SAP, RIM Team on CRM for the BlackBerry

SAP and Research In Motion are partnering to develop a mobile CRM application. The first output of this venture will be a native BlackBerry smartphone client that links SAP CRM with BlackBerry applications such as Email, Address Book and Calendar.

To be precise, they are developing a native RIM client that will sit on the BlackBerry and communicate with Netweaver mobile, AMR Research Director Chris Fletcher explained to CRM Buyer.

The new app leverages the push-based architecture of BlackBerry Enterprise Server to automate data synchronization. This means, of course, that users don’t have to be connected to use the apps on their smartphones. Once they are back in a coverage area, all updates queued on the handset and back-end servers will be transferred automatically.

Integrating Everything?

Additional product development and long-term mobile strategies for the duo are less clear. Reading between the lines, Fletcher said, it appears as though SAP wants to move toward offering users the ability to get any SAP application or data via RIM’s BlackBerry device.

It’s debatable whether there would be a huge demand for such functionality.

“You don’t necessarily want to natively integrate everything,” Dennis Pombriant, principal of Beagle Research, told CRM Buyer. “Even if it is a BlackBerry, there isn’t enough storage on the device to handle all that data.”

Also, with the increasing access to good wireless connectivity, it is not even necessary anymore. “Companies need to think hard about what their road warriors want and need,” Pombriant said.

Also to be considered: A complex application like SAP CRM may not translate well into a mobile environment, Nucleus Research Vice President Rebecca Wettemann told CRM Buyer.

A lot of SAP customers already have usability challenges, she noted. A mobile CRM option could add productivity to an operation — but only if the user interface is appropriately streamlined.

Go to War

It appears SAP has chosen the right mobile partner. “It is smart of SAP to go to war with RIM,” remarked Pombriant, noting its ubiquity among enterprise users.

This is a departure from earlier SAP CRM mobile offerings, which included mobile sales force automation for consumer goods and a field services application, AMR’s Fletcher noted. Windows Mobile was the client in those platforms.

Microsoft is doing a better job in device management, but “from a pure mobile infrastructure perspective, RIM has a very solid offering,” he observed.

SAP is late to the game with this particular offering — not that the market has noticed. Although several best-of-breed vendors have introduced similar offerings — Sybase iAnywhere and Nokia’s Intellisync, to name two — mobile CRM has not developed the traction that many have been expecting for years.

It may be that the industry needs to take a longer view, Pombriant said. “I think what we are seeing with mobility right now and its adoption is the same thing we saw when computing converted from mainframes to client-server. A lot of infrastructure needed to be built. It’s the same for the wireless enterprise, and the industry has not been running hard to deliver the bandwidth and capacity.”

Also, some vendors need to refine the business case for their offerings to meet the current economic cycle. “The casual, ‘always connected’ product doesn’t play as well anymore. Enterprises are looking for applications that reduce inventory, for instance, or provide a better response to customers.”

First CRM App

By kicking off its new relationship with RIM with a mobile CRM app, SAP clearly is embracing this concept. Eventually, the partnership will deliver mobile products for other applications in the SAP Business Suite.

SAP and RIM will preview the mobile CRM application at the annual Sapphire conferences in Orlando, May 4 to 7, and Berlin, May 19 to 21, as well as at the Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) 2008, May 13 to 15 in Orlando.

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