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Mobile Expert Interview Series: Syclo’s Jeff Kleban

I was able to track down Jeff Kleban EVP and co-founder of Syclo for a good talk this morning.  He was kind enough to share his perspective on the world of enterprise mobility and the SAP ecosystem.

To start, Jeff carries a BlackBerry 9700 series, and his favorite mobile application on it is Google Maps.  He has been with Syclo from the beginning when there were only four people.  Today, Syclo has over 135 employees.

Syclo is one of three co-innovation partners of SAP in the world of enterprise mobility.  The three are RIM, Sybase, and Syclo.  SAP co-innovation partners share sales revenue, development efforts and product roadmaps with SAP.  I wonder if the co-innovation partnership increases the prices of their solutions?  I also wonder if having SAP define the roadmap will allow the co-innovation partners to innovate fast enough to keep up with the markets fast changing technologies?

Jeff shared that SAP has designated some mobility applications and business processes as strategic. The strategic ones he identified are:

  1. CRM sales force automation [Sybase is the co-innovation partner for this category]
  2. CRM field services/enterprise asset management [Syclo is the co-innovation partner for this category]

RIM is also a co-innovation partner, but I am not sure what it covers these days.  I have always wondered how an ERP vendor could cozy up to a particular mobile device manufacturer?  The next greatest mobile device is always just a press release away so how can you predict which vendor to bet on?  Also, who wants to bet against Apple?

I asked Jeff who Syclo’s biggest competitor is, and he said Sybase.  Interesting!  OK, SAP’s two co-innovation partners for mobility are each other’s biggest competitors.  That ought to make for some interesting business development and partner meetings.  I can imagine the demarcation line between Sybase and Syclo’s territories are being battled over daily in Waldorf.
Jeff reported that Sybase is mandated to use SAP’s NetWeaver Mobile as their integration platform.  Syclo, on the other hand, prefers to use their own integration technologies.  I interpreted from our conversation that Syclo thought Sybase was handicapped by its requirement to integrate through SAP’s NetWeaver Mobile.  I thought this was interesting, but will need to pursue this topic on another day.

Jeff also described Sybase as not being a mobile application company, but rather a mobile platform vendor.  I would agree, but imagine Sybase has a different opinion.

A question that came to mind following my discussions with Jeff was how does SAP determine which vendor to recommend to a customer needing both mobile SFA and mobile FSA?  In many cases CRMs encompass both categories.  Does SAP really recommend that a customer select two separate mobility vendors to support one SAP CRM?  I hope someone from SAP comments on this.

I asked, “Outside of the categories of mobile CRM SFA (sales force automation) and CRM FSA (field service automation), who should an SAP customer use for custom mobile applications?”  “Syclo of course!” Jeff answered but then added, “There is still a lot of room for innovation and other SAP EcoHub partners in this mobility space.”  So outside of SFA and FSA the market is wide open for the rest of SAP’s mobility partners.  The challenge, of course, is getting mindshare.  If Sybase and Syclo are being promoted in certain specific categories, then how does the best of breed from the rest of SAP’s mobility partners capture a category and gain recognition and exposure?

I asked Jeff about Syclo’s target markets and he answered, “Complex and strategic mobile applications for SAP users.”  He then explained that they like the big mobility projects with hundreds and thousands of users but will also entertain smaller mobility projects if there is a future potential for more mobile enterprise applications with the customer.  “We like projects with hard ROIs (returns on investment),” he explained.

Jeff said that the enterprise mobile software market is still very fragmented, and no one really has a sizable market share.  SAP reports around 90,000 customers, and Syclo has around 730 mobility customers but not all are SAP shops.  The bottom line is there are a lot of opportunities available for mobility vendors in the SAP ecosystem.

Jeff added that in the mobile operating system market, there is increased fragmentation rather than decreased.  It seems there is a lot of new innovation happening in the world of mobile operating systems.

I asked Jeff what he expects to see happen in the next few years in enterprise mobility.  He said, “TCO (total cost of ownership) will drop dramatically as mobile application development tools become easier and MEAPs (mobile enterprise application platforms) more mature.  He already believes Syclo has a low TCO but believes there is much more that can be done.  He then added that it will be very interesting to watch how companies manage important data on their employees’ smartphones.  He said perhaps companies will have “sandbox” locations on their employees’ personal smartphones.  These sandbox locations would be reserved for confidential company data and controlled and managed by the company.  Interesting indeed!

I asked Jeff about the term MEAP.  He said, “It is Gartner’s term, and they defined the meaning.”  He then pointed out that Syclo is in the Leaders section of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for MEAPs.  He believes a MEAP should be able to support many different kinds of mobile enterprise applications, include an SDK and be able to integrate with many different back-end ERPs, business applications and databases.

I asked Jeff for his opinion on mobile micro-applications.  He said, “There is a lot of room for innovation!  They have their role.  Especially with consumers and reaching out to mobile employees.”  He added, “Companies are seeking mobile applications for a variety of reasons including branding and establishing a closer relationship with their customer base.”  Again, there is much room for innovation here!

Where does Jeff see the hottest markets for Syclo?

  • Field services
  • Utilities
  • Oil and gas companies
  • Oil and gas supply chains
  • Life science companies that have FDA compliance requirements
  • Government

Jeff said government has a couple of things going for it now:

  1. Government economic stimulus money
  2. Government’s support for, and desire to use, technology to make things more efficient.

What business processes are they targeting?

  • Work order/service tickets
  • Plant maintenance
  • Enterprise asset management
  • Social workers/Case managers (and similar roles in other areas)
  • Police incident reporting
  • Replacing any paper-based processes used in the field

I asked what were some of the most interesting developments in mobility in the past 24 months for him.  He said, “Apple iPhones, Apple iTunes and the explosion of smartphones used by consumers.”  He added that these developments have totally changed the game and has had a major impact on the enterprise.  “IT cannot ignore the pressures to mobilize now,” he said.  In addition, he pointed out that it is surprising there has not seen more consolidation.  Rather, there are even more new players and mobile operating systems entering the market today.”

I asked Jeff what he thought about SAP’s mobile strategy.  He said, “SAP must own the roadmap for the most critical mobile applications and business processes.”  He likes their strategy.

What differentiates Syclo from other SAP mobility partners?  Jeff answered:

  • Lower TCO (total cost of ownership)
  • Pre-packaged mobile applications are relatively inexpensive
  • Co-innovation with SAP
  • Syclo shares revenue with SAP
  • SAP sales teams are incented to promote Syclo
  • Syclo has an object-oriented model which enables mobile applications to be developed without programming.
  • IBM resells Syclo solutions
  • Syclo integrates with Oracle
  • Accenture and SCS are systems integrator partners (there must be a lot of money on the table for these SI companies to be involved).

What are some of the most interesting mobile applications that Syclo has developed?  “We partnered with Motorola and IBM to help the Red Cross manage their supplies and logistics after hurricane Katrina,” Jeff answered.  “Twenty of our staff worked together to develop the mobile application in 14 days.”

Thank you Jeff for sharing your insights as a Mobile Expert!

For more Mobile Expert Interview articles in this series please see:

Mobile Expert Interview Series: Leapfactor’s Lionel Carrasco
Mobile Expert Interview Series: Sky Technologies’ Neil McHugh
Mobile Expert Interview Series: ClickSoftware’s Gil Bouhnick
Mobile Expert Interview Series: Vivido Labs’ Greg Tomb
Mobile Expert Interview Series: Sky Technologies’ Troy O’Connor
Mobile Expert Interview Series: EntryPoint’s Pete Martin
Mobile Expert Interview Series: PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ Ahmed El Adl, PhD
Mobile Expert Interview Series: Nokia’s John Choate

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