Every company that hawks its own platform technology must at some point wrestle whether to build its own applications or hardware on top of that platform, running the risk of competing with - and alienating - your customers.
This is one of the most common forms of cooptition (cooperation + competition) in the high-tech industry. And it can alienate partners, if managed poorly.
Take Google. Smartphone manufacturers and carriers that embraced Google's Android operating system were unhappy when Google began selling its own unlocked (meaning it could be transferred from carrier to carrier) Nexus One phone running Android. Partly as a result, the phone failed to take off.
However, with the right boundary-setting and clear communication, there doesn't have to be trouble.
Take Microsoft. It started off in the 1970s as a geeky maker of programming tools and operating systems before getting into games (Flight Simulator) and applications (Microsoft Word) that leveraged Microsoft's tools and platforms. While there was tension and lawsuits between Microsoft and the rest of the industry for many years, today few begrudge Microsoft for making both Windows and Microsoft Office.
Enter Sybase, which makes and sells the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) to developers, as well as two SAP mobile apps built using SUP: Sybase Mobile Sales for SAP CRM and Sybase Mobile Workflow for SAP Business Suite.
With Sybase now a part of SAP, will Sybase end up mobilizing all of the SAP apps, leaving few plum opportunities for mobile ISVs?
Not according to Jagdish Bansiya, CTO for enterprise mobility at Sybase.
"Are we going to build all of the mobile versions of SAP apps? No," Bansiya said during a talk at TechWave. "Are we going to build some of them? Yes."
Bansiya said it's important for Sybase to build some of the broader, horizontal mobile SAP apps because of how it helps "us tune our [SUP] platform to do things well and evolve."
At the same time, he emphasized that there remains plenty of opportunity for mobile ISVs to customize or build mobile SAP apps that target a specific industry or region.
Moreover, Sybase won't build apps targeting smaller customers. That leaves room for partners to set up SUP as a multi-tenant Web-based service that hosts multiple apps for different customers with say 20-30 users each, he said.
Sybase hopes to clarify its mobile CRM roadmap soon, so that partners can know for certain what areas are ripe and what are not.