Research In Motion (RIM) and SAP’s recent announcement of a strategic partnership means more choices for SAP CRM users and buyers. By offering a native Blackberry™ application for SAP CRM, sales users no longer have to rely on carrier networks and sub-optimal browser experiences to access critical CRM data. Previous handheld solutions for SAP CRM required users to access information via a browser. The experience was often kluge, and cumbersome. Separately, from an overall market perspective, browser based solutions are losing favor in the handheld CRM solution space. A supply-side shift is occurring in the market to offer mobile apps that natively reside on the app. This is primarily due to user demands for rich, higher performing apps that deliver sub-second results and don’t require users to perform the same activity multiple times; like sending the same http request by repeatedly clicking a “submit” or “save” button on a web page because the request times out, or the device’s wireless signal is interrupted.

Usually with an announcement like this users can expect availability to be part of the message. Not so with this one. The simple message about strategic co-innovation between RIM and SAP has certainly whet appetites, but it begs what types of business application solutions will be available, and when will they be available? Separately, what will also be interesting to see is how easy configuration setup and managing dynamic configuration needs will be as organizations attempt to manage changing environments and dynamic user requirements. The general concept is that the native Blackberry app will hold contextually rich and relevant information for the appropriate user. It will not be a replication of the SAP CRM database on the device, rather some subset of the application most relevant for field users; mainly because devices don’t have the data capacity that enterprise hardware does, and field sales users don’t need access to all customer information &#8212 only the information for the task at hand. So with this, administration around what data is synched for broad and sometimes disparate user roles presents some management and support challenges for organizations. Centrally managing the application can cause capacity and throughput constraints for IT managers as IT resources could be spread thin tending to other IT initiatives. The result &#8212 sales resources are not as effective as they could be because they can’t access the right data to help them sell better. Similarly, distributed management has challenges. Sales resources need to be trained in admin functionality and training and frequent reconfiguration takes sales resources away from selling. Which is the lesser of two evils?

Despite the solution support and management challenges mentioned above, overall, SAP’s and RIM’s alliance is a good one. It offers buyers &#8212 those with existing SAP CRM users and Blackberry email deployments &#8212 an opportunity to leverage existing investments in handhelds and CRM applications and wring more value from those tools.

Expect similar alliances with other vendors in the coming months. A key advantage for both vendors is that the deal isn’t exclusive. Other handheld vendors and other CRM vendors are sure to follow suit and establish key partnerships to extend their market presence and utility.

Pete Marston, Analyst
Business Process & Applications
Forrester Research