• November 1, 2005
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

CRM's High Wireless Act

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Why is wireless important to CRM? A simple question, but one that calls for a detailed answer. CRM is about getting a holistic view of the customer, and that view needs to be current. Mobile and wireless technology grants users the power to be in constant contact with the home office and the customer, wherever users are. Plus, they can react to new developments instantly, even solving problems before they start. When cellular phones and text pagers became available, field sales personnel immediately realized the power those gadgets gave them. Service people also latched onto the immediacy of the wireless model to respond faster to clients' needs. Even marketing has found uses for wireless and mobile technology through branding and mobile advertising content, and is developing the ability to push advertising to wireless devices based on user preferences and location. Businesses have gotten the message that wireless will be increasingly important to all areas of operation, including CRM. Even back in 2004, "Mobilizing the Enterprise," an IDC survey of its mobile advisory council (a group of early-adopter businesses that had mobilized at least one function) showed that about 34 percent had CRM access on wireless devices, 32 percent were using field service apps, and 22 percent had wireless SFA. The survey for 2005 indicated that wireless use had grown among early adopters, with functions as diverse as data collection, sales, supply chain management, time reporting, inventory, and customer service getting mobilized. Despite the seeming omnipresence of wireless--go for a walk and see how long it takes to spot somebody using a PDA, cell phone, or wireless-equipped notebook at a local hot spot--the industry is still evolving, with new technologies and new uses of the old ones constantly being unveiled. Where is all of it taking us? Here, a look at emerging trends in wireless. Consolidation, Simplification Putting these two concepts together may seem counterintuitive, but in fact they're rather closely connected. CRM applications can be very deep, and depth means complexity. This runs counter to the needs of the wireless user, who wants information with a minimum of scrolling and tapping. "The trend is simplification of CRM, as wireless becomes more and more mainstream," says John Carini, CEO and chief architect of wireless for iEnterprises, an integrator of wireless CRM. "Users in the field have driven enterprise applications onto mobile devices, since those are the people who are most closely interacting with the customer." The ability to check on order status, provide updated price quotes, and reschedule meetings on the fly can make the difference between success and failure on the road. Because of this, according to Carini, we can expect to see more applications making their way onto BlackBerrys, Treos, and Smartphones this year. "Email is still important, but it isn't the killer app anymore," Carini says. "What brings value? CRM. Expect to see much more in the way of account management, opportunity management, sales forecasting, and alerts." At the same time, Carini warns of the possibility of information overload. "Many CRM technology packages have lots of bells and whistles, which might not all be useful to the mobile sales force. But the mobile platform, with its small screen, actually helps to simplify and streamline your choices." Platform Agnosticism
Put surprisingly, hardware vendors realized that RIM and Palm had a good thing going, and now numerous companies are entering the mobile/wireless device market. In addition to the horde of BlackBerry and Treo models and imitators, several vendors have Smartphones, using the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. This broadening platform landscape means that implementers and IT departments must either cope with compatibility issues that arise when a mobile force is using multiple devices, or standardize the entire company on one platform. Both entail headaches: Standardization means that users don't have a say in what they get to use, and some people have preferences. Allowing them choice can bring higher costs, more troubleshooting problems, and instances where one group of users simply can't do what another one can. Destinator Technologies, for example, works on the assumption that writing business software for just one device family is not the best way to guide the company to a successful future. Thus, the developer of location-based services makes software usable on most wireless devices available in Asia, Europe, and North America. Jeff Kulkowsky, senior vice president of marketing, notes that navigation-based mobile services are seeing increasing uptake among security, law enforcement, government, and emergency workers; communicating quickly across a variety of devices can save lives. On the other hand, it's not for nothing that RIM BlackBerry devices make up an estimated 50 percent of the market, and that figure isn't likely to change much anytime soon. Many companies will write code for multiple platforms, but expect BlackBerry to be one of them in the majority of cases. Carini mentions Microsoft's April announcement of Magneto, a long-rumored project to market a push-based data application to compete directly with BlackBerry server software: "Microsoft wants to play BlackBerry." This is a battle to be watched, with deeply entrenched RIM defending against the massive resources of Microsoft. Networks Of course, all the wireless devices and software in the world are useless without network coverage. Wi-Fi, the current standard for integrated voice and data networks, is limited in range because each transmission and repeater tower has to be relatively close to the others--a few hundred feet. However, we are also experiencing the early rollout of WiMAX, a new standard that allows high-speed data traffic to reach 6 miles between towers. WiMAX is still in testing, but devices are expected to become available to the consumer by early 2007. Point-to-point connections (wireless, but not mobile) will be first out, but the technology should go mobile soon thereafter--demand for new wireless technology being what it is. One term that we can expect to hear more of in relation to WiMAX is 3G, short for third generation wireless. You've been hearing about it for a while, as the 3G concept has been around since the late 1990s, referring to the convergence of voice with all manner of data and multimedia content. Developers are still working toward 3G, but anybody with a Smartphone knows it's only a matter of time until the experts agree we're there. Until then, the work in progress is often called 2.5G. Interestingly, Europe has the lead in 3G adoption: London-based telecommunications consultancy Ovum estimates that one in six cell phone users in Europe will be 3G subscribers by the close of 2006, as network coverage grows and handset prices shrink. That's 63 million people, and subscription figures make the prediction seem likely. Vodafone Group PLC, Europe's biggest operator, signed one million new customers around the world in Q2 2005 alone, while 3 Group, Hong Kong--based Hutchison Whampoa's wireless unit, added 1.7 million global subscribers in Q1. "The North American market currently is more focused on acquisition and consolidation and exploring various new technologies, in particular WiMAX, which could be used for convergence as well," says Luke Thomas, research analyst for wireless technology at Frost & Sullivan. "It is not a question of which year convergence will break out in North America, but rather if the service providers can interoperate with each other's networks." Convergence Newer, more capable networks will spark advances in wireless technology and crossovers in another emerging technology: voice over IP. One of the barriers to broad VoIP adoption has been the lack of interoperability between mobile phones, land lines, and Ethernet-based IP phones. Manufacturers like the 14 members of the unlicensed mobile access (UMA) working group are beginning to roll out dual-mode handsets capable of making and receiving both cellular and wireless IP traffic. (Not to be confused with the old school definition of dual mode, a cell phone that could handle two types of digital cellular signal, whether TDMA, CDMA, or GSM.) The ability to deliver wireless voice traffic via IP is known as voice over wireless local area network (VoWLAN). Crucial to the success of VoWLAN, and therefore dual-mode phones in general, is wireless network coverage. Currently, such phones would operate almost seamlessly in any major metropolis, where heavy data volume and voice traffic are common. In areas where coverage isn't as solid, users would return to the annoyance of dropped calls that was common back when mobile phones were the size of bricks. So it's fair to say that VoWLAN will rely on WiMAX, with its ability to cover much broader areas with fewer installations. Speaking of bricks, another attempt at worldwide coverage, satellite telephony, seemed promising at the turn of the 21st century. The hefty handsets and expensive yet unreliable service eventually killed the commercial market, though some are still out there and the technology also has military applications. The real trick will be seamless hand-off from IP call to cellular, but that ability doesn't exist yet. Technologists at the IEEE and elsewhere are working on the problem, but expect the early days of VoWLAN to be characterized by either-or calls, and callbacks on the other mode when the first one drops the call. Location-based Services Computing power, GPS capability, and network coverage have come together in such a way as to allow easy access to location-based services (LBS), including real-time travel directions, dynamic routing of service trucks, and recommending a restaurant to take a client to, based on where the meeting will be. A Frost & Sullivan report states revenue for enterprise LBS will grow from the current $160 million to about $1 billion by 2010, with the total market growing from a current 390,000 users to more than 1.6 million by 2007. Microsoft is one of the vendors putting LBS in businesspeople's hands with its MapPoint product, along with @Road, HP, IBM, Intrado, and TCS. Service optimization is one of the key areas that location-based mobile technology can aid the CRM effort, according to David Schapiro, executive vice president of markets and products for Click Software. "Mobile adoption and LBS have taken a lot of the pain out of dispatching service people by providing visibility. Headquarters has a continuously updated picture of where technicians are and what their status is," Schapiro says. "Previously, service trucks would roll out in the morning with a paper schedule, and the driver would try to get to as many appointments as possible. The excess would roll over to the next day, and the customer would be left waiting. Today, companies can do drip-feed dispatching instead, with trucks being routed as calls come in." Schapiro adds that schedules and routing can be changed on the fly if one technician has unexpected difficulties or is stuck in traffic, and customers receive automatic notification when arrival is imminent. "Products like our ClickMobile service optimization suite put forecasting, planning, scheduling, and analysis into the hands of the field engineer." Any stockbroker will tell you that predicting the future is tricky, but it seems clear that 2006 will be marked by the rapid expansion of mobile products and services in North America, or at least the start of that expansion. Broader, faster networks, coupled with more powerful hardware and software, will put more CRM functionality into your hands--literally. All you have to do is reach out and grab it. Is it Practical? Is it Safe? in theory, the day is not far away when all forms of communication, wireless and otherwise, can be accessed through a single handset. Such a device could receive cellular, IP voice, IP data, and two-way radio (push to talk). As the handsets' capabilities increase so will weight, battery drain, and network congestion. Moore's law--technology will get smaller, more powerful, and cheaper (it will double or halve every 18 months to 2 years) fairly quickly--should reduce those concerns. Contact Senior Writer Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com What it won't do is reduce security concerns. As more information is rendered as data, it creates more holes in the infrastructure for hackers to sneak into. It's not inconceivable that the digital underground will use spoofed IP calls to access confidential personal or business information, but it's even more likely that we'll see a resurgence of the 1970s-relic "phone phreaks," who figured out how to trick Ma Bell into letting them make unlimited free phone calls. People already do something similar when they access unsecured Wi-Fi networks for Internet access, so the progression isn't so hard to see. --M. L.
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