SAP is set to release the SAP Cloud Platform software development kit (SDK) for iOS Thursday. The release is the first major deliverable since SAP and Apple first revealed they would partner on the platform, which leverages SAP HANA to create apps for iPhones and iPads, a little less than a year ago.
The SDK will give developers, designers and businesses scalable tools to quickly build custom, enterprise-grade iOS applications using Apple’s new programming language, Swift.
"Our focus is on helping iOS developers speed up their productivity," said Rick Knowles, SAP senior vice president and general manager, Apple partnership. "It will also enable better efficiency in the creation of mobile applications that developers want to create in and with iOS."
In a nutshell, the SDK for iOS will quicken a company’s ability to deliver mobile business applications to customers and internal users. But more broadly, the SDK and the partnership could have bigger implications for the enterprise overall.
Changing business at the core
Native iOS apps are already in the works for industries including manufacturing, healthcare and retail, according to SAP. The first apps are expected later this year, and will be designed to change how the core of businesses operate.
Changing the core of how businesses operate — or the process of digital transformation — is the true big-picture intent behind the SDK, said Knowles.
"When most people begin talking about digital transformation, they start with the businesses’ core functions," said Knowles. "Then they might move from there on to departmental areas or lines of business, like HR. But where is the user in that discussion?"
"If we're going be focused on digital transformation, let’s look at the job functions first. Let’s look at the individual people that are actually doing the work and let’s help them be more productive."
SAP senior vice president and general manager, Apple partnership
That’s where the partnership between SAP and Apple comes into play.
"We believe that we need to flip the model. If we're going be focused on digital transformation, let’s look at the job functions first. Let’s look at the individual people that are actually doing the work and let’s help them be more productive," said Knowles. "Let’s create beautiful applications that hide all the complexity and give workers the tools they need to execute their jobs in a simple, easy way. That’s the ultimate goal for enterprise users."
The companies are also hoping to grow a new enterprise ecosystem around iOS, according to Knowles. But that will require some education, since it is essentially uncharted territory. Toward that end, SAP also has an Academy for iOS curriculum to provide IT workers training on how to use SAP Cloud Platform SDK for iOS.
Beyond the SDK, the partnership with Apple is further evidence that, despite its long history in traditional on-premise enterprise software, SAP, like so many other companies, is truly becoming a digital company.
John Dinsdale, chief analyst and managing director of Synergy Research Group, says legacy companies really don’t have much of a choice anymore in that respect. Today, it’s a matter of evolve or perish.
"Basically, the whole industry is heading in the direction of a subscription-based model and no major vendor can afford to be left behind," said Dinsdale. "If a vendor doesn’t offer those flexible solutions to their clients, then its competitors will."
But Knowles says SAP’s partnership with Apple — as well as Apple’s partnerships with other companies like IBM and Deloitte — is also part of a broader recognition that by collaborating, large tech companies can do a lot more to serve their enterprise customers. Therefore, the industry is likely to see more tech giants partnering on enterprise-based initiatives in the near future.
"Apple is seen largely as a consumer technology vendor these days and they need firms like SAP to make them appear enterprise ready, so this helps in that regard."
President of the Enderle Group
Of course, customers aren’t the only ones that stand to benefit from the SAP/Apple alliance. SAP CEO Bill McDermott has been looking for ways to help his company look trendier to the iOS developer base, and the Apple partnership should help it accomplish that goal.
Meanwhile, Apple has been working to cement a position in the enterprise as its consumer sales slow. While Apple has been making solid steps in that direction, some believe the tech giant is not doing enough.
"Apple has been unwilling to develop enterprise-focused products, choosing to reposition their consumer offerings instead, suggesting they really don’t get enterprise buyers," said Rob Enderle, president of the Enderle Group.
But Enderle says the partnership with SAP could finally help Apple make progress in the enterprise market. Apple will gain access to SAP’s enormous worldwide sales team to help it sell devices to SAP’s roughly 310,000 worldwide customers, most of whom are large enterprise businesses with thousands of employees.
"Apple is seen largely as a consumer technology vendor these days and they need firms like SAP to make them appear enterprise ready, so this helps in that regard," said Enderle. "It should help with their image and make them look a bit more enterprise focused than they actually seem to be."
Despite lofty hopes for the partnership, there are caveats as well. Apple and SAP are two very different types of companies, so integrating their cultures could prove challenging. "I worry that this is more marketing than substance because these are very different companies that will have a great deal of difficulty partnering with each other," said Enderle.