iPhone, BlackBerry Get Business Boost From SAP, Sybase

The deal marks an important step toward providing mobile employees with access to SAP software, regardless of the types of smartphones they're using.
SAP and Sybase today said they're working together to improve access to SAP business applications from a variety of smartphones and similar devices, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile handhelds.

Sybase, although largely known as a database company, has a growing business for mobile technologies. Sybase offers a mobile application development environment, device management software, and middleware for managing transactions between back-end systems and handhelds.

SAP and Sybase are working to better integrate their technologies, and some of these improvements will materialize as enhancements to SAP NetWeaver Mobile, which is SAP's development platform for mobile enterprise software, the companies said.

Currently, giving mobile users access to SAP applications requires considerable integration and development work, even if customers are using NetWeaver Mobile, Sybase, or another mobile middleware offering. The new partnership is designed to result in "out-of-the-box functionality" for access to SAP from many types of mobile devices, said Bill McDermott, SAP's CEO of global field operations, at a New York press conference Wednesday. Collaboration among SAP and Sybase engineers and marketers is under way, he said.

Still, it appears much more work needs to be done to advance the partnership from a vision to reality. SAP and Sybase didn't provide specifics on how they'll productize the partnership and said such capabilities won't be available until late 2009 or 2010. McDermott added that the offerings will be "fairly priced and affordable."

The partnership is a smart move for SAP, however, and possibly one it should've forged sooner.

Many businesses are struggling with the complexities of extending customer contact lists, human resources approvals, and other types of business functions from their core software applications to employees' smartphones. This challenge is complicated by the continual influx of new devices, updated mobile operating systems, and changing device designs.

It becomes even more complicated when employees want to use their preferred devices. Some businesses are starting to support the iPhone for employees, providing access to Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint, for example, through newer iPhones' native support of Exchange ActiveSync. But to date, SAP has primarily only supported Windows Mobile on rugged handheld devices. It does have a deal with Research In Motion to develop an SAP CRM application for BlackBerrys.

Today's announcement shows that SAP recognizes it needs to do more on the mobile front, and it sees the Sybase partnership as the quickest road to multiple device support. "There's a megatrend we see; the mobile enterprise worker is now the most important worker, because that's the worker touching the customer, the company, and the supplier," McDermott said.

SAP competitor Oracle, meanwhile, also is working to stay relevant in the mobile world. In recent months it's made some business intelligence applications available for iPhone users whose employers have licenses for Oracle BI at Apple's online App Store. Oracle often partners with mobile middleware company Antenna Software, a competitor to Sybase, on mobile deployments of Oracle business applications.

Mobile device management is becoming a critical issue for companies. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic based on a survey of more than 300 IT managers. Download the report here (registration required).

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