SAP [7] agreed to buy Sybase [8] for US$5.8 billion further accelerating the software arms race that appears to have no end in sight. The acquistion is just a tad bit shy from the German software giant’s 2007 acquisition of Business Objects [9] for US$ 6.78 billion.

The Sybase acquisition gives SAP two things: a database of its own, and a foothold into the mobile marketplace by way of Sybase 365.

For years SAP has been content on selling its ERP applications to interested Oracle [10] database customers. The co-opetition scenario benefited both companies as it allowed them to ride on each other’s brands to grow their business. Ray Wang, an analyst with Altimeter Group [11], estimates that SAP sells about US$1 billion of Oracle databases annually. With the Sybase acquisition expect that number to come down a bit in the long term as the German giant uses its size to sway customers away from Oracle.

But not everyone thinks SAP can dance their way around the Oracle strangledhold on customers. WSJ quoted Peter Goldmacher, an analyst with Cowen & Co [12]., said the deal seems to be a desperate move by SAP. “Their business is terrible,” he said. “They’ve been out-executed at every turn by Oracle.” Goldmacher said he believes SAP will have a hard time convincing customers to move from Oracle database software to Sybase offerings.

IBM [13] benefited on this as well but mostly through its systems business and middleware offering. But with Oracle beefing up its middleware stack and offering a single-box solution, IBM should start feeling the pinch from the Oracle Exadata offering. The selling point for many business executives is still faster, better and cheaper – all the elements you will find in the Oracle Exadata product brochure.

The Sybase365 [14] business should be an interesting new field for SAP as it is aimed squarely at the mobile market – an area many analysts agree should get very hot very fast, not only in the consumer space but in the enterprise arena as well.

IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano is quoted on Wall Street Journal as indicating software is the top priority [15] for Big Blue. Palmisano is aiming to have software account for about half of the company’s pre-tax profit by 2015. IBM has spent US$13 billion over a period of seven years acquiring a total of 57 software companies.

One particular area on Palmisano’s analytics. Itself a broad segment of the software industry although around the area of business intelligence and analytics, there is only one vendor left standing by itself – SAS [16].

Wang believes that this acquisition is good for SAP [17]. It allows the vendor to prepare for the next generation of applications that are heavy into mobile and cloud technologies.

At the same time, the Sybase acquisition gives it better access into the financial services and public sector markets. The bonus for SAP is China. Sybase has a strong presence in that market.

M&A, a gentler way of saying takeover, continues to be the norm. I’m not seeing any changes to this strategy anytime. It is the goal of many a small or mid-sized niche software vendors to get rich quick by being acquired and retiring to the Bahamas.

Which leaves me to wonder, what is Microsoft [18] doing?

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It was many years ago while selling ERP systems that I learned to appreciate the power of technology to help me manage my prospect database. Cutting edge back then was a laptop, Microsoft Windows, MS Word and MS Excel. I used MS Word to craft my proposals and invitations. I used MS Excel to keep tabs of my prospects as they progress from cold to hot leads and everything in between.

Reports were simple because I only had a few leads at any given time. I spent an inordinate amount of time between looking for prospects and nurturing my relationships. Most of those relationships were forged through long hours of sifting through directories, begging for referrals, and sticking by every bit of opportunity that comes my way.

My newfound career in the publishing doesn’t require me to be directly involved in sales but I still have relationships to forge with our company’s customers. My contact database is a respectable 2,300 records of people I’ve met in the last seven years, many of whom have moved about their own respective careers and businesses. So if forging good relationships is important in my job as well as career, how do I keep my tabs of all 2,300 names?

The only technology I use at this time is my Outlook contact database. Is this sufficient? Probably not. It would be good for me to know what each of my 2,300 contact looks like because my memory fades as I age (with grace). It would be nice to greet them on their birthdays – thank you FaceBook! And so on and so on.

A friend suggested I try using customer relationship management (CRM) software. Although I’ve heard of and written a bit about CRM, I’ve never really used one. The sales people in my company have. They tried their hands on a CRM solution from salesforce.com and recently migrated over to Oracle On Demand.

I’ve not been offered nor asked to use the system. I am testing out a couple of free CRM products: FreeCRM, MX-Contact and ZohoCRM. I’ll let you know what my adventures (or misadventures) in finding the right CRM software in a separate story. For now this is about de-linking CRM from customer relationships.

According to Anthony Lye, senior vice president of Oracle CRM, many companies misconstrue having CRM as tantamount to knowing and understanding your customers. He re-iterates an old computing adage: garbage in, garbage out. He warns that many CRM implementations fail because companies implement CRM without understanding the context for which the [CRM] solution is being deployed.

He has a point. Today we are often overwhelmed by the promise of technology and we lose sight of what we want to achieve in the first place. Technology should always be viewed as an enabler of a goal or objective. Process innovation should not be sacrificed in favor of technology.

It’s not a matter of “if you build it, they will come.” Rather, its about listening to your customers whether an opportunity is present or not. My aunt is probably my best role model for developing loyal customers/clients.

I’m not advocating you ignore what technologies like CRM, business intelligence and business analytics can do for you. These are great tools at helping you automate some of the mundane aspects of customer relationship building and nurturing. Rather I am suggesting that we do not let technology, and all the marketing hype that surround it, to overwhelm our sense of what is right and proper. Each of us is endowed with common “business” sense. Use it wisely.