There was no bigger indication of how much cloud, mobile and big data have changed the technology landscape than SAP's announcement of a series of mobile security products based largely on partnerships and offered in a cloud-based environment running on Amazon Web Services. SAP, once known as a go-it-alone company operating in a closed proprietary environment, has embraced cloud computing and openness with fervor.

The mobile security products in large part had their genesis in the $5.8 billion 2010 acquisition of Sybase, but mobile has now been infused throughout the company to the point where mobility was a major focus of SAP Co-CEO William McDermott's keynote at this year's Sapphire Now user conference here (May 14-16). But it was the announcement of the 1 euro (about $1.11) pricing for mobile-device-management per device per month that illustrated the change at SAP and enterprise computing.

SAP (and its bitter rival Oracle) never discuss pricing, and CIOs can spend Excel hours trying to untangle software licensing and maintenance fees. I wrote an article championing Amazon Web Service's decision to focus on pricing at a recent Amazon conference, and it is great to see SAP picking up the thread. Talking about new products and services without detailing what users can expect to pay for those capabilities is an anti-publicity magnet.

The per-euro pricing was part of a wider security offering from SAP and uses Amazon Web services to offer customers scalable mobile-device-management capabilities without bearing the costs or lengthy time associated with deploying an on-premise solution. The SAP Afaria cloud edition is aimed at providing corporate technology departments with a management solution for organizations embracing the bring-your-own-device model for employees.

In addition, SAP announced a partnership with security vendor Mocana, which uses "app-wrapping" to offer corporate and third-party application security without engaging in extensive code rewrites. The partnership with Mocana further illustrated SAP's willingness to look beyond its corporate confines.

The Sapphire conference was kicked off by McDermott's keynote describing SAP as a "B2B2C" company incorporating the consumer focus as a strategic thrust. The addition of the "2C" was more about enabling customers to make new consumer offerings than SAP becoming a consumer company. In describing that change, McDermott leaned heavily on sports metaphors and later brought out CBS sportscaster James Brown, National Basketball Association Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank for emphasis and to introduce a new sports and media vertical operation at SAP.

SAP's Metamorphosis: Embracing the Cloud and Openness

Underlying McDermott's discussion was his contention that corporations contain vast amounts of "dark data." That dark data includes structured and unstructured data, which becomes useful and profitable when drawn into corporate analytics systems.  The sports executives introduced by McDermott were equally enthusiastic about being able to offer new fan opportunities, both in stadium and at home, based on the illuminating of the data.

The B2B2C strategy is not without obstacles. Mobile data pushed to smartphones in the hands of particularly the millennial generation requires designing and deploying user interfaces that are modern and geared to each device. McDermott acknowledged that user interface design is now a "top priority" at SAP.

Also the illuminating of the data and, in fact, just about all of SAP's new products and services relies on the SAP HANA in-memory data appliance. HANA was part of nearly every presentation, and the company clearly is in a bet-the-company mode on the continued acceptance of HANA. The company has recently started offering HANA as a cloud-based service for customers reluctant to invest in the appliance. Also, the company is still in the process of HANA-enabling its core applications of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and financial services.

At Sapphire, SAP introduced a unified cloud portfolio to offer HANA services in four forms: on-premise, public cloud (HANA is available on Amazon), managed cloud and hybrid. The company is hoping that multiple deployment offerings will speed the HANA adoption.

SAP is undergoing change as evidenced at the first day of the Sapphire Now conference. As McDermott noted in his keynote, speed is now an essential component of business strategy. Whether SAP will be able to move sufficiently fast to meet the changing needs of the mobile, big data and cloud environment is still undetermined.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Eric Lundquist, who was editor in chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authors this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

Rocket Fuel