As one of the top software providers for the enterprise segment, it is only natural for SAP to extend its offerings into the mobile space.

The company moved aggressively over the past two years to increase its presence on smartphones and tablets. It acquired Sybase and Syclo, and has forged partnerships with Appcelerator, Sencha and Adobe.

Together with its existing expertise, SAP’s recent initiatives have it better positioned than ever to help businesses deal with the bring-your-own-device trend.

Sanjay Poonen, SAP president of technology and innovation products, is overseeing much of this innovation. Wireless Week spoke with Poonen about SAP’s expansion efforts, the security challenges of employee-owned smartphones and whether it’s time for IT departments to get tough. This is an edited transcript of their discussion.

Wireless Week: SAP acquired Sybase in 2010 and closed its buyout of Syclo just this summer, purchases that increased SAP's presence in the mobile space. To orient those who might not be familiar with all of SAP's offerings, what does your presence in enterprise mobility look like now?

Sanjay Poonen: Wen you look at the ratings from Gartner and Yankee Group, we are rated by the analysts as the undisputed leader in enterprise mobility. We have about 4,000-plus customers in enterprise mobility and our revenue run rate is well on its way to our goal of 1 billion Euro by 2015. We’re well on our way to being the largest player in this space and have also significantly increased development. One of the first things I did when I took over mobile at SAP was increased development capacity and investment beyond what Sybase had invested in many areas. In some areas, we practically tripled the development team size so we could invest more in products. That helped us achieve analyst recognition and revenue growth.

We also did measured acquisitions and partnerships. About two years after the Sybase acquisition, we announced our intent to buy Syclo. We’re not just going to buy anybody – we looked at the market and thought Syclo was the best acquisition. We’ve been very intelligent about partnering. We’ve partnered with the top 30 telcos, systems integrators and a few open source mobile framework companies: Appcelerator, Sencha and Adobe. That joint strategy of build, buy and partner has really put us in a strong position in the market. We’re playing to make this space just as big as ERP (enterprise resource planning) is for SAP.

WW: And in terms of your solutions in enterprise mobility, SAP makes apps and software that allow business to integrate their operations with mobile. Is that correct?

Poonen: Yes. In general, what we’re trying to do is allow people to get their business information to business consumers, and allow this torrent of mobile devices that are coming into the enterprise to be managed effectively. There are four things we’re focused on: mobile security, ensuring we can manage devices as they come in, manage applications and have secure content management. Then there’s a platform to build apps, both business to business apps and business to employee applications. And not just power users, people on the front line, the person on the shop floor, the personnel who are truck drivers. Everyone who has access to mobile information is significantly more productive.

And it’s not just your employees, but also consumers. For instance, if a bank could enable its customers to have mobile banking, or your customers could have a way to receive coupons while they are in the store to get a promotion that is tailored to their needs.

The fourth area is our messaging infrastructure (Sybase 365). We provide our customers with the widest offering in SMS, MMS, data roaming, IP-based interoperability, end-to-end mobile commerce solutions, innovative mobile customer engagement and mobile marketing services. We reach 5.5 billion mobile subscribers, processing more than 1.8 billion mobile messages and connecting to 900 mobile operators. 

Our investments in these four areas are tailored to companies’ internal communities – what I call business consumers – who would not naturally have gotten this information, but with a mobile device have significantly more potential. The businesses customers – consumers – also value that information on a mobile device, which can engender loyalty.

WW: Clearly, mobility is becoming an increasingly important part of business. What would you say are the top challenges businesses face when incorporating mobile technology into their operations?

Poonen: For mobile security, you need a solution that can scale, especially for the largest companies that have hundreds of thousands of devices. None of the other point solutions in the mobile device management space can scale like ours. When you roll out solutions for large companies like we do – tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, in one case even millions of devices – we have a real cache’ in scalability.

That’s important because if you take just the customers we have, there are about 500 million devices our combined customers have among their employees. Those devices need to be securely managed, and you want to know where they’re roaming and the telecom expense management associated with them. That’s a big data type of problem and requires an enormous amount of scale. Mobile device management solutions must be able to scale from small companies to big companies.

And in a bring your own device world, you need the flexibility to "containerize" a solution so users can have their consumer life on one side of the device, where they're playing Angry Birds or what have you, and then they have their enterprise life that's secure on the other side of the device, and you don't mingle those two. So if you have a device that's been brought in, users can do what they want to do in the consumer world. But in the enterprise, the company sort of owns that part of the device so they can securely put content on it, use the applications and know that the device is going to be trusted and can be secured. For instance, if the device is lost in an airport, the business information of the company is not going to be at risk.

Those are the top two. The other challenge is being able to get partners with the skill set who can build applications in a very different fashion from the mobile web, apps that are built in days and weeks.

WW: The pace of innovation in the enterprise market has often lagged behind technological advancements in smartphones, an issue largely responsible for BlackBerry’s current problems. How does an enterprise-focused company stay competitive with consumer-focused offerings? Do you even need to think about competing with consumer grade products?

Poonen: You have to, absolutely. The theme I have from our development efforts is “consumer first,” consumer grade user experiences with mobile first applications. Consumer grade means it’s got to look and feel like Facebook. It’s got to look and feel like Google in how fast you search it. We've got a really fast database called HANA Correct Its proposition is being able to search information in real time, instead of having to learn a query language.

Enterprise software is chronically hard to use and has a reputation of building more bells and whistles than simplicity. We have to constantly push ourselves to as the leader in business applications to do that better and better, to make it extremely usable. Steve Jobs made the iPhone and iPad so wonderfully simple that you have to try really hard to build a bad user experience. When I show our apps to customers, their first reaction is to say, “It’s not your parent’s SAP.” And when we deploy, end users ask whether we have deployed a new ERP system, because they’re now able to approve workflows on their mobile phone, but all they did was put the mobile apps of SAP on top of there. It’s giving us way to refresh the user experience without having to redo all the screens. There's so much we need to continue to simplify. It's a journey, I'd say.

WW: Speaking of open source, companies like Qualcomm sometimes turn to open source to spur innovation. Do you think there’s a place for open source technology with SAP’s enterprise mobility platforms? Or would that just undermine your business model?

Poonen: There are appropriate places for what makes sense for the customer, and there are practical places where we’ve embraced open source.

There are appropriate places for whatever makes sense for the customer, and there are practical places where we've embraced it. A lot of the UI (user interface) frameworks are being built by open source platforms and are doing very well. Unlike some of the other proprietary platforms, we embrace them. Three examples are Sencha, Appcelerator and Adobe, which are open source frameworks for UI elements.

If you see some of the apps we built, the front end of those beautiful visualizations are from open source controls. There are hundreds of thousands of developers - approaching a million – and our job is to get those developers to our platforms so they can use those open source controls on top of our platform.

WW: In terms of SAP's own solutions, you have a platform that allows an app to be created once and distributed across multiple mobile operating systems.

Poonen: That's the whole value proposition of our mobile app platform. You can build once, run anywhere; write once, run anywhere. Whether you’re building it with HTML5 or native code, you can run it in an optimized experience that allows the IT person not to have to write native code three or four times just to get the app working.

WW: Following up on the BYOD issue, do you think IT departments should crack down on employee use of personal devices for work purposes, or is it just time for them to accept the BYOD trend as unstoppable?

Poonen: It’s a policy decision that every CIO, chief security officer and business needs to make.
In this world, do you want to hand out devices to every single person? Do you have the budget to do that? For us, we decided to fund 18,000 iPads for our employees because we're in the mobility business, but not every company has that budget. Some companies also have some very tight regulations, like those in the public sector. The Army or Marines aren't going to use any type of device that doesn’t have secured email or secured communications. For many of those places where the regulations and security constraints are higher, they will have to have even tighter policies, like public sector, defense, banks, healthcare. In those places, the BYOD policy needs to have some clear guidance, procedures and policies, and also some legal provisions to allow devices to be checked for compliance on part that's "owned" by the company. Some companies require employees to sign an agreement that if they download corporate applications, the company "owns" the part of the device where applications are downloaded

I think you're seeing a level of sophistication around the device that makes managing it not a hassle. We're able to provision new devices in a matter of seconds or minutes in a scalable fashion. That nimbleness is what every CIO will expect.

Over time, CIO’s will have to make a decision about these aging laptops. What are you going to do with them? Are you going to give that same person a thinner and thinner laptop? Or maybe a tablet? I suspect over time you'll see a substantial number start favoring a tablet as a new device for employees.

WW: We'll certainly have to wait and see if that comes to fruition. That does it for my questions, was there anything else you'd like to add?

Poonen: I think it's an exciting time, mobile is the new desktop and we're going to move at the speed of light in this space because that's how fast people expect us to innovate. Our investment in the innovation vectors at SAP have been in big data, mobile and cloud, and we see potential for all three of these business to be big, triple digit growth, and just as  big as ERP in very short order.