Wireless CRM Beckons

From field sales to field service, CRM will drive the wireless market. At least this is the key finding from a recent Frost and Sullivan study, which predicts the market for mobile wireless CRM products and services will grow at a 36 percent annual clip through 2008. Wireless CRM is expected to reach $2.5 billion globally in 2008, which still pales in comparison to the 2008 estimates of $35.7 billion for the overall CRM market. Last year, mobile wireless CRM accounted for $300 million in the U.S., according to Frost and Sullivan. "The current adoption of mobile CRM will grow rapidly in 2004 and 2005, when wireless technology matures," says Katherine Shariq, industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan. Specifically, this means when wireless bandwidth issues are ironed out and interconnectivity between network providers becomes standardized and pervasive. Even more impressive, Frost and Sullivan's predictions relate to only mobile wireless CRM solutions that access corporate databases over wide-area networks, or WANs. Most buzz around mobile CRM today is over offline capabilities that let portable notebooks sync to a CRM system though a non-wireless Internet connection. "Most companies started with the disconnected versions and are evolving to the wireless solutions," Shariq says. "Today, wireless activity is in the pilot stage, although companies are asking for it. Global 1000 companies are putting mobile into their initiatives, but less than 2 percent have mobile CRM usage." Early adopters tend to be companies that already have large, 'always-on' field service operations, such as parcel delivery companies FedEx and UPS or high-tech vendors with massive on-site technical support groups. Many use proprietary wireless technology to keep in constant contact with field-service personnel, and thus must integrate existing wireless devices to new-fangled CRM systems. Other early-adopter industries of CRM wireless include finance and insurance. CRM vendors haven't missed the signs, either. Siebel Systems, Peregrine Systems, SAP, Astea, Click Commerce, among others, are tuning their offerings to support field-service personnel. Siebel, Amdocs, Oracle, Onyx and PeopleSoft provide support for field sales. "Field service is probably the leading application, but certainly everybody has been using a cellular phone for field sales and for wanting to see what's in the sales pipeline while away from the office," Shariq says. But the road to wireless CRM isn't smoothly paved. Handling mobile disconnected CRM is very different from handling mobile wireless CRM, Shariq claims. "Most vendors are doing one and partnering to do the other," she says. "Companies that are doing both are realizing that it requires separate developments." For instance, a mobile disconnected solution centers on syncing technology, whereas a mobile wireless solution deals with WAP, WML and other wireless protocols. And then there's the ever elusive bandwidth and connectivity constraints that go hand-in-hand with the larger wireless landscape. "There's been several things holding this industry back," Shariq says. Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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