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SAP's Sybase deal requires customers to update their mobile CRM strategy

Barney Beal, News Director

With SAP's acquisition of Sybase now final, SAP customers are left to puzzle through how they're going to adapt their mobile strategy moving forward.

In its early messaging,

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SAP vowed to provide data "anywhere on any device at any time," but as with most mobile development, CRM is going to get the most attention early on.

In fact, SAP and Sybase had an existing partnership that brought SAP's CRM application to the BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows mobile devices. CRM should continue to garner most of the mobile attention, according to analysts.

"Initially, it's CRM -- the partnership between Sybase and SAP was based on CRM for sales," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with the New York City-based 451 Group. "That is the area that is most heavily invested in mobility."

SAP has pledged to maintain its existing relationships with other mobile middleware partners, although large customers that have already begun mobilizing SAP CRM are probably using Sybase already, Hazelton said.

"The impact short term is there will not be chaos," he said. "You will see Sybase right now focused on low-hanging fruit, on big clients."

That was exactly the message from John Chen, chairman and president of Sybase, when he spoke at a recent event in Boston outlining the SAP-Sybase roadmap: Sybase will be focused on the low-hanging fruit. According to Chen, the low-hanging fruit is the 25 vertical markets SAP serves. At the Boston event, SAP and Sybase outlined an ambitious plan to provide a mobile platform and software development kit that will allow developers to build applications that can access data from SAP from any device. That platform will be delivered within the next nine months.

In the longer term, SAP will bring all its mobile CRM application development in house -- that's a big reason it bought Sybase, according to Kevin Benedict, principal consultant and founder of Netcentric Strategies LLC and an SAP Mentor.

SAP sees the demand for mobile applications and wants its share.

SAP sees mobile CRM opportunity

"I talked to a system administrator the other day [who] sells SAP CRM as a reseller," Benedict said. "He said, last year probably 25% of their sales opportunities were asking for mobile CRM. In 2010, 100% of the sales pipeline required mobile CRM to be a component of SAP CRM. Within 12 months, the industry has changed dramatically, and now mobility is an absolute requirement."

According to a survey of 2,000 IT decision makers by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, 45% of enterprises prioritize “supporting more mobile applications for out-of-office users” as a critical or high priority in the coming year, and 33% state that “supporting more mobile applications for employees who work in the office” is an important or critical priority. In addition, supporting the use of more smartphones is an important or critical priority for 44% of enterprises.

While SAP CRM will get the lion's share of attention from the united SAP-Sybase in the early days, SAP's checkered history with CRM means that it will have to address other CRM deployments within its customer base.

"It's important to note that CRM has never been a huge seller at SAP," Benedict said. "You may have 90,000 SAP users, but only a small fraction own CRM or use it. You may have an SAP customer using Siebel or Salesforce. That is still important to having a mobilized CRM."

Sybase's track record as a mobile middleware provider should help with those environments.

And "there's room for customization to be done by SIs like Accenture," Hazelton said.

SAP, for its part, has pledged to continue its existing relationships with mobile partners and in fact claims that the forthcoming SAP-Sybase platform will make it easier for them by removing the need for mobile infrastructure, allowing them to focus on building applications.

There is also the opportunity for customers to develop mobile applications in house, but larger SAP shops should look to the Sybase relationship first.

"You do have a lot of competitors for Sybase [that] provide aspects of these services and back-end databases," Hazelton said. "There are a number of players out there. But if you're an SAP shop and a large company, you will probably see savings down the road by going with Sybase-SAP rather than trying to piece it together yourself."

In-house development of mobile applications may make sense for environments of 10 to 20 users, he said, but once it gets into the 50 to 100 range, organizations need to think carefully about going it alone.

It's also important to remember that a mobile CRM initiative may include more than just SAP's CRM module, according to Benedict.

"The sales force in the field is not limited to a mobile interface with one component for SAP," he said. "The sales guy is saying, 'Here's all the touch-points I need. I need order entry, inventory and shipping.' And if there's manufacturing info that’s available such as SAP event management that would detail where in the [manufacturing] process your products are -- all of that may be very critical for mobile sales guys to have access to."

All that information may come from different systems on the back end, which demands a mobile middleware layer, such as what Sybase is providing. Of course, people have been asking for that for a while, and SAP consultants and integrators have still been there to offer their services.

"All of that could be done before, but it was always outside of SAP's strategy and roadmap," Benedict said. "People were doing it on their own, and they were doing that without any consultation from SAP or strategic input. What you’re going to see now is a shared management, shared roadmaps, so every component of SAP ERP, just as it has a Web interface as well as a desktop, now will have a mobile client as well. In the past, you had 20 different mobile app vendors figuring out mobile middleware, so you had this huge layer of technology that everyone was building on their own. Now, if anyone needs mobile middleware for syncing to the device, SAP is going to say, ‘Use Sybase.’"

Ultimately, that should save other mobile applications vendors from having to invest in the mobile middleware layer, which is costly and time consuming.

Mobile CRM the first step in a mobile strategy

SAP customers evaluating their mobile applications strategy in the wake of the SAP-Sybase deal should begin with CRM and move from there.

"Look at CRM as the first step," Hazelton said. "Almost everybody is going mobile. That allows you to extend the workday. It's not something popular, but that's the reality of business -- CRM is the first department. Companies are looking at people saying, 'I want CRM now' and within six to 12 to 18 months, I'm thinking of mobilizing other applications for business use. The initial investments in CRM should be significant but have the flexibility to add other applications on top of that."

In fact, Apple's new iPad tablet device is going to create a lot of mobile demand, predicts Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates.

"Is there much interest in iPad? Yes. Are there many deployments? No," Gold said. "People are still trying to figure out what to do with it, but Sybase has a relationship with Apple and is in pretty good graces with Apple. As well as you can be. So they will be pushing that relationship."

Sybase has already done a fair amount of work with the iPhone, he said, and the coding differences between the iPad and iPhone are not all that major.

However, do not focus on the mobile device, Benedict warns.

"Enterprises should not make any choices based upon devices," he said. "They need to build a standardization process, determine the middleware, which applications need databases on the devices and which can be a direct connect through Web services to SAP. [They need to] make sure whatever vendor they're using takes responsibility for being device agnostic or staying current with mobile operating systems."


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