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David v. Goliath in the Enterprise Data Mobility Space

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Posted August 7, 2002 By Adam Stone     Feedback

The big guys - SAP, Siebel, Oracle - are in the sandbox already - when it comes to customer relationship management (CRM), salesforce automation, and enterprise data generally. Here, analysts ponder whether any of these new, potentially highly creative entrants into this field survive and thrive?

In the push to mobilize business information, a plethora of vendors have come forward saying they can give workers mobile access to the home database. Of course, the big database players also are vying for a piece of that pie, and analysts say their already dominant presence within the corporate enterprise could give them a decided edge.

Take for instance SAP, one of the big three enterprise-information players, along with Oracle and Siebel. With the release of mySAP Mobile Business in May, the firm has given formal structure to its ongoing wireless-enterprise efforts, in a move analysts say could put smaller vendors on the run.

"SAP's dominance in the enterprise systems-integration space gives them some automatic leverage," said Adam Guy, senior North American wireless analyst at Strategis Group. "There is a huge transition cost involved in integrating something new, even if it is the greatest thing in the world, and when you already have an institutional comfort level with a particular system, that certainly gives you an edge."

The folks at SAP have no qualms about touting this apparent advantage.

"What we can provide is true integration," Howard Beader, director product marketing for mySAP Mobile Business. "We own these business processes. We are the business-process experts. SAP has been around for over 30 years, and companies see us as not just a solution provider today, but also in many aspects as a trusted advisor."

In recent years, SAP has been advising clients to extend their access to CRM data via a structure known as a portal product that makes all of SAPs back-end applications and information accessible via the Web. The new mobile offering represents a logical extension of that effort, Beader said.

mySAP Mobile Business offers wireless connectivity from any WAP phone. The system offers disconnected capability, and can also handle intermittent connectivity. In implementing the system, SAP can tailor the information interfaces according to user, giving individuals within the mobile workforce access to only the information they need, in a form they can use, on a device that is familiar and comfortable.

Beader predicts this ease of implementation could give his Fortune 1000 clientele the incentive they need to make a more concerted push in the direction of wireless apps.

"In order for any of these companies to do anything [wireless] over the last 10 years, they themselves had to become experts in the mobile space," he said. "Now we have the ability to insulate these enterprises from all that complexity."

The other big CRM vendors are pursuing similar solutions. The Oracle9i Application Server for instance includes built-in mobile services such as messaging and email, and can be extended to handle more customized mobile needs as well.

Likewise, Siebel Systems launched a wireless version of its sales-support applications last spring, and in April of this year teamed with third-party vendor Everypath to offer a suite of mobile applications tailored specifically to integrate with Siebel eBusiness Applications.

Many smaller vendors also want in on this market, of course, but analysts say the presence of the power players could overshadow many of those third-party efforts.

"These are already mainstream solutions within the enterprise, and [corporations] are more likely to go that route than to go with a third-party developer," predicted Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies in Campbell, Calif.

Of course, this assumes that firms such as SAP can deliver on their mobility promises - and Bajarin is withholding judgment on that score. After all, a strong position in the CRM world does not necessarily ensure a commensurate degree of mobility expertise.

"The question now is: How well can they create a user interface to get to these bundles and bundles of information? How easy can they make it for you?" he said. "There still is a lot of information out there in these enterprise systems, and you do still have a very small screen size. So there is a continued challenge involved in making all this data available on that very small screen."

At Strategis Group, Guy raises similar concerns. While a firm like SAP may be able to mobilize its own apps, he suggested, it remains to be seen whether the big CRM players can take full advantage of the mobile milieu.

In going with a CRM vendors mobility solution, rather than opting for third-party wireless expertise, "the risk is that you will have just a mobile extension of what already exists in the enterprise system. You may not have the clever, creative wireless concepts" that a pure wireless-solutions provider would provide, he said.

When CRM vendors mobilize their own data, "it is possible that the rate of new killer apps that are made for mobility might not happen as quickly" as with a pure wireless player, he warned.

Reprinted from M-Commerce Times.

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