At its annual TechEd conference held in Las Vegas, SAP changed up its usual IT-oriented narrative to instead focus on empowering business users through a new low-code/no-code platform, branded SAP Build. Though work remains as the vendor further works to leverage Build across its portfolio, this early salvo stands as a highly capable tool for application or site development and business process automation.
Introducing a new app platform
At its annual TechEd conference, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, SAP introduced a new low/no-code platform with the simple and apt name SAP Build. At its core, SAP Build is both a platform and a set of supportive services and tools that enable business users to create their own solutions, be those a simple information portal or a complex business workflow. More than just another drag-and-drop user experience tool, however, SAP Build digs down into the underlying information architecture, giving business users unfettered yet secure access to business processes and supportive data.
Per SAP executives, SAP Build stands as a ready answer to current, market-wide concerns over a future where enterprise IT finds itself unable to field the expertise necessary to maintain current systems, let alone build anything new. For SAP Build, this means that business users can take full control of both business processes and business data in context to automate their jobs, make better decisions, and help the company more effectively and rapidly respond to both market pressures and opportunities.
On the surface, SAP Build does not try to tackle the entire universe of low-code/no-code application development opportunities. Rather, new Build users, upon opening the app, are presented with just three distinct paths to choose from:
- Build an application: create a new app or augment/extend existing software.
- Build an automated process: automate workflows and business processes.
- Build a business site: design and deploy a wide array of websites, including content management, web content, and interactive workspaces.
According to SAP, the intent is to provide users with a fully guided experience, especially those unfamiliar with the Build workflow and its resources. In fact, users are in no way bound to walk down one of these three paths. More experienced users can step off of these paths into the deep woods at any time, exploring and employing all of Build’s numerous resources, including front-end elements, data models, business logic, and workflows. Users can compose these elements however they see fit and share their work across teams and projects. That’s the point of Build, to simplify app creation using a highly modular system that, by its very nature, facilitates scalability through collaboration, sharing, and extensibility.
Years in the making
Like its considerable stable of 400,000 plus customers, many of which cannot afford to replace or re-invent their considerable investments in business software, SAP is not quick to act. Rather, the vendor approaches new market opportunities in a slow, considered manner that often extends over the course of several years and involves many step releases and technology acquisitions.
This is the case with SAP Build. The solution may appear to be a brand new offering for SAP, but it is quite the opposite—SAP Build stands on top of several acquisitions and early process automation, workspace creation, and drag-and-drop development efforts dating back well over three years.
There are many familiar tools that have made their way into Build, including SAP Work Zone and SAP Launchpad services, which have been combined into SAP Build Work Zone. The same goes for acquired software as Build makes heavy use of low-code/no-code tooling acquired from AppGyver in 2021 to form the foundation of Build’s software creation interface, particularly in support of mobile Apple and Android platforms.
The product also puts SAP’s major 2021 acquisition of business process intelligence mining vendor, Signavio, to good use. For example, Build users can directly tap into more than 135 tailored process improvement recommendations created by Signavio. Conversely, Signavio users can trigger automated actions using Build’s automation flows and bots. Further, both products complement one another in jointly managing administrative processes such as the approval of process model changes.
Most importantly, SAP Build exists not as a standalone service but rather as a key component within the SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP). This does two important things for SAP Build. First, it equips users with a solid set of underlying management, security, and compliance features—features that also support the entirety of SAP’s business software portfolio. This greatly facilitates Build’s ability to integrate with and support key lines of business software products spanning financial management, ERP, customer relationship management (CRM), human capital management (HCM), et al.
Second, because Build works as a component of BTP, Build administrators automatically inherit an advanced set of DevOps capabilities supporting continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), as well as automated testing and performance checks. This, together with BTP’s ability to run across numerous cloud-native architectures and hyperscalar platforms, enables Build to meet customers wherever they are in their cloud journey.
Building a new SAP?
To those unfamiliar with SAP, Build may seem like a bit of a left turn for a company that prides itself on equipping customers and partners with tools and solutions built specifically to support SAP’s line-of-business portfolio. Given Build’s BTP-based portability, SAP’s sizable collection of pre-built, API-based data and application connectors, and the open, application-agnostic nature of Build itself (drawing from Signavio and AppGyver, primarily), it is tempting to think of Build as a way forward for SAP—a way for the company to reach beyond its established customer base with a horizontally capable platform that still understands the intricacies of business processes like order to cash.
When asked if SAP looked at Build as a means to enter the broader low-code/no-code application marketplace, SAP was quick to agree that, indeed, the solution and the BTP platform itself could work without SAP software at its core. After all, AppGyver enjoyed a sizable customer base of more than 80,000 SAP and non-SAP customers prior to acquisition. Given that, it would not be surprising for SAP to begin positioning Build as a platform that doesn’t need SAP solutions (like Concur) in order to deliver differentiated capabilities.
Even so, SAP Build will always receive a particularly welcome reception among SAP customers where it can nestle closely with SAP line-of-business software, conferring the many benefits that come with a highly unified storage and compute architecture—such as SAP HANA and the SAP One Data Model—both of which power much of the simplicity and power inherent within SAP Build. It means the world to enterprises seeking to optimize their cloud spend if they can innovate without having to move their data to an external system.
Opinion and outlook
Over the short term, however, SAP will need to invest in a few areas in order to attract business users to Build and, even more importantly, to bring its well-established pro-code user ecosystem into lockstep with that nascent base of business-users-come-citizen-developers. Omdia has identified several key areas that will help SAP accomplish this goal.
Bring SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) into play. First and foremost, SAP must do more to leverage its cloud-savvy analytics platform, SAC, within SAP Build. At launch, Build does little beyond embed charts/dashboards from SAC within sites, automated processes, and applications. SAP must enable Build to work in concert with SAC as a self-service, low-code/no-code tool, specific to the task of surfacing and communicating data-driven business insights directly within business processes.
Use Build as a horizontal app entry point to BTP. As mentioned above, SAP has a tremendous opportunity to use Build as an entry point for its still-emerging cloud-native architecture, BTP. Yes, BTP is growing, but if SAP is to reach its stated goal of attracting more than 20 million developers, it will need to leverage BTP’s cloud portability, connector portfolio, and fully governed DevOps capabilities to position Build as an alternative to similar low-code tools from rivals Salesforce, Oracle, Adobe, and most importantly, Microsoft.
Go all the way with composable business processes. In launching Build, SAP announced more than 275,000 process reference points from 4,000 customers and 1,300 use-case-specific workflows. With this substantial portfolio of processes at the ready, Build can already be considered a highly composable platform, at least for elements of the broader business process. As SAP grows Build’s portfolio of pre-built components and as the company energizes its still-nascent ecosystem of customer and third-party “builders,” it will soon reach a point where customers can self-assemble and automate complete end-to-end business processes. This will make SAP a unique player in the low-code/no-code application marketplace.
Focus on upskilling business users. SAP understands the dangers lurking within the growing developer skills gap. This understanding is behind the creation of Build itself, and it is again reflected in the company’s announced plans to double down on upskilling users and training developers with educational and certification programs specific to BTP, Build, and other SAP infrastructure assets. The company’s new partnership with Coursera (announced during SAP TechEd 22) will certainly help the company compete with Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and others in attracting developers to BTP. However, SAP must simultaneously invest in training and certifying Build users themselves (not just Build and BTP administrators). After sitting in on a hands-on lab with Build during TechEd, this analyst can attest to the fact that while Build does not require any pro-code development, it still demands a considerable amount of domain/solution knowledge in order to get the most out of this offering.
Omdia Universe: Modern Data Analytics Platform, 2022 (June 2022)
Fundamentals of Modern Data Analytics Platforms – 2022 (May 2022)
“Citizen development should be an asset to the organization” (June 2021)
“Oracle taps into low-code/no-code development to help fight COVID-19” (May 2020)
Bradley Shimmin, Chief Analyst, AI platforms, analytics, and data management