Extending SAP: Fiori or Mendix?

“With SAP tools like Fiori and UI5, why would I need Mendix?”

  • I wrote an update to this post about a year later with some updated opinions here.

As a practitioner who directs our architecture and development of Mendix applications alongside SAP developers, I get asked this question a lot. Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools like Mendix are on the rise because as businesses begin their journey into digital transformation, they realize that the agility necessary to respond to rapidly changing competition and value perceptions require focused teams that combine business leadership and IT to design and deploy solutions just as rapidly. Waiting for a waterfall, stack-developed project to get scoped and developed will typically miss the mark, come out behind the curve of the transformation, and be dead in the water by the time it hits the market or the business.

Most companies know EPI-USE, my employer, based on our reputation for SAP EC/ECC and SuccessFactors expertise. We’ve been implementing and developing solutions on the platform for over 30 years. A few years ago, a customer of ours purchased an enterprise license for the Mendix platform to see if it could be used to quickly develop extension apps for SAP as well as manage their blue-sky and greenfield application needs. Myself and another of our developers switched gears to learn Mendix with them to assist with these efforts, and the rest is history. We now have a global practice that I lead (in the US) with dozens of consultants at the ready to extend cloud and on-premise ERP’s as well as those prototyping/greenfield app needs in a variety of verticals around the globe.

I shared the background of our practice because I feel it explains how we responded a number of years ago to the digital transformation paradigm before it became a buzz-word. We saw that as great as SAP is for managing transactions, performance, and stability, it lacks a tool for Rapid Application. Yes, they have Fiori and UI5, but let me explain what many of our customers have already figured out where these two complement each other instead of against.

To use Fiori to develop apps, the data and processes must be fully developed in SAP. That means that all integrations necessary for an app to work must be developed in SAP. My experience is that the average app requires roughly three non-SAP integrations. Our clients respond that this is a main reason that they don’t develop the apps in Fiori and instead do it with Mendix:

The cost to design, develop, and deploy a Fiori app is much higher than a Mendix app.

The resources needed to develop that Fiori app are typically profiled as a SAP Developer who require a Business Analyst to help scope the work with the Marketing or Operations teams. Many layers need to be accounted for, such as how the data will get integrated into the thousands of infotables or infotypes, the apps start heavily templated and require a lot of UI5 development to make the app unique for the customer, and the cost of the developers and business analysts (BA’s) are some of the highest out there because of their specialized skills.

In contrast, Mendix is a visual editing, low code platform that changes the approach and lowers overall cost. Instead of BA’s and developers, we help transform the BA, operations “tinkerer”, and IT developers into a Mendix developer. Their knowledge of business processes and tools like Visio transition well into designing and developing an app in Mendix. My team augments the client team to overcome development hurdles or improve bench strength for the customer to get things done quicker and best practice oriented. Using the platform, we have been able to lower the overall cost of development to the customers as well as speed up the development since the platform sets up the database layer, the app layer, and security in a single IDE. Also, we don’t have to hire the 10+ year SAP developer to perform as a solid developer with this toolset because if you can think of the business process in a binary way (it is true or false), you can develop with this platform, which means the workforce needed in the long run are lower cost than the typical SAP Fiori/UI5 developer.

Now I don’t mean to come across as if Fiori and UI5 work shouldn’t be part of your enterprise solutions. For example, if I wanted to extend one of the prebuilt apps in SAP, I would 100% do that in Fiori. Another example is if I wanted to develop an app, mobile or desktop, that leveraged just the SAP data or married the data with only other SAP products like SuccessFactors, I would still most likely recommend a Fiori app. But as soon as I want to integrate with other platforms, I start to strongly lean towards Mendix. And finally, if I wanted to build a stand-alone app, I would always prefer to do it in Mendix, which is built on the Java framework and runtime engine. Again, the speed of development and agility to change gears is unrivaled at the moment compared to SAP tools.

For example, at one customer, they wanted a time keeping solution for their contingent workforce to gain insight into the efforts and dollars on a project much sooner (weekly) than the traditional monthly view that came in from the invoices of the workforces. They evaluated the contingent workforce capabilities in SAP, but by the time they figured out the pricing and what was included vs what would need to be customized, we had already prototyped it and were showing it to the decision makers. They asked for some specific features and within a couple of months the app was feature rich and collecting data needed to help with budget forecasts. Could this have been built with Fiori?? Of course, but my experience tells me that the likelihood of doing so at the speed of development and low cost of Mendix would be difficult to match.

On the flipside, we attempted to build a Mendix app to help a customer with managing the enterprises annual merit increase process. Very early in the development process, we realized the bulk of information needed was in SuccessFactors and SAP, so we switched gears and recommended the Fiori track. All of the integrations and authorizations were easy to manage in Fiori, and could easily be deployed on the standard SAP “tiles” dashboard.

SAP is a great platform and has solutions for nearly everything, but most customers evolving through the processes of digitally transforming their businesses realize that they need to rapidly customize apps to fit the evolving needs of their employees and customers, and Mendix fills that gap well. Just recently Mendix announced that we can deploy on the HANA cloud platform, and I can confirm that we indeed can. As both Mendix and EPI-USE continue to focus on easing the integration challenges and developing Process Integrations with SAP on-premise on Cloud Platform solutions, the opportunities continue to grow and the use-cases branch even further out.

I hope that I’ve done an OK job explaining how Fiori and Mendix (RAD) tools aren’t really direct competitors and solve similar challenges differently. Could either be used in place of the other? Most of the time, yes, but if you want to lower your cost basis and speed to market, and the data isn’t already solely in SAP applications, I strongly recommend Mendix as an integration platform to meet those Agile needs of your business.