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Mobile enterprise apps proliferate, but how did we get here?

Readers may have already seen the news on ZDNet.co.
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor

Readers may have already seen the news on ZDNet.co.uk announced last night that SAP and Sybase are working together to improve the access paths to SAP software on mobile devices.

The above link will give you details of what these two corporate software companies envision as the key drivers for their joint agreement. According to the report, this is mostly this about ‘user experience’ and ‘out-of-the-box’ integration.

Good news for users one would hope – and no doubt good news for both companies if market adoption of the new services is strong.

Although Sybase today champions the cause of the mobile enterprise app through its Sybase 365 division, I was surprised that nobody seems to have looked back and ask why and how a database company can push forward this kind of development.

In particular, I was surprised that nobody seemed to talk about robustness and stability on the one hand – and perhaps developer tools on the other.

Even the analyst du jour seemed to focus on other considerations. “Although network connectivity speeds and mobile device computing power have improved, there are fundamental IT barriers that remain on the application side preventing enterprise mobility from reaching its full potential,” said Stephen Drake, program vice president, mobility and telecom, IDC.

But I don’t think he was talking about application “strength”, I feel he was talking about clunky user interfaces and integration issues.

I interviewed a chap (who has since left) called Ojas Rege who was senior director of mobile solutions for Sybase iAnywhere back in 2005 to try and find out how his operation had put the building blocks in place for secure mobile enterprise apps.

What struck me (apart from his startling white teeth) when talking to Ojas, was how the company had strategically acquired companies such as XcelleNet to bring mobile application and device management muscle. This is the kind of technology that can track your device inventory and secure them all so that unauthorised users can’t use them.

At around the same time of the XcelleNet purchase, the company also bought Dejima whose technology was focused on usability, specifically using natural language to access mobile applications. The argument being that every developer will have a different perspective on what mobile interface makes most sense to him or her, so controls need to put in place to ensure the final product is as good as it can be.

At the end of the 1990’s where Informix tripped stumbled and got themselves acquired, Sybase were arguably looking like they could go the same way. One decade on, it appears that they were making some quite shrewd purchases and SAP seem happy to snuggle up with them on projects such as the one reported last night.

I think it’s worth mentioning these facts and opinions to try and back up the news story in hand. In particular, I think its interesting that nobody really talked about the factors behind why we are ready for this next tier of mobile app development.

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