Analysts and vendors agree: the time may finally be right for mobile CRM.
One of the paradoxes of Customer Relationship Management technology, or CRM, is that its use makes the most sense in a mobile environment - but until recently mobile technologies could not accommodate the needs of advanced CRM apps.
Well, now they can. Numerous vendors are fervently hoping that the same corporate execs who coughed up the dough for wired CRM applications in the past two or three years will now be willing to belly up to the bar again for a dose of wireless CRM.
In a Nutshell
"Customer Relationship Management" refers to a broad range of software products designed to give corporations the ability to leverage everything they know about their clients. CRM apps link together a customer's preference data and service call records, as well as inventory control and a host of other back-office processes. The desired outcome is to maximize the productivity of every encounter with a repeat customer.
The apps have been around for several years, but as recently as 12 months ago, the client-server platform underlying many mobile devices made it impractical to create wireless versions of CRM programs. Today's Internet-based devices have changed all that, according to Rob Eklund, VP for CRM product marketing at PeopleSoft, one of the largest players in the relationship management field.
"Internet architectures give me a lot more flexibility and have a lot fewer demands in terms of what the interface looks like," he explained.
As a result, a slew of new mobile CRM apps are expected to hit the market in the coming months. Leading players such as Siebel Systems, Oracle, e.piphany, and CommSoft UK have announced mobile CRM products in various stages of development.
If the race is on to gain market share in the wireless CRM space, it is hardly surprising. Framingham, Mass., based research firm IDC has said that spending on CRM analysis applications should surpass $2.3 billion by 2004 - up more than 50 percent since 1999.
The New Stuff
For a glimpse of what the new apps will look like, we checked in with Horsham, Pa.-based software maker Astea. On July 30, the firm unveiled EveryWareUR, a mobile CRM suite, which VP of Strategic Planning Greg Cicio said could generate new levels of efficiency in service calls.
"Say you have a field-service technician that needs to be dispatched. That person needs all the contract data, all the questions that were asked at the help desk, an attachment that tells you how to do the repair, and what parts are needed," he explained. "Often that happens with a variety of different types of media and requires different processes."
When the technician actually performs the service at the client's site, that technician "then must manually put in a work order that shows they have done this service. They have to collect billing information, and send that back to the company. Then when all that information is received, it has to be divided up among the appropriate departments - finance and inventory and so on - and put into the computer."
CRM ties all that information together in a single interface. Mobile CRM goes that effort one better, by making that interface available to the technician in the field.
Industries experts see merit in this scenario, but also offer words of caution.
"How can you make [business processes] less expensive? How can you take the friction out of transactions? If there are very specific, pointed applications that can get information to a sales rep in the field that is going to be a benefit," said Mel Baiada, CEO of the Mt. Laurel, N.J. technology-services firm Sengen. "Nobody cares about the Internet per se anymore. It is not about the technology: It is about the solution. Everyone is looking for a way to make processes more efficient."
That being said, Baiada cautions that "CRM" is a fairly amorphous term, and he urges IT executives to look closely at what they are buying before they jump on board the "mobile CRM" bandwagon.
"You have to think past CRM as a buzzword. You have to identify your actual problem, and then find the piece of CRM that solves that problem," he said. "Wireless may be a piece of that in your company, but then again, it may not be a piece of that."
Reprinted from M-Commerce Times.