You are the future of software development

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Author: Mika Tanner, CEO, Bilot

I’ve been working in the SAP domain for almost 20 years. Well to be precise maybe only for about half of the time - the majority of the past decade I’ve been surfing many SAP waves but the tide has been pushing me towards an ocean full of other technologies, applications and platforms.

Not because SAP would lack gravitational pull but because my passion has been to identify and understand the customers’ business opportunities they are trying to find with software in general – but meanwhile SAP has seemingly retarded to a contender position from being a strong leader.

I am far from being tech-savvy, but I’ve been trying to keep my eyes peeled and ears curled to emerging trends and tech-talk and preferably from a customer perspective. Since my core business is promising and delivering enterprise grade business applications to meet the most rigorous requirements of the digital age, I am often asked to decipher and articulate the megatrends of our time.

Sometimes the questions deal with general architectural considerations and about software development but usually those who approach me are senior business management who understand strategy, business requirements and financial consequences better than tech-talk.

As a vendor and being branded with a certain technology association, the queries are mostly about how I see the competitiveness of SAP with regards to surrounding alternatives: force.com vs. SAP CRM, force.com vs. SAP commerce, Qlik vs, SAP business intelligence, SAP S/4 as a strategy, SAP Hybris vs. the rest of the commerce alternatives et cetera.

Best-of-breed era
Monolithic ERP driven platforms still populate the global IT landscapes, but ERP-driven thinking faded into oblivion about decade ago and since then there has been a clear best-of-breed era, but for different reasons than before. I would characterize today’s Best-of-Breed software as Purpose-Driven software/application development. Better interoperability, better connectivity, more reliable cloud platforms, improved and advanced development disciplines and disruptive, democratizing digital platforms have changed the entire game.

The center of gravity is no longer in controlled business processes and operational efficiency but rather in microservices – (single)purpose-built, cloud-based applications which can semantically be perishable. Enterprises still need resource planning, but as the modern business environment changes the denominators for planning has changed. Enterprises also seem to have more and more guts to design their entire architecture with bolder strokes with a particular strategic capability in mind – data, change agility, customer experience, commerce.

Understanding and creative solving
Design thinking positions a desired priority e.g. the customer centered at the origin and that dictates how the whole architecture is pieced together. Semantically this can be solution centric or problem centric, but either way, it is a process of understanding and creative solving. My expectation would be that the end-solution still has an ERP somewhere in the landscape but perhaps in a different role than what it was originally designed for.

As the global consumers are natively digital, the expectation of the business framework they operate in is dictating how enterprise applications should look like, how they should be developed, where they can/should be used from and what they should do. When the desired vantage point is not an inside-out, stable central system of records but rather a system of engagement, superior customer experience, digital superiority and nimble development, the perspective changes dramatically.

Responsiveness and agility
From my perspective, the biggest impact has been and will be on the boardroom. The modern business environment is all about responsiveness and agility. Business need to have instruments to collect, analyze and understand data and to quickly adapt to these stimuli. The massive need for continuous new development translates to a need to radically reduce the investment-per-capability ratio.

Businesses need to be increasingly engagement-driven and they need to understand the fastest and most reliable way to create and deploy new business designs which differentiate.

I would pay really close attention to the speed at which e.g. low-code development, self-service development and progressive web applications are proceeding. In an era of learning fast, investment paradigms need a thorough reboot into current times and to enable strategic agility, the boardroom needs to quickly improve their digital acumen. I would also seriously appreciate solution/technology-driven demand as a mind-set. It might make sense to do some scenario-analysis where existing but unexploited modern technology collides with conventional/old-school business-models, how it would change the way you do your business. Are there new businesses to be innovated?

The more companies begin to inject new technologies into their business framework, the more they need to think about how these capabilities are truly exploited. Industrial Internet/IoT, machine learning, big data, predictive analytics and advanced robotics are common examples of development areas which have severe application consequences. Low-code development platforms enable rapid application delivery with minimal (or none) need for hand-coding.

Is there any role for SAP?
This sounds like developing new digital applications can be delegated to nearly anyone. Or can it? And should it? There are surely many considerations such as security, complexity, maintenance and support which need to be addressed before you can cut everyone loose to develop low-code applications.

How does SAP fit into the low-code equation, is it threatened by it or will it create unlimited opportunities? In my view, low-code development is really good news for SAP in the long run. It will provide excellent means to capitalize on the core: SAP’s robust and reliable Tier-1 system of records. Rapid application development as Tier-2 approach will unlock the full potential of ERP by providing a new way to build new capabilities as easily as playing around with Legos.

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