CRM Goes Mobile
"What good is the data you've collected about your customers if it is locked away in a database somewhere?" asks Paulo Chow, director of product marketing, Siebel Handheld. "You need to empower the people that are interacting with those customers."
To compete effectively in the post-PC era, businesses are finding they must run their critical business applications where they can be most effective. For sales organizations and field forces, this means running SFA and CRM applications on handheld devices that can be used while a mobile worker is still with the customer. Among the earliest adopters of handheld devices and mobile phones, sales and field force professionals have long recognized their value for scheduling, customer contact and time and expense billing.
Analysts see the trend toward mobile CRM applications as a natural evolution of technology deployment. What started with field sales forces and customer support is now finding its way to administrative support and into mainstream companies. "It's relatively common these days for an investment banker to use a Palm-like device to get access to key customer and account records," says Christopher Fletcher, vice president and managing director for customer relationship management at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. "Now we are starting to see people using them to track inventory levels, do quality control and other kinds of SFA apps. It's not just a list of customers. They've got the inventory database downloaded to the site, and they can take the order and make a commitment to the customer right there on site."
Businesses are using handheld devices to streamline information collection, improve the efficiency of business processes and ensure accurate corporate data. With up-to-date access to customer information, a company can deliver timely customer service across multiple touch points, including sales and customer service. Effective use of mobile applications can help a company slash sales cycles, speed problem resolution and deliver better customer service.
Today's handhelds can do much more than just sync PIM data with corporate systems such as Outlook, Lotus Notes, ACT! or GoldMine. Now Siebel Systems, Oracle, PeopleSoft and others are offering access to full-fledged SFA and CRM applications. Palm and Psion handhelds, Pocket PCs and other similar devices have come a long way from their humble beginnings as electronic organizers. They have the memory capacity and processing muscle necessary to handle many kinds of sales force automation, customer service and field service tasks.
eBusiness Goes Mobile
Many of the biggest names in SFA and CRM have announced handheld products, including Siebel, Onyx, Pivotal, Oracle, SalesLogic and PeopleSoft/Vantive.
A year ago, Siebel introduced Siebel Sales Handheld, an application for handheld devices running the Windows CE operating system. Through Siebel Sync, users can exchange information in both directions with the Siebel Sales Enterprise data stored back on the server, ensuring that every member of the sales team remains up-to-date on all customer interactions. Siebel Sales Handheld was the first step in what is proving to be a more far-reaching initiative that brings Siebel functionality down to the handheld. Windows CE's compatibility with other versions of Windows, in both its user interface and the application programming interfaces necessary to write Windows applications, made it a natural for Siebel's first attempts at scaling down its considerable functionality for a handheld platform. Siebel Sales Handheld is also unique in its ability to scale to a variety of handheld form factors, from Palm-like devices that utilize a pen-based interface up to notebook-like devices with keyboards.
With Siebel Sales Handheld behind it, Siebel is now beginning to look at other platforms where the user interface might be different, but the required functionality is much the same. Siebel has partnered with Palm Computing to offer a variety of mobile solutions. The first steps appear somewhat tentative. Initially, Siebel will integrate its eBusiness offering with the Palm Address Book, Calendar and To-Do applications, allowing data to be synchronized between the Palm and Siebel 2000. But Siebel is also turning its attention to wireless, which is likely to be the biggest growth area for mobile CRM applications over the next several years. Wireless is still in its infancy, admits stone. It's too slow, expensive to deploy and there are severe penalties to be paid by the early adopters, but this will change as standards converge and bandwidth increases.
Today, Siebel offers a Web-clipping application that allows users of the wireless Palm VII, Palm V with OmniSky modem and soon other Palm devices to connect to Siebel Sales Enterprise where they can review opportunities from the Siebel Database, identify a contact and place an order for that customer using a separate Order Processing and Inventory Control application.
Siebel is also working with Sprint PCS to provide access to Siebel eBusiness Applications via the Sprint Wireless Web for Business. With a WAP-enabled handset, business users get instant, remote wireless access to Siebel eBusiness Applications such as Siebel Sales and Siebel Field Service on the Sprint PCS nationwide wireless network. A Sprint PCS phone can also be used as a wireless modem when connected to a laptop or PDA for wireless access to the Internet or a corporate intranet. From wherever they are, business users can review and update sales opportunities, make real-time inquiries about products, services and order status and respond to service requests and time-critical activities. "Deploying these kinds of mobile computing solutions can dramatically improve the return on investment and the overall productivity gains of implementing a CRM system," says Brian stone, product line manager, wireless products at Siebel.
One of the biggest problems faced by corporations
implementing CRM systems is the need to provide the same level of customer service no matter how your sales or service representatives are interacting with your
customers. Mobile technology can solve one piece of this puzzle by providing information at the point of customer contact. "One of the key reasons that CRM applications fail is that the actual users of the applications don't input the relevant customer data," says stone. "If it's not there, your call center
doesn't have access to it."
PeopleSoft, of Pleasanton, Calif., offers CRM software (acquired when it purchased Vantive) that facilitates customer contact through multiple touch points- -the Web, phone, e-mail, fax or by direct contact with sales and service representatives. PeopleSoft CRM software is composed of modules for customer-facing functions including sales, marketing, support, field service, IT and product development, which can be used individually or as part of an integrated enterprise suite. "We provide a true zero-client architecture where the client is just a browser," says Ed Schreyer, vice president of marketing, PeopleSoft CRM. "That contrasts with a lot of other providers that encapsulate functionality in an applet that has to be downloaded. It also allows us to provide a portal that integrates data sources and key functionality."
But the portal approach is only one of many that PeopleSoft will take as it moves aspects of the PeopleSoft 8 software out to mobile devices. The company has developed an application for the Blackberry 957 two-way pager that allows a field service technician to receive dispatches and send updates on field service calls back to the enterprise database. "If we were to rely on a Web browser to accomplish this, we'd be at the mercy of whenever that tech chooses to log on to the Web and update the data," says Schreyer.
PeopleSoft, like many other vendors, views wireless as the key to moving beyond the need to sync databases because it allows mobile sales and field service workers to interact with those databases in real time. "Everybody will have live access to the enterprise. Because of our architecture, we don't have to send a lot of data down. That allows us to run on a fairly low-speed link such as what you get with wireless today. It eliminates the need to carry around a copy of the database. It provides the ability to use whatever device you like and provides access to the immediate data that drives your enterprise."
Salespeople can find out whether a product is available and when it will be delivered to the customer. Orders can be placed the moment they are taken and the supply chain can be more effectively managed. "The last thing you want when you are about to close a deal for 10,000 widgets is to discover they are back ordered and won't be available for a month," says Schreyer. "You want to be able to put that order in immediately and lock the inventory. You can't do that by syncing to the database and you can't do it if your sales application doesn't talk to your supply chain application. What we can do is pull from many different sources and present them. It isn't necessary to rebuild a full application. You're just driving data down to some sort of viewing device."
Don't be fooled by the utopian visions of universal wireless access, however. Deployment of this infrastructure is still some way off. For data-driven CRM applications, the best bet is still a combination of online and offline data storage.
"Companies like Siebel and Oracle understand this very well," says Chuck Yort, vice president of business and government at Palm. "They're really smart about how they segment the data. If I'm in the southwest territory, I don't need to have the list of customers in the northwest category."
In extending its applications to the handheld and the handset, Siebel is employing the same approach that it took earlier with laptops. Recognizing that wireless connectivity is not yet widespread enough, it has built its applications on top of the company's patented replication technology. The user can perform the job of uploading or requesting information for download when disconnected from the network. The next time that user is connected, the information will flow both ways as needed. "Our approach is to give the customer the ability to operate in a stand-alone disconnected environment like we do with laptops," says Siebel's Chow. "That's due to the reality of today's wireless infrastructure. Salespeople often need to carry around several megabytes of data, and they want some core functionality on the device itself. So rather than just sync information, we use Siebel tools to configure views and screens that match the workflow of the customer."
There are several computing approaches to getting important data out to salespeople and field force workers. In one scenario, the heavyweight databases are kept on the corporate server, while the handset or handheld is used to provide a window into this information. In another, key portions of the data are stored locally, such as a list of the most important opportunities.
"What we're doing is picking the right subset of information and supplementing that by allowing the person in the factory to send information to their partner in the field rather than load all of it onto the device the person in the field is carrying," says PeopleSoft's Schreyer.
Siebel's handheld applications benefit from the functionality already in place with Siebel's applications. There are a variety of pre-built modules for such things as funnel analysis, target account selling and expense reporting that can be accessed from the handheld.
Browsing Right Along
GoldMine Software has also announced a suite of products that will provide access to GoldMine FrontOffice 2000 from a variety of both Web and wireless-enabled devices. The move to Web-enabling its software is itself a move into the post-PC era, when CRM applications will be available to anyone with a Web browser. Like Siebel's, the GoldMine product provides real-time access to GoldMine data and streamlined modules that provide increased ease-of-use and navigation speed on handheld devices. The product includes GoldMine Everywhere Web, GoldMine Everywhere for Palm VII Handhelds and the GoldMine Everywhere Thin Client. The GoldMine Everywhere Server extends the product's ability to track customer contacts across an organization to any platform and any handheld or wireless device, providing universal access to a unified customer database. GoldMine's Palm VII application uses Palm's Palm.Net to provide end-users with real-time wireless access to customers, prospects, tickets and calendars. Any change entered on the handheld is immediately updated back on the server. The product can also be used with Palm V Handhelds and Omnisky wireless modems.
Foregoing the synchronization approach entirely, Frontstep of Minneapolis has introduced a version of its estep CRM software that provides users of Palm VII devices and cellular telephones with the ability to connect to a live database of account information running on the corporate server. This approach builds on the Web-enabled software already in place.
The arrival of true enterprise-class SFA, FFA and CRM applications on the Palm platform is, in part, the result of aggressive efforts on the part of Palm Computing to transform the company from its initial consumer focus to one with strong ties to the enterprise. "A year and a half ago I criticized Palm for their lack of focus on these kinds of applications," says Fletcher. "But they are now very focused on the enterprise space and very focused on wireless. That's now Palm's primary mission. They've done a good job of changing the culture and the mindset of the company there."