Mobile Expert Interview Series: Sybase’s Willie Jow
Willie Jow, vice president of mobility product marketing with Sybase, was gracious enough to let me interview him about the latest developments in enterprise mobility at Sybase, an SAP company.
Note: The words in this interview are not always Willie Jow’s exact words. I have condensed many of my questions and his responses to make them more concise for the reader.
Kevin: Willie, how does Sybase, which is known for its databases and mobile middleware solutions, become a mobile applications company?
Willie: It is true we are best known for our mobile middleware, and that our history has been focused on supporting channels like ISV, OEM and other kinds of partnerships that delivered the mobile applications. However, a couple of years ago SAP approached us about working on the mobile CRM application. We accepted this opportunit,y and when we completed the mobile application it was very well received by SAP and customers. We now have a great deal of experience developing mobile applications for SAP.
A few weeks ago we announced the new mobile business unit. SAP already knows how to build great business applications, and Sybase knows how to build great mobile middleware. These two strengths will be combined under Bob Stutz’s leadership. We also plan to add more mobile applications.
The mobile business unit will continue to have a strong focus on the platform layer. We will combine IP (intellectual property) from both Sybase and SAP into the new mobile platform layer under the leadership of Billy Ho. This team will continue to innovate and enhance this platform. This mobile business unit will give us both a mobile application and the mobile platform focus with each working together. We will also have the Gateway for SAP services consumption.
Kevin: I see that you have filled the needs for mobile middleware and SAP business processes integration, but where do the mobile application development skills come from. It is a relatively new skill set for both Sybase and SAP.
Willie: If you truly understand how the platform works and how the mobile applications are built, connecting to SAP is not a mobile application development process. It is really about understanding the content you want to use and making that available as a mobile “asset” or “object.” You can use the native OS SDK for device specific screens.
There are different expertise needed for developing mobile applications. One skill set involves understanding the content needed and how to mobilize it, the second skill is knowing how to develop the GUI. It is easy finding developers that can design the device GUI. The hard part is finding the expertise for connecting the enterprise business processes.
Kevin: Tell me about the announced mobile SDK. Where will the SAP/Sybase SDK stop and the native development environments start?
Willie: That is still being finalized even as we speak. The target date for release is Sapphire 2011.
It is important to note that there are two different kinds of applications, 1) native applications like the CRM and field service apps, and 2) the container approach. The container is on the device, and we populate it with data. Our workflow app is a container application. However, our mobile CRM is a native app. Both will exist and be supported in the SDK.
Kevin: What do you mean by “container?”
Willie: Think of it like an application sitting on your mobile device using native features and code. However, it has no business logic, or data elements. We push data to the container. It is for simple queries and data collection. Our SAP workflow apps fit this model, like travel approvals or discount approval. We push the data to the mobile container application. We see HTML 5 also in this area and are evaluating.
Kevin: For many years there was an internal debate within Sybase about whether to develop mobile applications, or leave them up to your OEM and SI partners to develop because of potential partner conflict issues. How are you going to address that concern today?
Willie: I would not characterize it that way. I see it more as a question of our core competencies. We have a lot of core competencies around mobile middleware and infrastructure. We used the SAP CRM project with SAP to demonstrate what can be done with mobile applications on our infrastructure. We did not intend this to mean we are transforming into a mobile applications company. It takes a different set of core competencies to develop mobile applications in a particular industry vertical. In the past, we simply chose to invest in our core competencies which is building mobile infrastructures.
Kevin: What is your current message to your OEM partners?
Willie: We will continue to support our OEM partners as we believe they are vital to the ecosystem. Our road map is very important to them. They will actively participate in our road map direction. We are definitely going to work through partners. We want to define where SAP is going to develop solutions, and then where we need our partners to deliver. We need partners to drive the reach of mobility.
Kevin: Systems Integrators are asking what they should recommend today for a mobile strategy. The SIs want to be aligned with SAP’s strategy. What is that strategy today?
Willie: We will be innovating and developing SUP, so those building mobile applications today should use SUP. That will ensure they are aligned with our direction. They will benefit from the work we will be doing. SIs and in-house developers should definitely look at SUP as their starting point and start learning and developing on it.
Kevin: I have had SIs (systems integrators) calling me this week asking if I know where they can find experienced SUP (Sybase Unwired Platform) developers that they can add to their practice. It appears there is a big and growing demand. What are you going to do to help train, support and certify developers on SUP?
Willie: We have a phased approach. Within Sybase we have been training systems integrators for many years. We have already trained a number of SAP systems integrators on how to customize mobile CRM by using SUP. Our immediate focus is on training internal SAP folks on our solutions. We have been very busy for the past 90 days and have had great reception and results. This same training will soon be available to our systems integrators. We have a lot of plans underway for training.
Kevin: A few weeks ago I asked Vishal (SAP Board Member) what his advice was to companies and systems integrators that need a mobile strategy today. He said the “clean” answer is to get trained on SUP and use that as the platform for all mobile applications. My question to you is if that was the “clean” answer, what is the “dirty” answer?
Willie: I wouldn’t say it is a dirty answer, but a broader answer. We need to first understand the customer’s requirements before giving a specific recommendation. Do they want just an online mobile application, or both an application that is both online and offline? There are certain instances when you cannot give a good answer without understanding the application. There is a broad spectrum of mobile applications and possible development models. Perhaps a simple messaging application is all the customer needs. You wouldn’t want to force your customers to buy iPhones when a simple phone and messaging system will do. Many applications like mobile commerce or mobile banking can even use simple messaging. This is the most used around the world.
Kevin: I see the two biggest challenges today in the enterprise mobility market as, 1) confusion in the market (companies don’t know where or how to start mobilizing), and 2) SAP/Sybase ramping up fast enough to support demand.
Willie: Yes, both are critical. I have been working on these challenges for the past two years. I want us and our partners to unclutter mobility for CIOs. I want us and our ecosystem partners to share the same message about mobility and mobile strategies, then CIOs will be less confused with mixed messages.
Kevin: Is standardizing the message one of the reasons that all the various components of mobility are being gathered into one mobile business unit?
Willie: That is important. The ecosystem is asking all of these questions. We need to simplify our own tools and capabilities, so customers don’t have to install and support multiple servers. First we need to simplify our own house, so the ecosystem can use it and the message is simple.
Kevin: My last question. A few weeks ago I interviewed Sam Lakkundi, a colleague of yours at Sybase. I asked him what he thought was the biggest asset SAP got from the Sybase acquisition. What is your answer to that question?
Willie: What did he (Sam) say?
Kevin: He answered, Afaria (Sybase’s mobile device management solution). He said ultimately Afaria may be the most important asset.
Willie: Interesting! I would guess he was trying to make a point. People have highlighted many of our solutions as being the most valuable, but they have often overlooked Afaria. I agree that mobile device security is always the starting point of any conversation about enterprise mobility. We tell all CIOs that they need to ensure that all devices and applications are secure as a starting point. Device security is the foundation of mobility. Everything we do is based on having a secure infrastructure.
I want to thank Willie for taking the time to update us all on these developments!
-Kevin Benedict, SAP Mentor, SAP Top Contributor, Mobile and M2M Industry Analyst