This week IgniteSAP is going to explore the implications of SAP’s acquisition of AppGyver. We will briefly introduce the platform and then discuss SAP’s intentions regarding how no-code development will be integrated into the landscape of SAP.
AppGyver is “a pioneer in no-code development platforms” based in Helsinki. The company, which was founded in 2010, enables users to create applications that can be used online, even if they have no coding skills.
No-code development applications are becoming increasingly important as a means to provide for the proliferation of start-ups, and also for established companies that need to make quick changes to their way of working and sharing information.
This follows a trend which has been seen before in other contexts such as website design, which initially was the territory of code-fluent specialists but increasing is also catered for by website design companies who furnish users with a wide variety of templates, and a pre-existing selection of more specialised functional modules, plugins or widgets.
The key advantage of these platforms is that it democratises the design process, affording everyone the ability to make functional and aesthetic design decisions without the extra expense of employing a website designer, but another important benefit is that the design process is vastly accelerated. This has not diminished the need for code specialists and has acted as an introductory bridge for those new to application programming who otherwise would not have considered learning coding.
AppGyver have taken this concept of modular web design and translated it into the application design space, with all of the attendant advantages. The design process itself allows users to interact with a visual representation rather than with code, and consequently is highly accessible and intuitive. Of course the coding itself exists but is not seen and manipulated visually in blocks which are connected to allow information to flow from one to another. The main way in which this system achieves its high level of intuitiveness is through this top-down conception of the practice of application design: the designer (programmer) sees what the end user of the product sees from the very beginning. This means that the interface is created simultaneously with the functionality, and the application is developed with the end user always in mind.
It does not take much imagination to see how this will be extremely useful to users and implementers of SAP systems. There has been a great deal of debate between those who advocate a higher degree of standardisation, and those who want more facility to customise SAP systems. This move by SAP is another means to reach a compromise between these positions. SAP has already some solutions which encourage low-code but this is the first instance of a no-code strategy for application design being integrated into SAP.
The press release covering the announcement of the acquisition drew attention to the previous low-code SAP offering by Mendix Tech BV (part of Siemens AG). The SAP Cloud Platform Rapid Application Development by Mendix is a solution extension partnership with SAP which provides SAP developers with basic frameworks for apps to speed up development. Mendix describes them in this way:
“Starter apps are complete app frameworks that can be used as a starting point when building a new app on the Mendix Platform. They provide the scaffolding required to massively accelerate app development, as they include basic design patterns such as branding, design assets, page templates, navigation, and security models.”
So this is on the face of it quite a similar concept but the main difference between these and the AppGyver concept is that while AppGyver assumes no skill level, Mendix assumes that the users will be proficient programmers and the time-saving aspect is brought about by using pre-defined application structures.
Another tool for skilled developers that is available for SAP Cloud Platform is SAP Web IDE. It allows users to “develop, test, deploy and extend” role-based apps. Something which can be useful if a company is making rapid changes to the workforce. It needs no installation and can help developers to “extend or build SAP Fiori apps, create new SaaS solutions, extend S/4HANA cloud services, develop hybrid mobile applications and build IoT apps.”
There was much discussion of low-code workflows at SAP TechEd 2020. During that event SAP announced their Cloud Platform Workflow Management, which allows operational workflows to be constructed by people with low, and even no coding skills using template workflows for common operations like employee on-boarding and common business problems.
In our coverage of that conference we commented that in their capacity as designers of tools for commerce SAP faced what we called the “designers paradox”. They simultaneously have to make a tool which helps one perform a specific task very well and also to make a tool which helps to perform as many tasks as possible. As a whole SAP products as a portfolio of solutions can be considered a Swiss army knife, but when the results demanded of such a tool are so crucial, implementers are obliged to use a scalpel in the form of ABAP. ABAP is also the most universal tool as a programming language but it takes more time and far less people can be trained to proficiency with such a complex method.
At TechEd 2020 SAP Chief Technical Officer Juergen Mueller indicated some of SAP’s reasons for exploring the creation of more accessible low-code and no-code tools:
“When we talk about developers today, it’s not just one persona. A developer can be a cloud-native developer, can be a data scientist, can be an enterprise architect, can be an application developer, integration developer, UX designer. Regardless, all developers have one thing in common. They make things…we want to create a future where SAP caters for all these and more developer roles.”
In the press release of last Thursday Michael Weingartner, president of SAP Business Technology Platform Core summarised the motivations for the acquisition of AppGyver:
“AppGyver helps us expand our no-code capabilities and establish a comprehensive offering in this area…Going forward, we can deliver a full range of simple and integrated application development tools that allow customers, partners and our own teams to enhance process automation and further improve the experience for users of SAP applications. By adding AppGyver’s solutions to our own no-code capabilities, we facilitate the creation of workflows, forms, robotic process automation and lightweight case management.”
AppGyver will be integrated into SAP Business Technology Platform which is offered as part of the new Rise with SAP package, but the emphasis on providing the ability for implementers and users to make simple extensions and changes to the functionality of their offerings according to predefined limits may make its way into other areas of SAP.
Both parties in the acquisition declined to make the monetary component of the acquisition public but we know that AppGyver raised 2M euros from additional funding led by Karma Ventures and OpenOcean last April.
On the same day as the publication of the press release by SAP Marko Lehtimaki, AppGyver’s CEO and Co-Founder, posted on the AppGyver blog his announcement about the acquisition by SAP. His description of the event was careful to emphasise some key points, particularly to reassure the company’s community of indie developers that they would not be charged for the use of AppGyver Composer Pro, as it had previously been available for free use by indie developers and organisations with less than $10M revenue, as part of the company’s open development culture.
He pointed out that while new paid tiers will become available for smaller businesses AppGyver Composer Pro will remain freely available to those users with under $10M revenue. He also mentioned that by being part of SAP the platform’s development will progress much faster, and that integrations with SAP products will bring about cross-fertilisation with AppGyver that will bring new opportunities for their own enterprise customers. He highlighted the fact that the SAP acquisition will ensure AppGyver’s longevity and allow them to achieve their vision of reaching a global community of users: potentially creating a new global community of app designers using a new no-coding standard.
Clearly it is a delicate diplomatic line to tread when a start-up with an open culture needs to maintain its current user base while becoming part of a large established corporation. However, these two uses for the no-coding (or visual application development) platform need not be mutually exclusive.
The technology of a visual application design platform is sufficiently universal to perform a wide variety of roles due to the granular nature of its components. Without using text coding AppGyver gives its users a tool kit of almost infinite potential. This will only increase as new components are added. Consequently it can be applied in the context of free-to-use open culture development as well as within a commercial enterprise context such as SAP, as long as SAP concentrates on large scale commercial usage and does not expect to drive revenue from individual users. SAP has stated that their intentions for the product are to use it to expand their own no-coding capabilities, and by providing a vital and stable revenue stream for the platform they are in fact facilitating the development of the platform: contributing added value for independent developers outside of SAP without AppGyver requiring subscription payments of its existing users to continue to expand.
SAP has also pointed out a TechEd2020 that low-code development will not limit the need for ABAP and this applies similarly to the use of no-code development within SAP. The key advantage for SAP and the implementers and users of SAP solutions is that this adds another conceptual level at which these communities can interact with SAP systems and with each other.
By increasing the accessibility of data and analytics within SAP to a wider group of people SAP is providing for the need for greater agility within SAP projects and for commerce itself. Seen from the highest level SAP is a modular but standardised platform for facilitating business processes and AppGyver can contribute to this by providing more flexibility in these dynamic structures, giving SAP users more options to redesign according to changing daily requirements.
We have seen over the past year the absolute necessity for business to be agile in making changes as dictated by the economic environment. This argument has been used repeatedly as a reason for businesses to digitise and to transition to the cloud. The recent introduction of the Rise with SAP package of SAP solutions is predicated on this philosophy, as is the Business Technology Platform. AppGyver development will certainly integrate neatly into this environment, and as such is at this time an ideal augmentation of the SAP portfolio.