Back in December, I wrote about the growing use of business applications on mobile devices like the BlackBerry, noting that it seemed like a good idea to me given companies' interest in real-time data.
Business intelligence specialist Cognos, which last year was purchased by IBM, was an early mover in this area, with its Cognos 8 Go! application. I speculated back then that IBM might make more of its apps mobile in an effort to woo companies with roaming workforces.
That's exactly what Big Blue did earlier this week, making its Lotus Connections social software suite available to BlackBerry users. Two weeks before, SAP announced its intent to natively integrate a number of its business applications to the BlackBerry, starting with CRM.
Speaking to internetnews.com, Forrester Research analyst Peter Marston said these moves should appeal to companies that want to leverage their considerable investments in handhelds by using them for more than e-mail. Marston predicts that other major software vendors, including Oracle and Microsoft, won't be far behind in making it simpler to move their apps to mobile platforms.
A recent CIO.com story offers the example of Pitney Bowes, which employed Antenna Software's Antenna Mobile Platform (AMP) and its AMPower Service application to port ERP data from its SAP system and CRM data from its Siebel (Oracle) system to mobile devices used by more than 3,000 employees in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Drivers and service reps use them to access customer histories and check inventory, among other things. The results: Improved management of customer service-level agreements, a 22 percent reduction in excess parts inventory and fewer repeat visits to customers.
Because Pitney's drivers often work in areas without Internet connectivity, an important criteria for the company was Antenna's ability to push data to users' devices and then store a local copy. Other pluses: Antenna was certified with Siebel, so Siebel support was available if necessary. Antenna is device-agnostic, so Pitney Bowes can use both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices.
In an interview with TMCNet.com, David van Toor, Sage Software's general manager of CRM solutions, encourages customers evaluating CRM solutions to consider mobile capabilities early on. He says:
Although implementing mobile is often a separate project, mobile CRM is now just an extension of the base CRM platform, just in another form. Customers should look to vendors who provide mobile CRM as part of a native, multi-client solution. This ensures the tightest possible integration, the most consistent user experience and a lower cost of ownership (preferred pricing and single support contract). Setting objectives for mobile deployment at the time of initial implementation is key. A CRM implementation lives or dies on the back of user adoption. For a mobile workforce, having relevant data accessible in a format native to their device, but with all the features of their desktop system, is a key driver.
He further advises companies to ensure that mobile CRM solutions are optimized to work with handhelds' smaller screens and limited navigational capabilities. The application also must be equipped to efficiently handle large volumes of data, so it won't take long to access or synchronize data on devices with limited bandwidth. Comprehensive mobile platform support is the single-most important feature, says van Toor. Few companies have standardized on a single device platform and even those that have may find diverse operating system versions in their device of choice.