Update: SAP, RIM bring CRM application to BlackBerry

SAP's CRM is just the first application that will run natively on the BlackBerry: mobile versions of SAP's ERP and supply chain apps are also in the cards for RIM's device

SAP and Research in Motion have teamed up to bring SAP's back-end business applications, beginning with CRM, to BlackBerry devices.

The companies Friday unveiled a co-development partnership that executives called a "game changer" for the mobile business market at a press conference at SAP's office in New York.

They did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, in which SAP enlisted RIM to build a version of its CRM (customer relationship management) applications for the BlackBerry platform.

SAP's CRM is the first application that will run natively on the BlackBerry, but eventually the companies plan to build mobile versions of SAP's applications -- including ERP (enterprise resource planning) and supply chain -- for BlackBerry devices, said Bill McDermott, president and CEO of SAP Americas, Asia Pacific and Japan.

"This is a major win for RIM and for SAP, but much more importantly for any mobile professional that works anywhere in the world today," he said.

McDermott said that until now, CRM has failed salespeople because of the inherent mobility of their jobs.

"They don't want to be chained to a desktop or tethered to the wall; they want to be out on the street selling something to somebody who needs a solution," he said.

McDermott called putting CRM on the BlackBerry platform empowering them "at the tip of the spear where the relationship happens with the customer."

AMR Research analyst Rob Bois agreed with McDermott that there have been challenges for salespeople in accessing information from CRM applications on the fly, and said he can't "really see the downside" of adding SAP CRM to the BlackBerry platform.

"Synchronization [of data] can be a challenge [and] a technical burden," he said. "A lot of IT organizations can’t justify the amount of work it would take to get basic information to a salesperson's devices."

According to research firm IDC, there will be about 1 billion mobile business users by 2011, which will represent about 30 percent of the workforce. Mobile devices are increasingly becoming essential for business users who need to be connected to the Web and their e-mail and other business applications all of the time.

Through the partnership, SAP's CRM application will be integrated natively on devices with BlackBerry's e-mail, address book and calendar applications so information from the application will be seamlessly integrated with information that comes to users through those applications. Other functionality available through SAP mobile CRM will be the ability to call contacts directly from within the SAP application and receive alerts about changes to information in the CRM application through e-mail.

The deal between RIM and SAP is not an exclusive partnership, though RIM Chairman and CEO Jim Balsillie said there are no similar partnerships with other application providers planned at this time. Still, his comments seemed to suggest RIM will pair with other application providers to bring their software to the Web, and that SAP, too, may bring its applications to other mobile platforms.

It's definitely possible that SAP's competitors will follow its lead to natively build CRM applications into mobile platforms, AMR Research's Bois said. However, some vendors, such as Microsoft, may see teaming with RIM as a conflict of interest if they also have mobile platforms, he said. Microsoft offers Windows Mobile, a BlackBerry competitor.

"Microsoft tends to be Microsoft-centric when it comes to what technologies they want to enable," Bois said. However, in this case, Microsoft should reconsider its usual strategy because of the ubiquity of BlackBerry in the mobile business market.

Another SAP competitor in the CRM space, Salesforce.com, already has a mobile version of its CRM hosted service; however, rather than having functionality directly built into the mobile OS, it is more a mobile rendering of the Web application, he said.

The advantage of what SAP is doing with RIM is that SAP CRM is "baked right into the OS," Bois said. "You don’t even feel like there’s another application on there, it’s part of your contacts, part of your calendar," he said.

Mary Wardley, an analyst with research firm IDC, said it's that ease of use that will be key to encouraging a company's salesforce to use a CRM application on their mobile devices.

"For the salesperson, sales automation is about productivity for the organization; it's about information that is collected and analyzed and can be used in making key business decisions for strategy and business development," she said in an e-mail. "Bringing the natural interaction between the applications and the device to the SAP [application] will advance the usability tremendously."

McDermott said SAP employees are the first customers of SAP CRM on the BlackBerry platform, and RIM's executives and employees also are using it. The companies plan to preview it at SAP's Sapphire conference next week in Orlando, and should roll it out to customers in the next couple of months, he said.

This story was updated on May 2, 2008

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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