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BlackBerry users get corporate sales apps on the go

Research in Motion and SAP say they are integrating some corporate applications directly onto BlackBerry devices.

Research in Motion is teaming up with SAP to integrate key enterprise software onto its Blackberry devices in a move that could mobilize business applications in the same way it did for corporate e-mail.

The two companies said Friday at a joint press conference in New York City that SAP's customer relationship management software will be natively integrated into BlackBerry devices. This means that sales professionals will be able to access their CRM application as readily as they get e-mail on their BlackBerrys.

RIM and SAP had already offered customers a browser-based solution for accessing CRM applications. But this new approach means that CRM information will be pushed to BlackBerry devices much the same way that corporate e-mail is pushed to BlackBerrys. The application will work over cellular networks and will work with all versions of BlackBerrys. The software will be available in the next few weeks, executives said.

The companies plan to expand the relationship over time. And over the next several months, they will integrate all of SAP's enterprise software applications with the BlackBerry.

RIM pioneered the mobile push e-mail model. And its BlackBerry phones lead the market in companies both large and small. Today it has over 150,000 BlackBerry servers installed in 135 countries.

But even though it's considered the leader in the corporate smartphone market, the company is facing stiff competition from companies, such as Microsoft and Apple. Apple's iPhone was originally targeted at consumers, but it's been gaining traction among business users. In March, Apple announced it was licensing software to work with Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers in an effort to provide corporate push e-mail to iPhone users. The company has also announced virtual private network capabilities and has added security features that should help corporate IT managers better manage iPhones on corporate networks. The new software upgrade will be available in June.

Meanwhile, RIM has also been addressing the consumer market with devices like the Pearl. It's also added multimedia features to its phones that allow people to store and listen to music and watch videos on their phones, features popular with some consumers. The company has also struck deals with social-networking Web sites like Facebook to bring those applications to Blackberry users. And most recently, RIM has been rumored to be working on a clamshell style phone that flips open. This handset would compete with basic-feature phones from companies such as Motorola.

Corporate customers still the core
But RIM's co-CEO James Balsillie emphasized that the company is still very much focused on its corporate customers, who make up the bulk of its base. And he said that many of the features and functionality developed for BlackBerrys are also very useful to corporate customers.

"In the media, the B to C (business to consumer) angle gets all the attention, because it's sexy," he said. "But actually the same core enablers are massively transformative to enterprise productivity. When people think of mobile video, they think of watching a music video on their phone. But they don't think about what it means for businesses to do things like training."

Balsillie said that the enterprise may actually find new multimedia features even more useful than consumers. But as RIM rapidly expands its customer base, the company has faced growing pains. And in the last year, it's encountered two major network outages that have annoyed many of its corporate customers.

Balsillie acknowledged the network issues of the past. And he said the company is constantly working to ensure that outages don't occur in the future.

"We are not perfect," he said. "And I can't stand here before you and say we've been perfect. But we aspire to perfection. And we take our responsibility to provide 100 percent uptime to our customers with the utmost seriousness. And when something happens we make sure that service is restored and no packets are lost."