CeBIT: Sybase brings SAP apps to mobile phones

The companies are finally delivering CRM and workflow tools for iPhones, Windows Mobile devices and more

Sybase and SAP on Tuesday released the long-awaited first fruits of the mobile partnership they announced about a year ago.

At the CeBit trade show in Hanover, Germany, the companies jointly announced the immediate availability of a business process mobilization tool for iPhones, Windows Mobile devices and Nokia Series 60 phones, as well as CRM (customer relationship management) software for iPhone and Windows Mobile.

The two companies had announced last March that they would work together to give roving workers mobile access to business processes from SAP Business Suite 7 through Sybase's Unwired Platform. The first offerings were to arrive in the second half of 2009, beginning with CRM. The beta-testing cycle, which began late in the third quarter of last year, took longer than expected, according to Senthil Krishnapillai, director of product management at Sybase.

In the initial announcement, the companies listed Palm as one of the platforms that would be supported. That announcement took place about three months before Palm released its first phones with the current WebOS platform, which has had disappointing sales. Though they may yet introduce the tools for WebOS, Sybase and SAP haven't received many requests for it, Krishnapillai said. More inquiries are coming in about an Android version, which the companies may introduce later.

Sybase Mobile Workflow for SAP Business Suite and Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM are designed to let employees take care of business processes on a personal device, without having to log into a virtual private network. The applications can operate in an enterprise "sandbox" that is blocked off from the personal applications on the phone to maintain security, said Krishnapillai.

The phone user's personal contacts are pulled into the contact list in the enterprise sandbox, so users can still call or text their friends and family. But once logged into the sandbox, they can't use a personal application until they log out, Krishnapillai said. This tool keeps IT departments from having to issue business phones to employees or worry about running business software on a personal device, he said. The sandbox was designed primarily for the iPhone, because Windows Mobile devices typically are bought and managed by companies for their employees, he added.

Sybase Mobile Workflow uses an e-mail-like interface to present users with tasks that need to be carried out, such as approvals of staff vacation time. The software can be used for any task or workflow in SAP's Universal Worklist, including supply chain, human resources and accounting.

Traditionally, managers had been notified of these tasks in an e-mail message and had to go to a Web page to act on them, which required logging into a VPN, Krishnapillai said. With the new tool, they receive a message within the application, including buttons to carry out the required task. This can be done online or offline and carried out the next time the device is connected. Data flowing to and from the phone is encrypted.

"Anybody who understands e-mail can do this," Krishnapillai said. However, the system doesn't use the phone's e-mail client, and it can be made available to employees who don't have a corporate e-mail account, he said.

Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM gives salespeople mobile access to all types of information about prospects and deals in progress, including up-to-date contact lists and analytics. In turn, they can update any of that information from the field.

The Mobile Workflow software is now available for Windows Mobile 5 and 6.5, as well as Symbian software for Nokia Series 60, the third and fifth editions. The companies this week submitted the iPhone application to Apple for inclusion in the iPhone store, and it should be available within a few days, Krishnapillai said. A version for Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices is due in the second half of this year.

CRM was an obvious place for Sybase and SAP to start because salespeople spend more time on the road than many other employees and tend to need new information quickly, analyst Chris Hazelton of The 451 Group said. As a result, enterprises are usually more willing to spend money on mobile technology for the sales department.

The companies' sandbox approach should be secure enough for use with enterprise applications, even those involving sensitive customer data, which is increasingly regulated by state laws, Hazelton said. The sandbox is likely to help make enterprises embrace the iPhone as a business device, he added.

The license for the workflow software costs about US$10 per user, per month, not including options and potential custom development. The CRM license costs about $15, also not including options and custom development.

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