Extending SAP: Fiori or Mendix Revisited

It’s been 1 year since I first wrote the post, “Extending SAP: Fiori or Mendix?” and a lot has changed. Because of the changes, this older post has gotten a lot of renewed interest so I thought I would take a look at my opinions from a year ago and see if they differ. If you haven’t already, please refer to the original article to have context for this one.

IT should be an expert “SWAT” team with precise skills to tackle the toughest app challenges, not a bottleneck to solving business problems.

What changed?

At the TechEd conference last year, SAP announced they had reviewed the RAD platforms and determined Mendix best fit their vision, entering into a SOLEX partnership. For those that don’t know, it basically means that SAP identified a gap in their offerings around rapid application development (RAD) and is working with Mendix to now tightly integrate the platform as an extension solution to the existing SAP branded offerings. The offering is officially titled ‘SAP Cloud Platform (SCP) RAD by Mendix’.

This was welcome news to my group at EPI-USE who came to the same conclusion a number of years earlier. We offer UI5/Fiori expert consultants as part of our services, but we also saw the demand for app development and customization skyrocketing while the supply of resources with that expertise continue to be difficult to come by as a commodity. We invested in developing our skills with Mendix and now have over 100 global resources at the ready.

Over the past 9-10 months since the TechEd announcement, we have seen Mendix growing its footprint within the SAP community, and after the SAPPHIRE event in Orlando this month, I can attest that demand for information about what this platform could do for entrenched SAP customers is increasing multiplicatively.

Have any of my opinions about Fiori/UI5 and Mendix use cases changed?

Yes, but slightly. On the one hand, I’ve gotten to know the capabilities of Fiori better than I did last year and the scenarios where it fills a need. On the other hand, I have first-hand experience integrating SuccessFactors with Mendix and have a different opinion than the scenario I presented in my previous post last year.

Fiori and UI5 are fantastic tools that continues to evolve. The “tile” landing page of the Fiori dashboard is very useful to target the information and app links at a glance to specific user roles. For those that have implemented the Fiori dashboard, you know that your customers now want EVERYTHING in that dashboard. The SAP App Center along with the Fiori Library have lots of partner and SAP developed solutions that make it great to browse and find one that will work in a customer’s situation. They are very much “plug and play” minded, and with UI5, you can get in there and customize the user experience (UX); similarly with ABAP you can customize the data workflows. Mapping the attributes to the fields is a snap if you know your way around it once the heavy lifting on the custom logic has been completed.

Innovation and differentiation can’t cease because you don’t have the capacity to deal with it.

The reason I believe SAP chose Mendix (because it’s why we did) is that while Fiori is great, there is still a product backlog issue vs competent development resources to tackle it. SAP systems still need to be customized and extended. To do that, you must rely on two types of resources at a minimum: the business people who understand their processes, and the technicians who understand app development and SAP systems for integrations. The business process owners are plentiful in supply, but your resources to develop a business app all rely on a scarce resource profile that can both understand how to develop an app while also understanding the integrations and workflows in SAP S/4 or SuccessFactors, for example. With custom extensions needed, especially when shifting from on-prem to SCP, those technical resources are often committed for many months and years even to assist with transition and core "Mode 1" activities. That doesn’t leave much time to develop the custom extensions, let alone innovation and transformation "Mode 2" activities.

As a consultant, my team works directly with the business and IT to focus on that Mode 2 development. We follow an AGILE-principled process to iterate on the app needs while simultaneously working to enable the business and select technicians to leverage Mendix on-going. Innovation and differentiation can’t cease because you don’t have the capacity to deal with it. Mendix helps bridge that gap by enabling the “tinkerer” who builds Access db solutions in Operations or Finance by leveraging a low-code, enterprise supported platform. Mendix helps the Business Analyst ideate alongside their business customer to form the foundation of a tactical application and even release without any IT intervention. To be fair, I advocate for IT governance and tool expertise involvement to ensure security, modeling, and coding best practices are leveraged, but the point I am making is that with this platform, it is possible to build a culture of business developers solving their own business problems with minimal oversight from technicians. This lowers the TCO of apps that are developed and supported, but more importantly, hastens the time it takes to ideate, innovate, and deliver solutions. IT should be an expert “SWAT” team with precise skills to tackle the toughest app challenges, not a bottleneck to solving business problems.

Regarding the SuccessFactors (SF) integration story I mentioned previously in my first post on this topic (where I recommended Fiori), I’m now convinced that Mendix is a great extension for that platform as well. The scenarios we have developed came down to time and cost to customize in SF, in SCP (SAP Cloud Platform), or with Mendix, and the answer after analysis and delivery has consistently been Mendix. We can connect to the SF API’s and extend it just like with S/4 or any other on-prem or cloud solution currently in play. We no longer see a competitive advantage for Fiori in this example and instead tip the scale over to leveraging Mendix to extend SF.

The biggest benefit that customers are now realizing is that they can keep their core SAP solutions more “vanilla” and extend the customizations through SAP Cloud Platform RAD by Mendix apps, lowering the cost and time to maintain support pack testing and future transformations. See the following slide from SAP explaining just this:

SCP RAD by Mendix.png

There are certainly more nitty-gritty details to hash over when deciding on building a Fiori versus Mendix app: licensing costs, offline capabilities, data sources, and mobility are just a few. Those factors and more impact the decision. Holistically, I think you can see why SAP signed up with Mendix as a natural solution to a growing issue of resource scarcity and flexibility. For me, like before, I see the platforms as complimentary and with the Mendix RAD Fiori app templates, you can design and develop Mendix apps that look and feel identical to native Fiori apps, so if you have invested heavily in Fiori apps to date and don’t want to disrupt the UX for your users, you can develop Mendix apps and publish on the Fiori dashboard.

In summary, if a Fiori app has already been developed to solve your needs or you have the resources at the ready to continue developing Fiori apps to keep up with the demand, then use Fiori of course. If you evaluate your organization and determine that extensions, customizations, and one-off apps are on the horizon or more immediate and/or those Fiori resources are otherwise committed, I recommend you leverage Mendix, especially when third-party non-SAP system integrations will be required.