by Matt Kapko

SAP design chief talks details of Apple deal

News Analysis
May 10, 2016
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SAP's chief design officer says modern workers have high expectations for the enterprise apps they use each day, and the company's recent deal with Apple is designed to elevate business software and enhance the overall SAP user experience.

mobile enterprise apps
Credit: Thinkstock

SAP isn’t necessarily known for its design chops or world-class user experience, but the enterprise software giant hopes its new partnership with Apple can change that. “We felt that a partnership with Apple can take that to the next level, both with Apple’s expertise in design, but also the ability to optimize those designs natively on iOS devices,” says Sam Yen, SAP’s chief design officer.

Apple and SAP began exploring potential partnerships more than a year ago, according to Yen, and their respective CEOs met in late 2015 to start to formalize the deal. The goal of the pact is to rethink the entire mobile enterprise experience, according to Yen. Apple’s iOS is widely used in enterprise, and “76 percent of all global business transactions are done on SAP systems,” according to Yen, so it was a “no brainer” for the two companies to combine their strengths.

sap cdo sam yen circle

SAP Chief Design Officer Sam Yen

“It’s an opportunity to not only reimagine business processes but figure out how to create the technology experiences that could be optimized so that workers are able to work in this new reality,” he says. 

[Related: Apple’s SAP deal means more iOS enterprise apps]

Yen says SAP also wants to capitalize on Apple’s established ecosystem of developers. “The success of the App Store, and really even the iOS platform, was because the ecosystem filled in and created wonderful things that weren’t even imagined probably when the initial apps were built,” Yen says. “We’re hoping for something similar here by exposing SAP and making it much more accessible for developers to build on top of SAP.”

SAP, Apple aim to build better iOS apps for business

The deal is designed to yield new native iOS apps for SAP systems, as well as an SDK that will let developers tap into SAP’s HANA cloud platform. SAP plans to initially develop apps for its current customers, but Yen believes the Apple partnership will also help the company acquire new customers. SAP currently has around 310,000 enterprise customers, and 2.5 million developers create software for use with SAP systems, while Apple has about 10 million iOS developers, according to Yen.

Yen wouldn’t share specific details about the upcoming SDK, which is expected to become available later this year. However, SAP is considering the challenges IT professionals encounter with integrations, extensibility, configurations, permissions, security and managing updates that don’t wipe out extensions, he says. “A lot of those things are the unsexy details needed to program enterprise quality applications,” Yen says. “Those are going to be things that we’re going to put in the SDK, and for the most part tried to hide the complexity of that as much as we can.”

SAP also wants to integrate its systems with “Apple differentiators,” such as HealthKit and Wallet, according to Yen. “We will take an industry and scenario focus,” he says. “We’re looking for the things that have the most impact … scenarios where we can truly leverage on-device capabilities,” such as asset management, retail transactions and healthcare.

Ultimately, Yen hopes to elevate the modern mobile enterprise experience by leveraging today’s principles of design. “The apps that people use in their personal lives have set a certain bar in terms of user experience, and they expect the same kind of usability and design attention to detail that they have in their enterprise apps as well.”