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Mobile CRM Field Goes Specialist And Social
by Evan Koblentz
April 9, 2010
Mobile and CRM are perpetually two of the hottest buzzwords in enterprise technology, but when used together their climate may be changing.
Customers and consultants say mobile CRM is already mature and most people just need access to appointments, contacts, and tasks, not full mobile access to CRM applications. There are some exceptions for people such as field technicians and realtors, but in most markets the advanced CRM techniques are done while sitting at your desk, experts say.
Large CRM players such as Oracle and SAP get mobile applications from middleware partners such as Sybase and Syclo. Microsoft refers customers to ISVs that sell mobile plug-ins directly, and the software titan has a history of putting mobility on the back burner by introducing options several months following its major CRM releases.  The word "mobile" wasn't even mentioned in Microsoft's roadmap document last fall for the upcoming Dynamics CRM5, previously code-named V.Next, nor in last month's press release of the third-generation Community Technology Preview.
Mid-market companies such as Maximizer, Sage, and Salesforce defend their mobile products as being ahead of the curve -- and assert that larger companies are simply behind it.
"We've been in mobile for a long time so it's not new to us," says Travis Nisbett, senior product manager for Sage's SalesLogix division. SalesLogix customers typically purchase on-premise equipment although a hosted version is due next month. The current version is 7.5.2 and supports Research In Motion BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile devices. An Apple iPhone version in development is planned for later this year, probably followed by a Google Android edition, he adds.
Device support is one thing, but new ways of interacting with customers are the real trend, Nisbett notes. SalesLogix is gaining integration tools for social networking. "We've got the architecture in there so it can be hooked up and we've got people who've customized systems to do that. We are working on some developments to have out-of-the-box capabilities" which are planned for this fall. That may be part of the next overall release, code-named Augusta, or it may be available later through a service pack.
Maximizer's plan is similar. Its Maximizer CRM 11, announced last month, has a native BlackBerry application and a mobile web version. Native Windows support is discontinued because of lack of customer demand, product management director John Easton says. iPhone and Android versions are top goals for the next release or two, he adds. On the social networking front, Maximizer already has plug-ins for Facebook and LinkedIn, he notes.
Colonial Life's Zina Oster, territory manager for the Pacific Northwest, is currently deploying a beta version of Maximizer's latest web edition in a hosted configuration for several hundred agent offices. She agrees with the imminent "social CRM" trend and says mobile is relevant for inward CRM, not outbound -- customers don't want to hear that you are away from your desk when they need support or want to make a purchase.
"We're doing a lot of stuff in regard to communications with our customers... everybody's expecting quick responses," Oster says. Most products aren't flexible enough, or require IT overhead, or are expensive, but Maximizer had the best combination without making compromises, she adds.
Not that any product is perfect. The software could use better scalability, more integrated and user-friendly lead generation forms, more options for customer surveys, and an e-commerce aspect, Oster says. Ultimately, "We're really trying to set up systems that are turnkey for our agents to set up and deploy."
How will the Oracles and SAPs react? Look for a follow-up article soon.
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