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You Can Take it With You!

  • March 01 2001, 1:00am EST

You've heard the old adage, "You can't take it with you." Do you believe it, in the context of the burgeoning wireless phenomenon? Surely you have (or know someone who has) a wireless device – a cell phone or a personal digital assistant (PDA) – that helps you get and stay connected when you are mobile. Wireless is terrific for e-mail, receiving news and weather, and doing basic transactions over the Internet. In fact, what you do "wirelessly" is an extension of what you already do. Why not extend wireless capability to encompass customer relationship management (CRM)? It might be called mCRM – mobile customer relationship management – and it can provide Internet and intranet content not only directly to customers, but also to mobile employees in service and other customer-related businesses.

Carl Zetie, director of mobile information technology at Giga Information Group, has said that mobile devices allow organizations to compromise between being close to information in a central location, and being close to customers in the field. You need both to be successful in CRM. Embed a small-footprint Java DBMS in a sales force automation (SFA) or CRM application, and some of the things you can do are:

  • Allow field service representatives to access and update customer data, and sync back to legacy data (add prospects, change customer data, etc.).
  • Analyze data based on various parameters such as product, geography, time, etc.
  • Provide a mobile portal enabling the sales or customer service employee to see the same or similar functionality on his or her PDA or cell phone as on the Web.
  • Allow entry to the SFA application not only from mobile devices, but also via voice activation (no keying).
  • Enable e-commerce payment functionality.

Sounds good, but you say it'll never work? Think again. Granted, there are design issues to be dealt with; but some organizations are beginning to empower not only their customers, but also their employees via mobile devices and functionality. The most important design issue is the different context of use – screens are smaller and less information can be communicated than with a PC. Internet content and business logic needs to be re-purposed for mobile deployment. People will get impatient if it takes too many steps to accomplish their tasks or if the steps don't make business sense. However, get the usability right and you're on the road!
It is also important to get the data and application architectures right. Where is the data and where is the function (local or remote)? How current does your data need to be? How connected do you need the application to be – always or just periodically connected? Remember, users can't always be connected (airplanes, elevators, etc.). How thin or fat should your application be?

What about bandwidth? Bandwidth is an issue that needs to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind what Carl Zetie at Giga says, "Network demand is a gas: it expands to fill the bandwidth available." Careful consideration of available and required bandwidth will be necessary with an mCRM application.

There are always the issues such as integrating mCRM applications with existing systems and infrastructure, supporting proliferating devices and choosing vendors that can provide the best products and assistance.

However, the greatest of these issues is delivering a usable design. If the application developers don't know the business, the user and the factors under which the users will work (Will cold or rainy weather affect functionality? Does the user need both hands free? When will re-syncing to legacy systems occur? What data is critical and at what point in the customer interaction?), the application may not be usable. For example, if unneeded information is shoved at users without regard for their preference for receiving it, the users will turn the devices off rather than be subjected to the unneeded information. Lack of imagination during development will translate into lack of use. Other issues can be architected around or overcome, but not lack of imagination in delivering a usable design.

Mobile CRM has the potential to be challenging and difficult, yet some organizations are starting to reap its benefits. They are discovering the value of helping employees reach the customer anywhere, anytime. With advances in hardware devices and their operating systems, along with imaginative mCRM applications, perhaps you can indeed take it with you!

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