Mapal's early adoption of SAP's iOS SDK is part of a bigger IoT platform play

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 10, 2016
At SAPTechEd 2016 Barcelona, developers wanted an update on the Apple iOS SDK partnership. We got that, and a whole lot more, in a customer session with pre-early SDK adopter Mapal. The story brought a compelling twist: Mapal's new iPad app is fueling an ambitious IoT platform play.

Mapal's IPad demo. Pictured right: SAP Mentor Dick Hirsch

SAP's new Apple development partnership was announced with vigor at Sapphire Now 2016, but the announcement was short on specifics. When would developers get their hands on the SAP Apple SDK?

At SAP TechEd 2016, we got a clearer answer, thanks to a customer meeting with "pre-early-adopter" Mapal, along with SAP's Rick Knowles, SVP & GM, Apple Partnership. Knowles clarified the iOS SDK timeframe (General Availability is targeted for March 2017), but the highlight was hearing from Mapal.

Mattie Maier, SAP HANA Cloud Platform Solution Architect and Sebastian Lange, Software Developer and Technical Lead explained why they chose to be one of the very first SAP ioS SDK customers.

Then a cool thing happened. As our blogger group got further into Mapal's story, it expanded from an ioS story to how Mapal's iPad deployments are tied to a bigger IoT play that is changing their company. Mapal is a precision tool supplier that focuses on customized tools. These tools are not inexpensive, but based on customer specs, Mapal can provide one tool that does the job of five or six tools.

From cumbersome process to iPad

But every now and then, even the finest tool will break. And that's where the SAP iOS project comes in. Prior to building their iOS iPad app, Mapal's customers would go through a cumbersome process every time a tool broke. The original process required a worker to write down notes on the issue, and contract their shift or line manager to write down more notes about what the worker was doing when the tool broke. Then Mapal's field managers are contacted. The incident is usually described from memory after the night shift. Eventually, the issue gets sent to Mapal's research and development.

iPad - parts in scanning process

That's the short version, but even with rigor, that process takes a couple of days. Lange:

It's not a thing where you talk about hours; it could be as long as a couple of days. Now we have the possibility to shorten this time span to a couple of minutes, because when the worker sees the tool is broken, he gets his iPad and takes a photo on the defect report... He can even attach a document or a photo of the machine he has been using.

Depending on the size of the customer, you're talking about a reporting process that affects thousands of tools. I asked Lange and Maier: why iOS native? They could have considered HTML5 or other app options rather than diving into an early IoS SDK project with SAP.

Turns out they did look at building the app in UI5, but the Mapal team soon realized they would need a tool manager app with native capabilities. As soon as you need access to a scanner to scan a barcode, native matters. As for taking on the learning curve of being an early pre-adopter, Lange and Maier told us their team was feeling an urgency to push ahead. Once their customers found out about this functionality, they wanted it yesterday.

Maier scanning part on iPad

As of now, two customers are live on the new parts scanning app. Once they complete these pilots, Mapal will scale up. Early feedback has been "very positive." They got quite a bit of feedback on the UI, and adapted accordingly.

Especially for the machine workers, the iPad is a new thing. Activating the process with greasy plant floor fingers proved a problem, but now the app is operated with a pen, and it's smooth to use. The data from the app pulls into their back-end SAP ERP system. They use the HANA database to process the app queries, and the BusinessObjects Cloud to build the reports.

Maier said with SAP's support, they were able to build the app in just a few weeks:

In the implementation phase, there were a few detours that we had to take. Of course the SDK is not publicly released, so obviously it's still work in progress.

Lange added:

SAP did a really did a great job with just preventing us from running into every problem - because they have the experience there already.

Knowles said the feedback from Mapal has helped SAP get their SDK ready for GA:

They definitely pushed us, and they're still pushing us.

Plot twist - the app powers Mapal's IoT platform play

The app goes far beyond solving a tedious process. It's also a vital part of Mapal's new IoT platform. Lange:

The platform is much more than just having defect reports or having any report on the tool... It starts really with our production time; the complete tool lifecycle is going to be put on that platform.

Using sensors to track stock movements, and using apps like this one to collect data, Mapal has built a new IoT platform which they call c-Com. This platform runs on top of the HANA Cloud Platform. They are planning on opening this platform to their partners - and even their competitors - as they build out a whole new aspect of their business model.

Knowles shared the view from SAP's side:

Mapal has already made the transition in their business model away from just selling the tool, to actually providing a service... Because they've made that shift, how do they hedge their risk to make sure that they're pricing right and providing the right pieces and getting the right units of production for this?

The last mile is the tool manager, and that could be an employee of a car manufacturer on the shop floor, or it could be a Mapal employee that's been placed there. This then necessitated them to take their model and extend it all the way down to how do we manage and change that value of that worker, that tool manager.

Maier explained that in the manufacturing process, the "A-part" is the engine itself, the work product. The "B-part" is the machinery. The "C-part" are the tools. They asked themselves: why not develop a platform for the C-part ecosystem? Maier:

We said, "Hey, there's different suppliers of C-parts that all have the same problem." Mapal is just one of the suppliers of tools, and we have other partners and competitors that have the same customers, and they want to purchase from various customers. They want a life cycle manager of all the tools, not only from Mapal.

Maier shared how they built the platform:

SAP provides us the HCP platform as a service as the technical foundation. Then we built the c-Com platform on top. It basically adds the semantics, the data model and all that stuff.

In this new IoT play, an app like Mapal's tool manager becomes a crucial source of on-the-ground data:

The iOS tool manager app obviously connects to c-Com, because you've got to save those defect reports somewhere. You got to get this machine data. You've to get the master data for the tools, the pictures, the documents and so on.

To get access to that type of data, you need to be a subscriber to the c-Com platform. An app like tool manager becomes a client on that platform, and a new business model emerges. c-Com goes beyond Mapal's data: their platform supports multiple suppliers and multiple customers that share lifecycle information about C-parts.

SAP is instrumental to this model, particularly when it comes to establishing platform credibility. Maier:

We can't say, "Dear competitor, we store your data." We tell them, "The data is stored with SAP; SAP has the key to the data." Then they're like, "Okay, this is a trusted third party, we know who SAP is. We work with SAP as well. We'll jump on the platform."

Mapal must earn platform trust:

If we, as a small player in the huge metal cutting industry, say, "We're the big company to provide the platform in our industry," nobody would take us seriously. If we say, "We work together with SAP and others to make this a success," then it puts a lot more weight into what we say.

The wrap - "This will change the role of the tool manager"

It's early days, but Mapal has big ambitions here:

We want to become the C-part platform for managing the life cycle of C-parts, improving that with machine data, and [eventually] with things like specific forecasting and machine learning.

Lange ties the app directly to their IoT prospects. The customer gets a change for the better:

This will be a big supply of data for us. This application really is the use case for the field application which will bring us data into the platform. As Rick said, it will change the role of the tool manager.

Final note: SAP's iOS partnership is more than building an SDK; they want to build a developer community around this offering. They will offer hands-on training sessions via the Cupertino lab, and eventually in SAP Apphaus locations. Some of the training coursework will also be free via SAP's openSAP MOOCs. You can now sign up for a free SAP Fiori for iOS introductory MOOC, which begins on November 15. We'll revisit the iOS SDK partnership as it progresses, as well as Mapal's initiatives.

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