Sybase apps are cool, but will they scale?

SAP is starting to show some exciting mobile applications. But will they scale up and out? There are many questions that remais unanswered.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

When SAP acquired Sybase, it did so for two reasons:

  • The Sybase Unwire Platform gave SAP an entrée into the mobile world for which it didn't have a great story. Some argue that even now it's story isn't that great with engineers explaining some of the technical limitations that SUP presents. But then in the enterprise space, who else has a story on mobile worth listening to?
  • The Sybase database. Nothing has been said about that but my understanding is that SAP expects to announce a port that is in development designed to support SAP's Business Suite. If successful, this provides the company with a weapon with which to directly attack the financial services and banking market at the applications level. the obvious target is Oracle but also a slew of legacy applications.

Back to applications.

See also: SAP's Sybase bets enterprises will gravitate to HTML 5 in two years

On the show floor, SAP showcased applications primarily on iPad but also on other form factors like BlackBerry, Samsung Tab and ruggedised Motorola devices. Most of then look slick. In the video above I show SAP demonstrating simple expense applications of the kind that can include a photo of a receipt along with the firing off of workflow that feeds back into SAP's main systems. In another example they showed how you could establish an account that lets you pay for goods, transfer funds and even take out micro loans - all of which was accessible via a phone. There were many more examples which SAP anticipates will end up in the SAP AppStore. The bad news is they won't appear much before the end of 2011.

The burning question at the back of my mind though is how SAP will price and deliver the platform. My view based upon what I saw was that to build out at scale, SAP will have to offer elastic pricing that reflects an inventive way of approaching the AppStore style of model. There is for example a good case for making the platform free or low cost so that those customers which need to have their own private version can do so without worrying about the usual per seat licensing and maintenance model. INstead, pricing should be skewed towards the applications themselves.

The good news is that SAP plans to provide a 'try before you buy' demo set up so that users can pick and choose which apps best suit their environment. Once a selection has been made, then SAP believes IT needs to get involved - largely because of the integrations necessary. I really hope those will be made plug and play or otherwise there will be chaos in development shops.

Yet integration is the name of the game. At the American SAP User Group (ASUG) Executive Alliance dinner, Anthony J. Bosco, Jr., Day & Zimmermann and chairman ASUG stressed the need for ASUG member companies to embrace integration as a way of extracting value from their SAP investments. A particularly telling quote: "We're tired of incremental change." If that's the case then SAP has its work cut out to make sure that not only does it deliver great apps but provides the mechanisms for easy consumption. Something tells me that will be a tough ask.

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