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SAP, Sybase Team on 'Mobilizing' Enterprise Apps

NEW YORK -- Enterprise software provider SAP and software delivery specialist Sybase today announced a partnership to deliver SAP Business Suite Software to the iPhone, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry and other wireless devices.

The partnership aims to capitalize on the rapid proliferation of mobile devices and applications in the workplace, as enterprises continue making investments to drive efficiency in spite of the down economy.

During a presentation here at SAP's (NYSE: SAP) New York offices, the company said that its efforts with Sybase (NYSE: SY) aim to deliver enhanced productivity to business decision makers by integrating mobile devices into the enterprise in a way that actually works -- as opposed to less efficient, clumsier designs it said are often employed today.

The result would see SAP's applications, based on its integration and application platform NetWeaver, being delivered to mobile devices using Sybase technologies such as M- Business Anywhere mobile content and application platform. Sybase will get access to SAP's 40 million licensees worldwide through the arrangement.

"This collaboration will lay the foundation to mobilize SAP's content and functionality and move it out to the mobile workforce," said Bill McDermott, president of SAP Global Field Operations.

While the partnership is being announced today, the products will begin to appear on the market in the second half of 2009, with more to come.

For SAP, the move helps it approach a device-agnostic delivery model for applications like CRM, which could allow on-the-go managers to make more timely decisions. The software giant has been making steps in that direction since introducing NetWeaver Mobile in 2007, which added .NET, Java and browser-based app support.

While mobile devices may be proving popular for workers, extending enterprise apps to them with dedicated, optimized clients is no small feat -- and the need is growing more pressing as mobile phones supplant desk phones in the enterprise. With many businesses containing a hodgepodge of devices, that makes rolling out and managing access to enterprise applications to each a headache for IT.

And despite tentative steps in the arena with NetWeaver Mobile, wireless devices have also been a headache for SAP, wrote Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

"[SAP] clearly needed a mobile device solution and sought out a qualified partner instead of going it alone," he said.

Gold noted that with two companies delivering the solution instead of just one, there is "some potential for finger pointing if a problem arises." He wrote that the risk is small but is one that customers should be aware of.

Still, both SAP -- which, by offloading the mobile component to Sybase, can focus on the applications that are its core competence -- and its new partner will benefit from the arrangement, the companies said.

"The mobile solution will not be sold or delivered directly by SAP. Rather, this will be a referral sale with the two companies collaborating on the pre-sales efforts, but with Sybase providing all of the products, software, and installation of the solution."

Coping with compliance

All software companies are facing the challenge of finding growth in their existing customer base as the IT spending freeze makes it difficult to obtain new customers. For SAP, the announcement promises to enable the company to reach everyone who works at a company that is a SAP customer but who is not a SAP user. The sales pitch is that this does not require massive investment, because the employees already have the hardware -- their own mobile devices.

"This leverages existing investments," explained Willie Jow, vice president of business operations and mobility product marketing at Sybase. "We're not forcing anyone to purchase new devices; we're enabling better connections to the devices they already have."

SAP has not released pricing guidance, but it will clearly have to change the way the software is sold. "The paradigm is 'butts in chairs,'" Jow said. "Now everyone's a user."

One driver of adoption will be compliance with standards such as Sarbanes Oxley (SOX), said Terry Stepien, president of Sybase's iAnywhere solutions for Sybase. As compliance chains become more elaborate, businesses are eager to obtain a digital signature in real time -- a problem that Sybase iAnywhere, based out of Waterloo, Canada, close to BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM), isn't alone in trying to tackle.

"RIM is as interested in solving these problems as we are," Stepien said.

Each industry has its own compliance pain point. Jow said that some of Sybase's railroad-industry customers require that the conductor of each train sign for the receipt of the latest weather information. In the past, they had to forward a package to a station, wait for the train to arrive, and collect a signature on paper. Now, with Sybase, they can use a digital signature.

In healthcare, pharmaceutical companies want to alert a dispersed sales force immediately if there's a drug recall, and mobile devices can enable that -- and help track the acknowledgment of the receipt of an alert in real time.

"Avoiding paper-based compliance delivers the kind of return that's popular in this economy, or any other," Stepien said.

Update adds comments from Stepien and Jow.