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SAP-Sybase will deliver combined mobile development platform in nine months

SAP today revealed its plans for Sybase, its newly acquired subsidiary, that will allow developers to build mobile applications that can access data from SAP's applications on any device.

SAP today revealed an ambitious plan to release a new mobile development platform based on the spoils of its $5.8 billion acquisition of Sybase, though some industry analysts found the plans light on specifics.

In a co-located event held in Boston and Frankfurt for journalists and industry observers, SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott said the new platform reflects the growing importance of mobile devices both here and around the world, and the reality of how people now work and do business.

The move allows SAP to dramatically increase the number of users its business applications reach as well as open up new markets such as China, where Sybase has a strong foothold. There, according to officials, Sybase has had a significant impact thanks in part to the fact that mobile devices have eclipsed the desktop as the preferred means of computing.

“Mobile is the new desktop,” McDermott said.

SAP has an internal goal of reaching 1 billion users by 2015. Mobile access is obviously one way it's hoping to get there.

The new SAP mobile platform would be based on open standards, run on all major operating systems, and be compatible with all major device types, according to company officials.

SAP's Business Suite, its analytics suite and Business ByDesign, its new on-demand offering for the midmarket, will all allow mobile access from the platform. SAP also stressed that developers will be able to create new mobile applications that can run on top of existing SAP applications.

"We are not porting the application to mobile," co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said in a question-and-answer session. "We're allowing the mobile device to access that information."

The SAP ecosystem of partners will also be able to build applications on top of the platform. That includes existing mobile partners, according to Nick Brown, head of SAP's mobile applications partnerships.

"What we saw in the marketplace was small niche players, but they were having to spend a lot of time building mobile infrastructure," Brown said. "Sybase is now much more of a partner than a competitor from their perspective. The ecosystem becomes a critical part. The whole focus we want for them is not building middleware. We want the innovation to be on the application itself."

SAP will release a software development kit (SDK) for the platform within those nine months, including guidance on how to build user interfaces and process workflows.

The leaders also outlined other plans, including a solution portfolio for enterprise information management that will port, certify and optimize SAP Business Suite and other solutions onto Sybase data management servers.

Other plans include offering customers a business analytics infrastructure on data management servers in order to deliver end-to-end functionality from discovery to storage to consumption, and the incorporation of in-memory computing technology across SAP and Sybase management offerings, which will give customers instant access to any type of data at any time.

Sybase will be able to help its new parent company handle the glut of data in the marketplace, according to Josh Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, Calif.

“It’s going to be a positive acquisition for SAP,” Greenbaum said. “Absolutely, they chose the right company.”

Others said they had hoped to hear more specifics about upcoming applications, as opposed to the broad outlines the two companies had sketched out.

“What I heard today was a lot of the larger themes around memory and mobile computing. What applications will they be developing for mobile? I don’t know,” said Paul Hamerman, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. “Those are all missing pieces.”

Hamerman said he expected that the initial mobile platform would more or less mirror the existing capabilities found on the desktop version and that applications created specifically for mobile devices would probably take a few years to fully mature.

Despite being “underwhelmed” by the presentation, he applauded SAP for acquiring Sybase and for its focus on the mobile enterprise market, which he said is very much in its infancy.

“I think it’s quite intriguing,” Hamerman said of SAP’s strategy. “I think SAP is looking to lead in this area, so I think they’re on the right track.”

The two companies will stay separate, with Dublin, Calif.-based Sybase operating as a single, independent unit.

John Chen, Sybase's president and CEO, said the decision to remain separate from SAP was a result of Sybase's desire to preserve its own company culture, which it had worked hard to create, and its separate brand.

“The customers love Sybase,” Chen said. “We wanted to preserve that.”

McDermott pledged to continue to support the existing Sybase product portfolio, and he said that Sybase’s financial success over the years had made the idea of acquiring the company even more attractive for SAP.

News Director Barney Beal contributed to this report.

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