Wireless CRM's Potential and Challenges

CRM programs, which have become increasingly important for businesses, may not perform as expected or needed when ported to wireless devices, according to Jim Begley, senior manager of CRM research, FrontRange Solutions, Colorado Springs, Colo. FrontRange Solutions is the manufacturer of GoldMine (CRM) and HEAT (help desk) software programs.

"The problems that have to be solved are huge," Begley says. Salespeople and other field force workers need access to company information such as pricing and inventory on a real-time basis. But many of these programs are written for client-server systems first, with mobile devices an afterthought, according to Begley and Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for Gartner, stamford, Conn. Even the best known CRM companies are guilty of this, Dulaney adds, blaming IT and CRM company executives for concentrating on the technology and revenue enhancements with little concern for how the buyer will actually use these products in practice.

Companies would be better to build applications for wireless devices first, Dulaney says. Even in those instances, companies still have to guard against having silos of data in different wireless devices, Begley says, pointing to the need to synchronize new customer data such as sales and contact information from handheld devices to the company's back office as well as new pricing and other data for sales presentations.

Although synchronization at the beginning and the end of the day is good enough for many applications, there is an increasing number of applications that need real-time access to information, according to Begley.

For example, a company may have 250 units of an item in stock. If one salesman sells 100 units of a product and another promises 200 units to a customer before the first salesman updates the server, the second salesman might not be able to fulfill his promise, leaving a disgruntled customer. On the other hand, if the first salesman was using a browser-based application to enter the sales information, the second salesman would know the second order could not be filled until a later time.

Other salespeople need access to quickly change prices of their products, Begley adds. To solve this and other synchronization challenges, FrontRange uses software from GraphOn, Morgan Hill, Calif., that Web enables a company's existing applications through a browser and thin-client technology. The thin-client technology means that functions such as processing and data storage are all done at the company, rather than on a sales or service person's laptop or Internet-capable handheld device, Begley says. "This doesn't require you to rewrite the HTML code for different front-end devices."

Therefore, applications will have the same look and feel regardless of whether they're viewed on PCs or handhelds, which is often the case when an application is changed for wireless functionality, Begley says.

Although GraphOn offers one solution, there is still plenty of room for new wirelessly enabled CRM applications, according to Rob DeSisto, vice president of Gartner's CRM practice.

"Wireless is the sweet spot," DeSisto says. "Mobile applications are becoming the bread and butter of CRM." However, many legacy CRM applications are too cumbersome for wireless devices, which are limited by smaller screens and slower download times than their wired counterparts, DeSisto adds.

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