iPhone 3.0 Gets Rush Of Business Software Support

Oracle, SAP, Sybase, and Workday are acknowledging the growing use of iPhones in business with new applications and development kits.

Mary Hayes Weier, Contributor

March 18, 2009

4 Min Read

Apple's beta release of its iPhone 3.0 software Tuesday has created a rush of support from business software vendors of all disciplines.

The Apple iPhone has been largely waved off as a consumer device and inappropriate for business, but that's starting to change. Business software companies are increasingly building applications for the iPhone, and one of the world's largest consumer-goods company, Kraft Foods, has embraced the iPhone as an employee business tool.

Workday, a provider of hosted business software, plans to post an application on the Apple App Store within a week that will let customers tap into their human resources and financial systems from iPhones. Sybase, which earlier this month released a mobile client "in-box" for e-mail, data security, and business processes for Windows and Symbian devices, plans to post an iPhone version on the App Store next week. And Oracle now has five apps on the App Store; the most successful one, for accessing Oracle business intelligence software, has been downloaded by nearly 44,000 iPhone users.

At Kraft Foods, the IT department has made it possible for employees to access their e-mail, contacts and calendars in Microsoft Outlook, by creating a link into Kraft's e-mail servers via the Microsoft ActiveSync technology. Supporting employees' use of the iPhone keeps Kraft relevant, said VP of IS David Diedrich. "Devices like the iPhone reinforce to people that we are an innovative company and culture," Diedrich said in an interview.

Still, many companies remain uncomfortable about the iPhone for business use, and it's typically not considered a candidate among the devices supported for mobile enterprise strategies that call for employees to perform important, everyday business functions from their smartphones. Nor has Apple gotten serious about the enterprise market -- it offers a utility for configuring network and e-mail settings on iPhones, but doesn't offer the type of server-based device management and mobile security software offered by Research In Motion for large BlackBerry deployments.

But with so many executives and employees bringing their own iPhones to work, software vendors are now making it easier for their customers to support those employees.

Oracle, for example, posted an app at Apple's App Store last July that gives managers access to data, such as performance on revenue goals, in their employers' Oracle business intelligence servers. Using it requires employers to purchase a connector into the server that might cost several thousand dollars or more, but some companies are paying the bill: Oracle said it had 43,636 downloads of the software as of last week.

For another iPhone app that lets managers sign off their approvals for business processes generated by Oracle ERP systems, available since September, there's been 12,248 downloads. An iPhone app for salespeople, for connecting into Oracle CRM, has been downloaded 5,290 times. More iPhone apps are planned, said Oracle application development VP Lenley Hensarling.

The new iPhone app from Workday, an ERP software-as-a-service vendor, lets managers sign off approvals on expenses, new hires, and compensation changes, for example, from their iPhones, and employees can get responses to their requests on their iPhones. Employees can also search a company directory for names, locations and photos of colleagues, and pinpoint their locations via Google Maps.

Workday will make more apps available on the App Store, and later this year, plans to offer similar apps for BlackBerry users. Although Research In Motion's BlackBerry far outranks the iPhone in the enterprise, Workday said it had good reason to develop for the iPhone first. "The Research In Motion development kit was less well developed, and less accessible, than the iPhone kit, so the time-to-market was faster with the iPhone," said Workday CTO Stan Swete.

The Workday for iPhone app, like most other enterprise software apps on the App Store, is free. But since Workday is a SaaS vendor, its customers have one clear advantage over those using traditional ERP vendors: Their employers don't have to pay for costly connectors or other integration work to get iPhones talking to back-end servers. That's all handled by Workday.

Earlier this month, SAP and Sybase announced that that will together to provide process-specific widgets, middleware, and client software development kits that make it easier for businesses to give employees access to enterprise applications via their iPhones and other types of mobile devices.

Companies can use smartphones to boost a road warrior's productivity without breaking the bank. InformationWeek looked at low-cost, low-risk technologies to help mobilize your workforce, and the independent report can be downloaded here (registration required).

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