Mobile CRM Is on the Go

It has become easier, now that mobile solutions are converging, for vendors to offer packaged mobile access without involving expensive integration cycles or copious in-house expertise. Mobile devices simply appear as another type of client to the CRM application infrastructure. "There are things like the growing availability of Wi-Fi hotspots, allowing traveling [salespeople] to connect live more frequently than they used to, and the growing availability of broadband in hotels," says Joe Outlaw, president and chief analyst of Outlaw Research. "In the past, for a company to be productive in mobile space, they had to be experts in the mobile ecosystem," says Howard Beader, director of solutions marketing at SAP. "It's not just the software solution--there's hardware, different types of connectivity, and security, so in the past they had to do a lot of homework themselves." Saratoga Systems recently joined a growing list of firms offering tight integration with small mobile data devices like the RIM BlackBerry, releasing iAvenue Wireless in mid-May. The company says the wireless evolution trend closely mirrors the rise of the portable computer a decade ago, when it took some time to move beyond simple information storage and retrieval. "People were using handhelds to get Outlook-type information--calendars and emails--but they wanted real benefit, real ROI," says Suzette Cavanaugh, Saratoga vice president of marketing. "They want to know, 'Now that we've invested in these devices and know how we can get our email on it, what else can we do with it?'" Wireless CRM has traditionally been a playground of upper management, because of the just-in-time data delivery and because the fact that execs were more likely to succeed in having the cost of a wireless device covered by the firm. According to Saratoga, organizations launching regional pilots with their core field sales force are now more common--up to 25 individuals at a time--as companies work to integrate mobile devices into their customer contact strategies. Some companies are turning the tables, seeing the proliferation of wireless devices among working professionals as a new CRM touch point. Mobile content provider AvantGo says that companies do quite well using wireless to push inquiries to their customers when they are connected, but idle, like pulling out a PDA in an airport. "It can be a tremendously effective method of getting information to a customer and getting feedback without having to offer an incentive," says James Ryan, editorial director at AvantGo. "People use AvantGo when they are away from the computer and looking for something to do, and a survey is entertainment in that environment." No matter what form it takes, mobile CRM trend-watchers agree that uptake will grow as an increasing number of business functions are enhanced by handheld, on-the-go applications. "Incremental improvements in these small form factor mobile devices are making them increasingly valuable to a broader set of traveling people," Outlaw says. "We've moved beyond the innovator and early adopter phase," SAP's Beader says. "The mobile enterprise, from the overall technology adoption lifecycle standpoint, is now crossing the chasm."
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