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4/16/2009
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Global CIO: Tech Vendors' Secrecy Hinders Innovation

The fear of exposing future product plans to competitors now seems to outweigh the drive to give customers the information they need to develop thought-out plans for IT deployments.

Tech vendors love to talk up innovation and technology leadership, but for all of their achievements in these areas, they've also offered some spotty performance from time to time. Consider their support for mobile enterprise applications and smartphones: Two-thirds of companies are deploying or planning to deploy mobile enterprise apps, a recent InformationWeek Analytics survey tells us. So clearly most CIOs believe they can gain profound productivity, cost-saving, and communication benefits by providing their mobile workforces with smartphone access to customer data, sales reports, and business analytics.

But come back with me in time seven months to our last InformationWeek 500 Conference, where CIOs and IT managers were invited to join discussion groups on various topics. The group that gathered for the enterprise-mobility discussion was among the biggest, and the prevailing sentiment was that since vendors were not coming across with timely and credible and detailed information on their mobile plans, the attendees (a.k.a. IT buyers!) would take matters into their own hands and look for some help from their peers.

The discussion varied, but with the market awash in so many viable but incompatible mobile platforms -- BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, Palm, Windows Mobile, etc. -- the CIOs kept coming back to the question of whether they should try to support multiple platforms within among their mobile workforces. And if so, how could they make that work?

Yet the industry's two most important enterprise application vendors, Oracle and SAP, are just now starting to talk about strategies for helping customers support multiple types of smartphones in their organizations, so that their mobile workforces can get to data in back-end Oracle and SAP systems. Their approaches in the past have been piecemeal: Oracle developed a Siebel CRM app for BlackBerry, SAP announced a plan to develop an SAP CRM app for BlackBerry (still not out yet), Oracle put up a few applications for its business intelligence systems at Apple's online store, and SAP released middleware for a Windows Mobile client to talk to an SAP back-end system.

We've recently seen some signs of progress: Last month, SAP teamed with Sybase on a multidevice support plan, and Oracle recently told me it's enhancing its Fusion Application Development Framework for multidevice support. And while these are certainly important early steps, where were these strategies seven months ago when, as proven at our own little sample at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, the customer need was so clearly evident?

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For all the billions of dollars the big software companies invest in enterprise solutions, they've somehow managed to miss out so far on a pretty big opportunity here -- I mean, it's not as if the smartphone market just sneaked up on everyone. Maybe those enterprise software firms were stuck in the paralysis of analysis, spending precious time worrying about which platform to develop for first, and trying to figure out how many different platforms customers would be willing to put up with, and hoping that integration would somehow not prove to be the rat's nest it has become.

Either way, it hasn't been a shining example of brilliance on their parts: Customers need better solutions more urgently than before, the thorny issues aren't going away, and the threat of getting Amazoned (remember that one?) by a feisty newcomer -- or even an inspired oldster -- becomes more real with each passing month.

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