SAP And Sybase: The Synergy Begins

The two companies appear to be on track to become a cohesive strategic unit, now it's time to execute on that potential.
On to the mobility opportunity: The good news is that Sybase is relatively strong in the high-visibility sectors of mobility--cell phones and tablets. The even better news is that there are signs that Sybase understands the mobility opportunity outside these markets, in particular those sectors, such as health care, engineering and construction, rail transportation, and other industries where very expensive assets come with wheels and have a tendency to end up in places where they either can’t be found or are far from a wired grid.

These industries have a huge interest in managing mobile assets in ways very similar to those in the cellphone and tablet world, with an interesting twist: Phones and tablets have a few sensors that, when added to more traditional CSR data, make for an interestingly large data stream that need to be managed by Sybase’s SUP mobile platform and its newly christened ESP complex event processing and management platform. But their data stream is miniscule compared with what’s coming out of much more sensor-rich, and therefore data-rich environments. Embedded sensors can send back not just telemetry data, but temperature, humidity, chemical composition, and a host of other valuable data points from the kinds of mobile assets in use in industrial settings. Connect that data to the back-end ERP system and a lot of exciting new, analytically rich apps can be built. It’s an amazing opportunity that both Sybase CEO John Chen and SAP co-CEO Jim Snabe get.

And once they add this extended mobility scenario to the already rich cellphone and tablet opportunity, the billion-user mark starts looking relatively easy. Cellphones and tablets touch every consumer on the planet, something that should help SAP with that billion user target, and extended mobility extends the operational and analytical footprint of SAP into key industries in which SAP already plays much more deeply than ever before.

Which brings us to the one big question still sitting on the table: How does SAP/Sybase monetize these opportunities? SAP clearly wants to sell enterprise-class apps into Sybase’s mobile market, but doing so at a price point that works will be tricky. The price points for consumer cellphone apps may not work for an SAP that's used to more value-based and, therefore, much more expensive prices. Chen clearly has some notion of how that pricing should work, but the jury is still out on how to balance the pricing models to ensure that SAP gets what it thinks it deserves and the customers pay what they think they should be paying.

These are good problems to have in the greater scheme of things. What's clear is that the opportunities are there and the two companies are on the right track to become a cohesive strategic unit. Some glitches are bound to surface: Sybase has a set of mobile CRM apps that demo really nicely on an iPad, so nicely that they might confuse buyers trying to decide what SAP CRM offering would be best for their mobile workforce. The user experience of these mobile apps is so different from Sales On-demand that some convergence would need to take place before they could be deployed to the same sales force. Not such a good problem to have.

But in the end, it’s a good beginning for the newlyweds, considering how recently the nuptials took place. The rest, as I said in the beginning, is in the execution. Stay tuned.

Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].