Mobile Management Guide to Mobile CRM Solutions

Smartphone usage has exploded in the workplace over the last few years with both enterprises and employees buying the mobile devices. Many organizations are recognizing the potential benefits of using these Internet-connected smartphones to extend customer relationship management (CRM) systems beyond the traditional corporate boundaries to mobile workers such as sales staff and service engineers.

If you are considering investing in some form of mobile CRM solution -- either as an extension to an existing CRM system or as a completely new CRM implementation -- here are some of the key things to consider.

1. Access Critical to Mobile CRM Success

One of the most important things to decide is how mobile office worker will access CRM data. At the most basic level, a mobile computing device can be used as an online read-only "viewer" of CRM data. While this helps ensure that data remains secure, a solution like this can only be used in places where a data connection is available, so its usefulness is limited.

More sophisticated systems offer browser-based, online access to CRM systems -- either run in the enterprise or hosted by a service provider. These have the advantage that they can be used by any device with a browser, but because the information presented is often not designed to be viewed on a small screen, they can be difficult to use. "Some companies will boast that their systems work with any mobile device, but the truth is that the screen layout is way behind what is possible," says Kris Brannock, vice president of corporate development at software vendor Vertical Solutions. "Online solutions are also no good when you need to work offline -- perhaps if you are a field engineer working in a basement."

Arguably the most useful mobile CRM systems use device-specific mobile apps as clients. These mobile apps connect to the CRM system and synchronize data with it. They are the most versatile as they can be used in places where there is no data connection and because they present information in a format tailored to the dimensions of the device being used. Since they may store and modify data locally, they also pose the biggest potential security risk, and therefore require effective mobile management by the mobile IT department.

2.Scope: Consider Online Collaboration

Many organizations start by thinking about implementing a mobile solution to access a narrow range of CRM data, but quickly realize that mobile workers can be more productive when they can access data from many corporate systems and benefit from online collaboration. This enables them to manage customers, find out stock status, take orders, access billing information, submit invoices and so on, all from a single mobile application.

"This type of mobile CRM solution can have huge benefits," says Brannock. "If a mobile worker can generate an invoice and do signature capture on his device then a process that may have taken two or three weeks could now takes less than an hour. If you are invoicing quicker and you are getting paid quicker then your cash flow improves dramatically."

But integrating CRM, ERP and other systems can be complicated, and if it involves the use of a middleware gateway that mobile devices access to get to the data they need -- it can also be expensive. In practice, it turns out that few organizations are willing to attempt integrating their corporate systems with hosted CRM systems, according to Brannock, so these comprehensive solutions tend to be run in-house, even if this means ditching existing hosted CRM solutions.

"Most of our customers demand a SaaS (software as a service) solution initially, but they are concerned about security, as well as integration problems and the speed of the final solution. In the end most end up running everything in-house."

3. Starting Point: Consider Mobile CRM When Buying Software

Even if you are not planning to implement mobile CRM right now, it's worth keeping it in mind when you make any other enterprise software purchasing decisions. That's because buying an integrated suite that includes mobile CRM is in most cases much more straightforward than trying to bolt a mobile CRM component on to -- and integrate it with -- completely separate systems.

"Mobile CRM is still an afterthought for many, many organizations, although we are seeing that this is becoming less the case," says Jay O'Connor, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Web-based business software company NetSuite. "As businesses have more smartphone users, more and more are thinking about mobile CRM, but it's still not the norm," he says.

Enterprises with CRM offerings from most large vendors can add that vendor's mobile component quite easily, and if CRM is part of a larger enterprise system -- such as those offered by SAP or Oracle -- the integration with ERP should be straightforward too. But purchasers of standalone CRM software solutions with no mobile component are likely to find it much harder to add comprehensive mobile functionality at a later date.

4. Devices: Going With BlackBerry OS for Mobile CRM?

If your mobile users access a mobile CRM solution using an online browser then there are security considerations to be taken in to account, but these become more significant when they have device-specific mobile app clients that store data locally. This can cause a headache for the IT department if there is demand to support a range of user-owned devices such as iPhones, Android phones and Blackberrys.

"I would say most companies need to standardize on one device like a BlackBerry," recommends Brannock. O'Connor agrees with this analysis. "Employee-owned devices can be a nightmare as far as security is concerned," he says. "Apple in particular doesn't have much experience with enterprise usage and has some ground to make up in terms of security. Our iPhone app is connectivity based and doesn't store any data on the device."

For the moment, it's likely that if you want a fuller-featured, in-house solution, your users will have the best experience with Blackberrys because all the big-name CRM suppliers including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and NetSuite offer mobile app clients for the Blackberry OS. However this might change over the coming months, as iPhone's iOS 4 now includes multi-tasking and Android continues to evolve rapidly and gain popularity.

5.Mobile CRM Adoption Through Staggered Strategy

Implementing a mobile CRM solution -- with all the integration and other challenges that this may involve -- can be hard, but it will only achieve a return on the investment you make if mobile staff actually use it. So what's the best way to ensure that it gets adopted? "We recommend a phased approach, adding the first 25 or so users and then adding more once any idiosyncrasies have been ironed out," says Brannock. "You need cheerleaders who get excited about things like this, who will then go and tell other people in the organization about it. In one case we had a customer whose users had documentation in the back of their trucks. Once they were able to access PDFs of the documentation on their devices the users wanted to use the system, which drove adoption."

She also recommends creating incentives for using the new system until users find their own reasons for using it. "You can have a team competition to get the most sign-offs online for example," she suggests. Projects that fail tend to be ones where little consideration is given to the needs of the end users. "If you have the attitude of 'here is the technology, here is the training, now you have to use it,' you are going to fail. But if you get it right, you can see an ROI of as little as six weeks to 12 months."


Blackberry, CRM, mobile IT, mobile management, mobile CRM