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Startup Sees Enterprise Apps as Telco Opportunity

Startup Leapfactor Inc. is making a big enterprise push today with a new cloud-based mobile application platform that it says can mobilize any business app or process for thousands of employees. In its bid to consumerize the enterprise, the SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP) partner is looking to help the wireless operators take on corporate America.

In the past, developers that wanted apps on a mobile phone had to convince the wireless operators to embed them. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and its runaway App Store success changed that model, but Leapfactor CEO Lionel Carrasco tells us there's still an important role that telcos play in the enterprise.

"[Apple] created an opportunity for us because when a carrier invests money to get a consumer account, they put in a lot of money," Carrasco says. "It's expensive to acquire a new account. When we went to these carriers and asked if they want to do a pilot with thousands of cellphones, it became very interesting for a carrier to treat it as a corporate account." Carrasco knows from his SAP experience that the process of building an enterprise app is highly complex and time consuming, involving on-premises software and infrastructure, integration, long implementation cycles, high costs, and low return. Leapfactor's goal is to simplify this process, another lesson learned from Apple, to a less than 90-day, middleware-free undertaking that produces consumer-like apps.

The apps are designed for those "enterprises that have invested a lot of money over the years in CRM systems to expose those systems in micro applications for single-task functions," Carrasco says. Enterprises can choose from one of Leapfactor's user interfaces and build an enterprise service for the iOS, Android, or BlackBerry operating systems.

For telcos, the fact that they can reach many large corporate accounts makes the proposition a lot more interesting. Carrasco says they can also play a role in building local apps or those that require a high level of security, such as money-exchanging services. Where local infrastructure -- and a way to monetize -- is required, so are telcos, he says.

"That's where we are partnering with carriers. We can help them to be that point of control on our platform."

This is a space that telcos are already exploring on the wireline side. Verizon Enterprise Solutions has a partnership in place with Accenture to manage SAP apps for enterprises, and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) works with both SAP and Accenture to do the same. (See Verizon, Accenture Tap SAP App Gap.)

Leapfactor's service could provide the mobile side of the equation. If companies have already invested in Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), or others, they can use the same tools to expose the services to Leapfactor to create mobile versions. (See IBM Says It Can Give Mobile Biz a Boost.)

Leapfactor would expose the data from a company's backend system through XML and store it in the cloud, where it is accessed on an on-demand basis. "This is part of the innovation: Instead of asking the app developer of SAP to build a cool app, which he won't be able to do, instead of asking the young guy to embrace the enterprise complexity, we are allowing the enterprise side to expose business functions and allow any developer to very quickly build the app, the same way they build consumer apps," says Carrasco.

In addition, Leapfactor offers three ready-made micro apps for the iPhone for business alerts for priority emails, indicators for business metrics, and approvals for internal communications. The company claims more than 4,000 users have downloaded the apps since their private launch in May.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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