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TUAW interview: SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann on iPads in enterprise


A while ago SAP's CIO Oliver Bussmann made some waves in the Apple news-o-sphere by commenting that SAP was to deploy several thousand iPads within the company. I spoke to Mr. Bussmann this week to discover that his employees are now using over 2,000 iPads at SAP and they have plans to buy many more.

However, the iPad is not the only tablet in SAP's sights. As Mr. Bussmann explained, the possibilities of thin-client, fast-startup, tablet-form computing devices are enough for SAP to consider the Galaxy Tab, the PlayBook and possibly any Android tablet that meets their needs and specifications.

On the next page we discuss with Mr. Bussmann why SAP chose the iPad, how the company is using them and more.

Who is SAP?

SAP, as a company, provides a wide range of powerful tools for business intelligence. SAP happens to be the number one business software company in the world and number three as a software supplier overall. As big as is is, it was refreshing to hear about such a company embracing something new like the iPad. Usually large-company IT leaders get a bad rap for being stodgy and slow to innovate. But in the case of SAP, innovation is very important. When it announced the desire to deploy thousands of iPads, it wasn't so much for a love of Apple, but for an acceptance of new paradigms in computing technology.

Why iPad?

Oliver Bussmann told me that SAP's chief scientist had done an analysis of computers in business, and where they will be going. In their scientist's view, the mobile and desktop models are converging. That is, instead of rolling up to a desk every day to power up a machine, and sift through screens of information to arrive at a simple dashboard, users will come to expect a smaller device to focus on the data. This smaller form factor and more task-focused paradigm will allow you to call up information almost instantly, with laser focus on specific processes, rather than one large machine that does a dozen things. It's an evolution of the species, if you will.

Sharing data is easier

I asked Mr. Bussmann: Why not use netbooks? He said that the iPad's weight was a factor, but it wasn't just that (as some netbooks are comparable). In his words, "You are always on, you don't have to reboot. How you handle the apps is a new user experience. It's easy to share information. As with our Business Explorer, where you share via email or social media within the app. These combined steps you don't find in the desktop environment." Simplicity is the key here, and the iPad brings focus to tasks and simplifies the process of doing things -- in this case, sharing business information.

He elaborates, "Steps that took me more steps on the desktop, like cut and paste, or share through internal channels, require multiple steps in a desktop environment. Now those functions are integrated and you can share that data in seconds. On the dashboard side, you can point to information and share a graph in an email in a minute or a second."

Sharing news is easier

Dashboards and news gathering have been simplified as well. For Mr. Bussman, this has already transformed his daily work experience. "My whole communication behavior has changed. Business information, business news, all news, is now at my fingertips. I can easily scan over 20-30 RSS feeds easily in 5 minutes, and drill down and share this info via Facebook, email or Twitter. My communication hub has changed in the past few months. I might not do these as quickly with my laptop because I have to surf, copy/paste links, it takes forever."

Backend readiness and deployment

On the back end, Bussman told us that SAP has invested heavily in infrastructure and device management. SAP worked with Apple to prepare for the iPad deployment. It rolled out deployment carefully, and monitored the results. As of now there are over 2,000 iPads in active use at SAP -- but the company has a grander plan to get over one billion customers, and using devices like the iPad which increase efficiency are a part of that plan. Since SAP acquired Sybase, the company was able to carefully roll out the device in a way that made the most sense. Bussman's team is looking at Afaria to manage these quasi-mobile machines.

Use cases

So how is SAP using the iPad? In part, as merely a thin-client tool. Using remote access programs, end users can access any tool in the SAP arsenal. Further, using web-based tools, dashboards and other technologies are available for business information and management. Then there are specific apps as well, ones that clients can use like BusinessObjects Explorer for iPhone and iPad. These don't necessarily need to be tied into a network for some of their functionality, giving users yet more mobility.

For sales and marketing teams, it simplifies their tool set and allows them to bring a presentation machine with them -- one surprisingly low on the maintenance-needs scale. For anyone who has had to support a full-blown laptop used to conduct a presentation, you know what a blessing this is.

I asked Mr. Bussman about what cases or accessories they provide to their employees, and he said most will get the Apple iPad case, but in some cases more premium cases may be allowed. He also mentioned how nice it was to have a VGA-out cable for on-the-go presentations.

The iPad is just the beginning

The fact is that the iPad beat Samsung's Galaxy Tab and the RIM PlayBook to market. Yes, the fit and finish of the iPad is great, but from my conversation with Mr. Bussman it was clear that SAP is not beholden to Apple as the One True Giver of tablet computing. Rather, he and his team are aggressively pursuing other options when they become available. As Mr. Bussman said, "The format, size and weight of the iPad plus the way you operate it met our business needs. There are more followers on the RIM side. We expect more variety and choices next year." For now, the iPad has a nice lead with the tablet needs of SAP. This is certainly a switch for Apple, a company that has had limited success working with business and enterprise clients.

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