SAP teams with Sybase to offer mobile ERP, CRM apps

Partnership will leverage Sybase's Unwired Platform to make business processes from SAP Business Suite 7's available on every mobile device

SAP is teaming with Sybase to offer its business applications on mobile devices, including the iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Palm devices.

The long-term partnership will leverage Sybase's Unwired Platform to make business processes from SAP Business Suite 7's available on every mobile device in the world, said Bill McDermott, SAP's president of global field operations, and Sybase CEO and President John Chen, at a press conference Wednesday.

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By the second half of the year, mobile device users should be able to access certain business processes, beginning with functionality from SAP's CRM application. The suite includes CRM as well as a range of ERP applications, such as human-resources, supply-chain, and accounting software. Processes will be chosen for mobile-device access based on customer feedback, executives from both companies said in an interview following the press conference.

"Certainly CRM is an important one," said Prashant Chatterjee, director of mobility and analytics for SAP, of SAP's decision to make that the first application available through the partnership. "By definition, salespeople are mobile."

Sybase's Unwired Platform already has the capability to bring functionality from SAP Business Suite to mobile devices, but it doesn't do it very well, admitted Chen during the press conference. "It's very clunky," he said. The partnership will ensure that the experience will be a rewarding one for customers, Chen said.

Executives did not reveal pricing for the mobile application, with McDermott saying only it would be "affordable" for customers.

The partnership between SAP and Sybase is not exclusive. SAP already has a partnership with Research in Motion to bring its CRM application to BlackBerry devices, and that will remain in place, McDermott said. He added that Sybase is free to partner with other applications vendors to deliver their apps to mobile devices as well.

Bringing enterprise applications to mobile devices historically has been difficult because developers had to build point-to-point connections that made for a "hairball of an integration problem," said Vinay Iyer, vice president of SAP global marketing. "That's why most of us in this room today don't have the same access to the enterprise processes that we would like," he said.

The SAP-Sybase partnership creates a bridge between SAP's Netweaver Mobile Gatweway, which is the mobile framework for the SAP Business Suite, and the Sybase Unwired Platform. Sybase's software then delivers business processes from the application suite to devices. This allows for "easy dissemination [of processes and data] and management of the devices in the ecosystem," Iyer said.

Going with a partner to provide the mobile capability was a good idea for SAP, which traditionally "has not been very successful in providing a credible smart-phone based solution for its many back-office suite customers," said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, in a research note.

Gold said SAP is finally abandoning its "not invented here" mentality, which is a "critical step" to maintain its market share with enterprise customers that increasingly are looking for access to corporate applications on mobile devices.

Sybase used to be known mainly for its database, but its mobile application middleware has increasingly become more popular than that product, which flagged in the face of competition from industry heavy hitters like Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft.

Chen said the possibility for the collaboration between SAP and Sybase goes beyond merely bringing SAP's applications to mobile devices.

"I look at this opportunity way beyond what we are about to deliver," he said, describing a scenario in which the two companies could provide a"corporate Facebook" on mobile devices where business users can access a range of applications they need to do their jobs.

The two companies also are exploring the possibility of building new location-dependent and mobile-commerce applications, and SAP may even find itself eventually building new features discovered through its mobile partnership to its back-end applications, Chen said.

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