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SAP low-code platform looks to fill developer gaps

SAP Build, a new low-code platform that debuted at SAP TechEd, is designed to enable business users to create apps, but it's entering a noisy market and may struggle to find users.

SAP unveiled a new low-code development platform aimed at business users at its TechEd conference in Las Vegas this week.

SAP Build is an app dev platform consisting of three components: SAP Build Apps for creating applications; SAP Build Process Automation for building and automating tasks, processes and workflows; and SAP Build Work Zone for building business sites like digital workspaces.

SAP Build, which is generally available now with pricing to be determined on a per-user basis, was developed in and is a part of the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP), a portfolio of SAP products and technologies for application development and integration.

While SAP Build is a new offering, it comes from existing products. SAP Build Apps is an evolution of AppGyver, a low-code platform SAP acquired in 2021. SAP Build Process Automation comes out of SAP Process Automation and integrates with Signavio process mining and insights engine. There are two editions of SAP Build Work Zone: the advanced edition, which is a new version of SAP Work Zone, and the standard edition, which is an evolution of SAP Launchpad that will be available in 2023.

SAP Build is designed to help companies fill the gaps left by the developer shortage, said Juergen Mueller, SAP CTO, during TechEd's opening keynote address. He noted that a year ago, IDC predicted a global shortfall of 4 million developers by 2025.

The shortage is problematic because every company is becoming a tech company, so a low code platform like SAP Build will put at least some development into the hands of business users, he said.

"We have to unleash the expertise of those who know the business best -- the business users themselves," Mueller said.

However, application development will not be moved wholesale over to business users, as companies will need business teams and IT teams of professional developers to work together, he said.

"Developers can encapsulate their code, written in SAP Business Application Studio, which can then be used by business users to develop in SAP Build," Mueller said. "IT can enforce consistent governance and lifecycle management capabilities, so IT teams can be confident that all apps built by the business meet necessary security and governance requirements."

SAP CTO Juergen Mueller speaks at SAP TechEd 2022
Juergen Mueller, CTO at SAP, delivers the opening keynote session at SAP TechEd 2022 this week.

SAP Build helps NHL score on sustainability

SAP customer the National Hockey League demonstrated how SAP Build Apps helped to improve NHL Green, a sustainability application used by the league's 32 member clubs to measure and report on the environmental footprint of their arenas.

"Managing the footprint across our arenas is one of the most critical aspects of our sustainability platform," said Omar Mitchell, NHL vice president of sustainable infrastructure and growth initiatives, during the TechEd keynote. "We're working with SAP to track, measure and help drive deeper insights into our venues' operations, so that teams can share best practices and the league can continue to improve."

To do this, the NHL and SAP built an application called NHL Venue Metrics in SAP BTP, which uses SAP HANA Cloud and SAP Analytics Cloud to collect and process data to get insights on venue operations data from the clubs and their arenas, Mitchell said.

However, the form used to collect data from the clubs had required fields that needed users to enter data primarily from utility bills manually, he said.

The league subsequently used SAP Build Apps that allows users to take a picture of the bills, entering the data automatically, and then route them to the league offices for approval, Mitchell explained.

"Once data is routed and approved, the data points are automatically fed into NHL Venue Metrics app," he said. "This cuts down on a lot of the manual work done by the teams, saving time and effort."

SAP Build impresses, but will customers buy in?

Although rapid application development concepts and low-code tools are not new, SAP Build could find a receptive audience because the need for expanding app development is real, said Jon Reed, co-founder of Diginomica, an enterprise computing analysis firm.

"There does seem to be more of a vigorous imperative around it right now," Reed said. "Part of it is the nature of the economy and labor and automation, but there's a sense that companies can do more with less, and low code fits into that because developers are at a premium and a lot of companies can't afford these teams."

However, while SAP Build looks promising, it's not a lock that SAP customers will flock to it, as there are several non-SAP low code tools they can consider using, he said.

It makes sense from a customer needs perspective, because there is value in having business users build their own applications or help to build them.
Jon ReedCo-founder, Diginomica

"It makes sense from a customer needs perspective, because there is value in having business users build their own applications or help to build them," Reed said. "But there's no guarantee that this is going to be the best tool out there for what they wanted to do."

SAP's advantage may come if customers can build a unified environment around the three components, which includes front-end apps, workflow automation and collaboration, he said.

Reed said he found it intriguing that SAP debuted a low-code platform for business users during a conference that is heavily oriented to and populated by professional developers.

"Do developers see a role for themselves, and are they willing to move beyond their silos and collaborate with business users on these types of projects?" he said. "That will be interesting to follow because ultimately, this will require developers and domain experts to work together."

SAP Build looks impressive, but SAP is late to the low-code/no-code market, said Predrag Jakovljevic, an industry analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers.

SAP users may want to use SAP Build for making modifications or extensions to SAP applications, but its appeal may not extend to non-SAP users, he said.

"Lots of SAP's users already use Microsoft Power Platform, especially if they are on Azure. Siemens Mendix is also popular there, too," Jakovljevic said. "Perhaps some big consultancy or systems integrator will use Build to create their practices and solutions, but again mainly for the SAP users, similar to what they are doing with Force.com for Salesforce users."

SAP Build should find a way into SAP customers as a development tool option, said Gavin Quinn, CEO of Mindset Consulting, an SAP-focused application development consultancy in Minneapolis.

"Our client base is primarily composed of Fortune 500 organizations with pretty enriched SAP environments," he said. "For them, SAP Build offers some SAP-focused inroads into a low code app platform."

The first impressions of SAP Build are positive, Quinn said, particularly the process automation component, as workflow continues to be a challenge for most customers.

Both non-developers and professional developers could find SAP Build to be a useful environment, said developer Ethan Jewett, director of DevOps and Development at Mindset Consulting.

SAP Build is an important rebranding and iterative improvement of existing products, he said.

"These tools are potentially great for developers, and I see the professional developer productivity story around these tools as much stronger than the citizen developer story," Jewett said. "SAP Build is a nice vision of composable apps, processes and intranet sites, and it's good that SAP is consolidating its low-code/no-code story and clarifying how it's distinct from the pro-code story."

Jim O'Donnell is a senior news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for TechTarget Editorial.

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