SAP VP Martin Lang touts Apple, M1 Macs and the mobile enterprise

Martin Lang, SAP's vice president for product engineering mobile experience, says enterprise app-testing teams had "never tested a machine as fast" as Apple's M1 MacBook Air.

Apple, SAP, Mac, iPhone, enterprise tech

Apple recently told us that SAP has now deployed tens of thousands of Macs across its business, so I caught up with SAP Vice President for Product Engineering Mobile Experience Martin Lang to talk about Apple in the enterprise, the move to hybrid work and the need for employee choice.

A quarter of SAP employees now use Macs

Lang, who I've spoken with before, said SAP now supports 30,000 Macs — 3,500 of which run Apple Silicon. It began offering Macs as an option in 2008 and has seen demand for the machines increase ever since.

Today, the company offers employee choice to every new employee, as SAP Germany’s head of HR tweets here. “It really is an imperative for us to attract the brightest and most creative talent and give them the tools they need to be their best,” said Lang. “Many of our developers ask for Mac specifically and feel more productive with it.”

SAP’s Macs sit within a fleet that also includes around 100,000 Windows clients, 70,000 iPhones, 17,500 iPads and “about” 7,000 Android phones. He noted these include SAP-managed laptops provided to contractors. “Within the SAP employee base, the Mac ratio is currently at around 25%,” he said.

Employee onboarding is easy

The SAP exec confirmed reports that new employees are more likely to choose an Apple computer: “For new hires, the Mac ratio is currently higher than the overall average, so often new hires ask to get a Mac to be productive with.”

He explained how his company onboards new employees. SAP offers an easy Mac setup experience, supported by Apple Business Manager and Jamf as an MDM. That means that when an employee needs to enroll a Mac, all they need to do is enter their SAP credentials once and the system is set up, populated with services, apps, and relevant access credentials.

Systems like these mean “employees never have to authenticate to any other service in addition —  everything else is single-sign-on and all the software they need to be productive at SAP is either getting installed automatically or is readily available through Self Service,” said Lang.

The move to remote

When COVID-19 changed everything, SAP already had a great deal of mobile knowledge to lean on. It has learned more since, Lang said.

Take cloud services: SAP has found that the complexity of VPN is inappropriate to remote device management, as it makes the system too complex. The company still uses VPNs for specific, high security tasks, such as developer source code management, but it has chosen solutions that ensure most things employees need to do are secure on any internet connection.

Lang’s experience confirms the need for enterprise technology to be an enabler, rather than an obstacle, to getting work done.

“Having the same user-centric and Apple-like (Consumer-Simple) mindset and ultimately the same device management platform (in our case, Jamf) to manage Macs, iPhones, and iPads (and Apple TVs) brings lots of synergies and ultimately reduces management costs. It also makes life easier for our users, as the concepts we use are the same across all Apple devices. Mac users at SAP usually also have an iPhone and many (depending on the role) have an iPad as well.”

Of course, with 100,000 Windows machines still in use, Microsoft support for Apple’s platforms has been a key factor for successful Mac deployment at SAP. Lang was particularly positive concerning Microsoft’s decision to ensure Apple compatibility with Microsoft 365.

For all of that, one thing that works less well is to force the use of security tools for Windows hardware onto Macs. “The Mac is a fundamentally different platform and if companies start to offer choice, they’d be well advised to bring out the best in each platform in using tools that are native to the platform,” he said.

Choice means choice

Should companies be evangelical when it comes to platform choice? Lang doesn’t think so. “Passion for Apple is not the same as bias for Apple,” he said.

SAP has teams working to optimize and enhance the employee experience across all available platforms. “Choice means freedom to choose, and so our job is to tear down the walls, prejudices, and limitations that stand in the way of freedom for choice.”

Reflecting on Apple’s success in penetrating enterprise markets during the last decade, Lang noted that, philosophically at least, the company’s essential "think different" mantra has resonated with businesses experiencing rapid change.

Apple and digital transformation

When they adapt to Apple’s way of thinking, companies "start to think different and are more open to considering cloud-based solutions, to making their enterprise software accessible from mobile devices, enabling hybrid work or in being more flexible around work times or locations.”

It helps that Apple has done so much work to improve its platforms to support the enterprise. That means, for example, building up things like enterprise-grade security, MDM APIs, Apple Business Manager, and support for single sign-on hardware deployment.

Another thing Apple has done well is to show its commitment to regular OS updates for all its devices by actually delivering them. “This has a huge impact for TCO considerations at enterprises with hundreds or even thousands of devices,” said Lang.

It also helps maintain consistency across fleets of devices, particularly as we now know Apple will continue to support systems with updates for five or more years.

Digital natives are the workforce

The future of enterprise mobility is the future of the enterprise. All of us, particularly new employees entering the workplace, are digital natives who have already become used to doing everything with mobile devices.

Yet it’s not the reality for every business. Many enterprises have a way to go before they fully realize the potential of mobile. “Other than email and collaboration, we do almost nothing with our phones and very few of us have started to receive push notifications at work for important or required actions or relevant news,” said Lang.

As a result, many tasks that could be adapted for mobile haven’t yet taken that trip. Purchasing approvals, time sheets, even customer relationship management, could all benefit from additional mobile integration, he said. “I believe it’s time to 'work the way we live' and leverage iPhones and iPads in our business lives just as much as many of us enjoy and use them in our personal lives.”

What about Apple Silicon?

We all know Apple Silicon has given a huge performance boost to the Mac. “

"One eye-opening moment for me was when I gave one of our best iOS developers who was previously working with an Intel i9 16” 32GB MacBook Pro an 8GB MacBook Pro (for about a third of the price) and he immediately switched his entire workflow of developing and deploying code to the new Mac and never looked back,” Lang said.

Why didn’t he look back? "He said the machine was about three times faster. He was missing the larger display, but most often he was working with an external monitor anyway and the gain in performance was all worth using the M1.”

That’s a nice anecdote, but SAP is also a software developer, which means it engages in its own official performance testing for its business applications. That means it can deliver business-class insight into what these new Macs can do. When the company began testing the first M1 Macs last year, the testing teams “saw remarkable results,” Lang said:

“The team behind those tests said they never tested a machine that fast and this was with the M1 Macs released last year, not yet with the recently introduced M1Pro and M1Max Macs,” he said.

While he had expected challenges deploying hardware running a completely new processor, these didn’t emerge, making Lang confident enough to say: “I see no reason not to deploy them, other than for very specific roles in which people must run Windows VMs on Macs. At SAP, we have very few such roles, but if that is a necessity, an M1 Mac may not be the best choice.”

One argument many have made against Macs involves cost. Macs are more expensive to purchase in the first place, goes the argument. That may no longer be the case with M-series Macs.

“The entry level 13-inch M1 MacBook Air is an awesome computer for many roles,” Lang said.

He noted that across all the M-powered Macs, Apple’s entry-level offerings deliver levels of performance akin to fully maxxed out Intel Macs. In other words, you can get at least equal and probably better performance from Apple’s entry-level machines. You get more bang for every buck, and the cost of access to the performance your business needs has effectively fallen, he believes.

“We also find M1 Macs cheaper to run, as there is more synergies to iOS devices,” he said, noting new features such as the Erase all content and Settings button in macOS Monterey. The latter is invaluable when running Macs remotely.

What next for enterprise mobility?

Lang thinks the next step will be to take an even deeper embrace of mobility and the user-focused approach you get with Apple tech. “We’d like to change the way we work and bring the magic that we are used to from Apple devices more into work environments,” he said.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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