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SAP Is Wooing the BlackBerry CRM Crowd

In a move that might herald sweeping changes for the mobile workforce, SAP has natively integrated its customer relationship management (CRM) application into the Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) BlackBerry hand-held device.

This will give the mobile workforce full access to all of SAP CRM's functionalities, which will be pushed out to them over the BlackBerry.

BlackBerries with SAP CRM natively integrated will be generally available within the next few months, and SAP will natively integrate the rest of its business applications into the BlackBerry.

Announcing these moves at a press conference in New York, Bill McDermott, president and CEO of SAP Americas and Asia Pacific Japan, said the market opportunity is huge: "There are 800 million mobile professionals worldwide and this will grow to 1 billion by 2010," he added.

"The bottom line: "SAP and RIMM have now converged the worlds of applications and mobility on the BlackBerry," and "you will have applications, business processes and productivity on your hip," he added.

This convergence means that salespeople, for example, will automatically be fed their leads when they check e-mail or their calendars or contacts or sales activity or sales orders or purchase orders, McDermott said.

The BlackBerry's multimedia presentation capabilities can also be fully exploited by mobile professionals.

"You can store dozens of hours of video on the BlackBerry in a cache; when you're doing product demos or product training, you can have hours of product information or your product service book resident on the BlackBerry," said RIMM co-CEO Jim Balsillie.

Planning For The Next Level

The next step for SAP is to put all its business applications on the BlackBerry. "CRM's just the start here; we will continue to build this out – ERP, the supply chain, industry applications," said Bob Stutz, SAP's executive vice president and general manager, Industries and CRM Products.

This will happen soon: "We're talking months, not years," Stutz said. "We'll start with CRM, gain some experience, and move on to the next step."

The aim is to have "every single SAP application running on the BlackBerry," Stutz said.

Ultimately, "Our vision is that every mobile enterprise user will be using SAP on BlackBerry," said Shabana Khan, director, media relations at SAP.

What About Network Failure?

With such business-critical applications directly available on the BlackBerry, lack of access due to network or server failure would be a serious problem; would users of the device get hit by downtime again, as they were several times over the past couple of years?

Never, Balsillie pledged. "There are no budget restrictions on ensuring absolute availability," he said. "We take responsibility for absolute total availability seriously."

What about the previous outages, then? They were "not acceptable," Balsillie said, adding that "no packets were lost, no security was corrupted" and RIMM has "taken measures to ensure this doesn't happen again."

The Wave of The Future

The SAP/RIMM move could well be the road business application vendors will take.

"Organizations are turning towards a platform approach for delivering mobile sales capability to handhelds," said Forrester CRM analyst Peter Marston.

Mobile middleware vendors that integrate different data sources onto one mobile platform "are coming more and more into play as sales people need more information about other parts of the organization to serve their customers better," Marston added.

Enterprises would like to mobilize other business applications "like CRM, order applications or inventory management" on their hand-held devices in addition to e-mail because "they want to leverage the devices they've already purchased as well as the carriers they have relationships with; they're trying to consolidate their carriers and keep down their costs," Marston said.

SAP is "responding to the marketplace for organizations that have invested a lot in BlackBerries, to the demand to consolidate hand-held devices," he added.

Its competitors won't be far behind: "Oracle and Microsoft will get into this game and try to make their platforms more friendly," Marston said.

It's possible that they, too, will team up with RIMM: Balsillie made it clear that the partnership is not exclusive. "Even if SAP offered an exclusive to us I wouldn't want it because all it does is niche our products," Balsillie said.

The iPhone Loometh

What about the iPhone, and Linux smart phones, then? Is RIMM trying to stave off a threat from them?

No, Marston said, because "RIMM has penetrated the market a lot better from the business application standpoint than other devices mainly because of their e-mail heritage."

Also, while the iPhone is strong on the consumer side, it hasn't really penetrated the business side of things "because there aren't corporations with iPhones running e-mails," Marston said.

While the iPhone's major threat to the BlackBerry is the browser – "it's in the area of the browser where the BlackBerry is light-years behind Apple; any type of application that requires a browser is going to be more friendly to the iPhone," RIMM isn't letting the grass grow under its feet, and is "coming back to the market with an updated browser program," Marston said.