Is Mobile CRM coming of age?
by Nicki Hayes, June 04, 2001
Expected by many to be the killer mobile business application, the mobile customer relationship
management (mCRM) race seems to be moving up a gear. In a week that saw PeopleSoft holding
extensive analyst briefings about the launch of its latest thin client offering, eWare announces a series of
new partnerships with leading mobile device manufacturers and CommSoft launch its WAP enabled
CRM package, WDN asks “Is mCRM finally coming of age?”
It’s been more than a year since CRM leader Siebel Systems first announced plans to go wireless. Since
then many CRM vendors have followed suit. The latest news from Siebel is that it is on target to offer thin
client architecture - and therefore, presumably, mobile accessibility - for its CRM software from
September. Meanwhile Oracle, e.piphany, PeopleSoft and CommSoft UK have all announced “wireless
CRM firsts”. eWare, which has been touting its thin client wireless solution for over a year now, has also
been making progress, increasing its technological lead by adding some pretty heavyweight brands to its
growing list of mobile partners.
So the race seems to be on, even if some of the favorite contenders are still stuck in the weigh-in trying to
shed their fat-client architecture. But, before we go to the show ring, let’s take a look at what mCRM
promises. In essence, through facilitating instant access to vital customer and transaction data - anyplace,
anytime - mCRM will revolutionize the way we do business. It will allow us to have an office in our
pocket at all times, and to instantly update the records in that office whenever we need to.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But many commentators believe that mCRM still has to overcome some barriers.
Such barriers include the technological, such as sorting through WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and
other standards and ensuring uninterrupted wireless coverage, and the practical, such as the cost and time of
implementation and associated ROI (return on investment) and the availability of WAP-enabled handsets.
These barriers aside, there seems to be a general lack of confidence about how long the race will last.
According to the META Group it will be another two years before the proportion of sales and support
professionals accessing the internet (and therefore mCRM applications) by mobile devices will reach the
35-45 per cent level.
So, what’s stalling the race? Perhaps it is the general concern about the level of hype that the mobile
Internet is attracting. Indeed, Sheryl Kingstone, an analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston, recently wrote:
"The wireless web technology, like all great internet breakthroughs, is surrounded by hype, However, the
reality is that the United States has a growing mobile work force that could turn the hype into solving real
business issues, inasmuch as wireless creates a new paradigm that no longer restricts workers by physical
boundaries or a tethered desktop PC system."
Alan Wyley, chief operating officer (COO) of eWare agrees:
“WAP was over-hyped. This hype placed too much emphasis on consumer-led services. Until recently
corporates did not see the benefits. Add to this the incorrect belief there is out there that you need 3G
before corporate applications will work and it’s easy to see why the market is taking time to mature.
“But as GPRS begins its rollout, operators are at last focusing on corporate markets. This refocusing will
drive the market, as will the availability of more and more mobile devices. Take Compaq’s iPAQ. In the
last 12 months, 1.2 million of these devices have been sold. Microsoft, for instance, has put iPAQs in the
hands of all of its business development managers. For companies, like ourselves, who are now providing
the CRM functionality onto those devices in a really easy way for organizations to implement, that’s great,
and I think will help the pick up on mCRM,” he advised.
Hype or no hype, the race to hoist wireless solutions onto an ever-expectant market place is now well and
truly underway. So, what should potential purchasers be looking for?
Evidence of fast ROI and implementation timeframes would be a good start. Other issues to look out for
would be adequate functionality and interoperability. Accessing your diary from your phone is not enough.
While many CRM vendors now claim to have a wireless solution, the reality is that this is their only
functionality. Indeed, there seems to be a number of products offering scaled down versions of core
products tailored for specific wireless devices. Worse still, the established CRM vendors still mostly rely
on a client/server architecture onto which they’ve plugged in wireless CRM functionality. This approach
has many implications in terms of usability.
The most usable solution is thin client with an application/server architecture that is compatible with all
mobile devices and that has comprehensive functionality. PeopleSoft claim to be launching such a solution
next week, PeopleSoft 8 CRM, “the next generation of CRM solutions.” CommSoft UK also announced
“the first WAP-enabled CRM package for large businesses and corporates this week - Vantage Enterprise.”
Similarly e.piphany announced one some time ago, as did Oracle. However, the only product at CRM2001
last week that truly demonstrated such architecture, interoperability and functionality was eWare Wireless.
Indeed, eWare made several announcements regarding its partnerships with Compaq, Casio and Palm, this
week. So, in addition to providing a truly thin client architecture, proven interoperability and functionality,
it seems to be winning the confidence of some pretty heavyweight brands. And, if commentators are right,
the race has barely got out of the weigh-in room. If it does take the market two years to mature, as predicted
by the META group, then eWare may have enough time to use their stream-lined position, backed up by
such heavy-weight support, to gain some market share before the more established players at last progress
from the weigh-in. Mind you, if PeopleSoft really has reached its target thin client status and is offering the
functionality it promises, then the finishing line is about to be moved!
3G or WLANs?
About the author:
Nicki Hayes is a freelance writer and corporate communications consultant specialising in business to business internet issues. She has contributed editorial to a number of publications including Unstrung.com, Guardian Online, Financial Times, Banking & Financial Training, eAI Journal and Secure Computing. Nicki is also the European correspondent for The Wireless Developer Network. Nicki is based in Dublin, Ireland and also has a base in Cambridge, UK. Through her consultancy, Hayes-Singh Associates, she has access to a number of technical writers and PR consultants throughout Ireland and the UK.
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