Obituary for a vanishing category: RIP, MEAP?
With the recent announcement of SAP’s intent to acquire Sybase, the short life of the MEAP (Mobile Enterprise Application Platform) software category may be approaching its end. The term was coined by analyst company Gartner in 2008 to refer to middleware and tools to support development of mobile enterprise applications, extending these applications to the mobile devices of the workers, at any time and any location. Quite a few companies have positioned themselves as contenders in this category, but Sybase could make a strong case for their claim to be the category leaders.
Mobile enablement requires several layers of technology and tools – to mention just a few, there are data access and synchronization, data security, device management, user interface and workflow on the mobile device side; plus integration and business process support on the server side. MEAPs were intended as a ready-to-run platform reducing the effort required to develop mobile applications, and to a large extent they delivered on that promise. However, now the leading enterprise-software vendors are finding that they can’t separate out enterprise mobility – it must be part of their core strategy. SAP’s announcement makes it clear that this, together with Sybase’s database technology, is the reason for the acquisition.
If mobility is becoming a core concern for the enterprise software gorillas, what can the independent MEAP vendors do? It seems to me that they have only a few options:
“Fight it out” option – the MEAP vendor choosing this option will claim that their mobility platform is superior to the enterprise software vendor’s platform. Even if they can substantiate such claims, most organizations will prefer lower risks, costs and complexity and will therefore go with the enterprise software vendor’s own platform.
“Other vendor” option – The MEAP vendor, accepting that SAP has made its choice, will try to sell its platform to customers of SAP’s competitors. This could also be a short-lived option: SAP’s competitors are surely considering how to make mobility part of their own core enterprise offerings. This leads to the next option:
“Consolidate” option – As it’s no longer safe to be an independent MEAP vendor, some of these vendors (and there aren’t many left) will look to be acquired.
“Application first” option – Some MEAP vendors are also marketing packaged applications built on top of their mobile platform, for specific vertical application domains such as sales, field service, inspection etc. as well as for horizontal domains such as timesheet reporting or expense approvals. Considering that Sybase has not been a strong contender in packaged mobile applications, the MEAP vendor trying to sell to SAP customers could downplay the “platform” side (since SAP has made its platform choice) and emphasize the “application” side. Such a positioning would use terms such as “strong domain knowledge”, “subject matter experts” and “industry specific”. To accommodate SAP, MEAP vendors choosing this option would probably offer to incorporate relevant pieces of Sybase mobile middleware into their solutions. However, MEAP is like a glacier, with the 90% under the water representing the middleware and the visible 10% representing the domain-specific application. Therefore, replacing the middleware has two problems: First, it requires a complex rewrite of the application in order to utilize the new middleware. Second, it reduces the value to the customer (since 90% of the value was in the middleware) and therefore makes it a tougher challenge to sell, even with lower price tags.
Three of these four options are so risky that they probably lead to closing of the MEAP business. The fourth one – being acquired – also leads to end of independent MEAP existence.
So what do you think? Can MEAP vendors survive as a category? If you were a MEAP vendor, what option would you pick? If you’re an enterprise looking for mobile solutions, what kind of vendors would you evaluate and how would you manage the risks?