Surveying the Mobile CRM Landscape
Posted: 02.04 - By Christopher Fletcher


Remember the mobile gold rush mentality of the late 1990s, when the industry had visions of mobile consumers walking down the street, searching their wireless Palm device for the nearest Starbucks while simultaneously tapping on their screens to buy CDs at Amazon? That starry-eyed vision of what mobile applications would be has been replaced in 2004 by a much more pragmatic, and realistic, view of enterprise applications and what they need to be.

The 2004 enterprise is looking for mobile solutions—a value chain of hardware platforms, enterprise applications, network access and professional services—that provide a quantifiable and measurable business benefit to mobile sales and support personnel. That measurable benefit will vary from industry to industry: the pharmaceutical market is looking to manage pharma samples and the regulatory need to capture signatures from doctors; manufacturing firms want to optimize the dispatch of field service personnel, reduce travel time and costs and invoice—read: recognize revenue—within minutes of a service rep completing a job. Mobile solutions will, I stress will, provide a quantifiable and measurable business benefit, or they won’t be adopted.

If the mobile gold rush was 1999 thinking, then ROI is the thinking of 2003 and beyond. The good news is that many of the CRM vendors have responded to customer demand and market opportunity, and today provide applications that embrace mobility. There are, however, varying degrees of mobility: while some vendors have taken the simplest path to providing mobile CRM, other vendors have taken the architectural high ground.

The least common denominator of mobile CRM is the browser. Because virtually all of the CRM vendors—enterprise as well as SMB—produce a browser-based user interface for their applications, the easiest path to mobility for them is to use that same browser-based UI on a handheld device. Unfortunately, this approach, while easy for the vendor, does not provide an especially robust solution for the end user. A browser UI assumes a network connection is in place, and does not provide the user with an “occasionally connected” alternative whenever that sales rep ducks into a large building, a company vehicle or an airplane.

The more robust mobile CRM applications utilize a mobile middleware capability that is provided by the CRM application vendor and brokers the interactions between the device and the application, enabling a mobile worker who can operate in a connected, disconnected and sometimes-connected mode. In the real world, one in which sales reps get on planes and service technicians work in the bowels of a building, this is a key capability and one that most of the simpler, connected-browser solutions do not provide out of the box.

Global 5000 companies that have a substantial investment in assets that typically reside outside of their offices—in the form of parts, inventory, product or people—would be well-served to take a look at the latest generation of sales force automation, field service and industry-specific mobile CRM applications. •

ACCPAC International

ACCPAC CRM is targeted at SMBs and supports several mobile devices, including handheld PDAs and WAP-enabled cellphones. The mobile CRM capability is browser-based and provides real-time access, with the server, automatically detecting the mobile device type and configuring the size and layout of the UI based on the device the user is connecting with. Offline access (via a laptop that isn't connected to the CRM database) uses a synchronization utility called SOLO, which manages synchronization of all data changes when the user reconnects.

Best Software (SalesLogix) Best Software’s SalesLogix CRM application provides mobile access to Pocket PC devices and the use of data management tools from Best partners Vaultus and Corum.

FrontRange (GoldMine) FrontRange recently launched its mobile version of GoldMine, mGoldMine, in the U.K. and has plans to bring this product to the U.S. market in the near future. mGoldMine provides real-time access to the GoldMine Corporate Edition from any wireless PDA or WAP/GPRS-enabled mobile phone. The company has also recently discussed plans to release a native version of the GoldMine product for the Palm OS.

Microsoft CRM

Microsoft CRM provides several alternatives for mobility. A PDA with a browser can use the MS CRM browser-based UI to wirelessly access functionality and data such as recent account activity and contact information. In addition, because MS CRM is built on a .NET framework, the .NET Compact Framework supported on Pocket PC devices enables the support of MS CRM related functionality.

Onyx

Developed with a browser-based UI, the Onyx Employee Portal–Handheld Edition works with virtually any portable device: Pocket PC, Palm OS, WAP phone and RIM Blackberry (using a third-party product that supports a browser with Java script). Because it is browser-based, however, access requires a connected, real-time environment. To operate in a disconnected or sometimes-connected environment, Onyx uses the AvantGo mobile platform synchronization capability, which manages the download of data to the device for offline use.

PeopleSoft

PeopleSoft’s Mobile CRM Sales product provides remote access to data such as contacts, customer information, leads, opportunities and forecasting. The mobile solution is based on Web access that reduces the device footprint but that also requires a data connection. PeopleSoft Mobile CRM also provides an intelligent synchronization capability that manages the exchange of data between the PeopleSoft database and the mobile device, updating only information that has changed and that is relevant to the mobile sales user.

Pivotal

Pivotal Wireless enables access to customer data using Web-enabled phones, PDAs with browser capabilities and two-way paging devices. Although a supported and bundled solution, including the device, browser, and network, is available in North America through Pivotal and its partners, the solution today does not provide for offline access to or synchronization with data without the use of third-party software.

Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com has proven itself to be an innovator in the mobile CRM world, offering remote users several alternatives for accessing Salesforce.com and customer data. For wireless devices that support a browser, Salesforce.com provides a scaled-down UI that accommodates the smaller form factor of a PDA. Because the connection is made in real time, there are no issues involving the synchronization of data when reconnected. Salesforce.com also offers an innovative approach for users with RIM BlackBerrys: using a natural language query, a user can send an e-mail request for customer information; the data is then e-mailed back to them. The PDA/browser solution won’t work in disconnected mode, and the e-mail solution requires the user to format an inquiry and wait for an e-mail response–which may present some problems for the power user. On the other hand, the e-mail option allows users to create requests when outside of their coverage area and send it when they are back in coverage. Salesforce.com can also utilize AvantGo to download and synchronize customer data with a PDA, enabling a user to store and view data from the PDA without any kind of wireless connection.

SAP

mySAP Mobile Business enables mobility with all of the SAP enterprise applications, including CRM, through integration with the SAP Mobile Infrastructure middleware layer. This middleware layer is an integral part of the underlying SAP architecture and enables a mobile CRM application to access mySAP CRM, customer data and business processes in either a connected, disconnected or sometimes-connected state, managing the transfer of data and resolving synchronization issues between the handheld application and the CRM application residing on the enterprise server.

Siebel Systems

Siebel offers several mobile CRM applications, including Siebel Sales Handheld for Windows and Siebel Mobile Sales Solutions for Palm OS. Although the functionality varies depending on the mobile device type, it generally allows various data sets such as accounts, opportunities, price lists, products, orders and other information from the Siebel repositories to be downloaded to the device. Device support includes the HP iPAQ, HP Jornada 720, Palm OS devices and cellular devices that support SMS,
SMTP and paging.

Christopher Fletcher is VP, managing director and head
of Aberdeen’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
practice, which provides research and consulting on market
strategy, communication, product positioning and branding for established and emerging CRM technology suppliers.

 


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