CRM: Routes To Success
Aaron Burnett, NetMotion Wireless
Over the past 15 years, the
evolution of CRM has paralleled changing business philosophy ' from the
early days when what passed for CRM was really only a contact database that
assisted the sales process, to the current, customer-centric environment in
which highly complex and expensive CRM systems enable customer insights that
result in the tremendous sophistication and responsiveness at the heart of
virtually every world-class enterprise.
Most recently, this need to become ever closer to customers (and customer
information) can be seen in many organizations' efforts to provide remote
access to CRM applications for workers in the field, often using wireless
The Case For Real-Time Remote Access
The business drivers for real-time, remote access to CRM are clear: making
customer information available anywhere and anytime translates into dramatic
increases in efficiency, responsiveness and, ultimately, customer loyalty.
Consider the following:
Faster turnaround. Real-time order submission results in
improved customer service and clear operational efficiencies. As soon as a
customer agrees to a purchase, the field salesperson places the order,
confirms adequate inventory and verifies order receipt at the warehouse.
Orders placed at noon go immediately to the warehouse for overnight delivery
the next day.
Instant access to customer intelligence. A sales
representative retrieves customer information, including previous orders,
equipment installed or when the last sales call was made. This is invaluable
for discovering unmet needs, spurring sales and serving the customer more
More 'face time' with more customers. Always-on access to CRM
means less time spent by mobile workers on end-of-day data entry. This gives
more time for the core mission, which is meeting with customers, serving
them and closing sales.
More reliable service inventory. For field service applications, immediate
transmission of a work order helps to track parts used during service calls.
This prevents possible shortages and verifies adequate stock on-hand for the
next day's work. And when a part is not in field inventory, the crew can
check the warehouse, reserve the part and reschedule the follow-up service
visit. Ultimately, this improved inventory control reduces the number of
unnecessary truck rolls.
More efficient crew scheduling. By knowing immediately when a service visit
has been completed or is falling behind schedule, dispatchers can send crews
to new service calls or alert customers to delayed visits.
Less duplicate entry. In a real-time system, CRM data entry
becomes an integral part of completing a work order. This spares mobile
workers from duplicate tasks of creating the paperwork for customers only to
have to re-enter the same information in the CRM system later.
Improved compliance. Sales people are oriented toward spending
their time meeting with customers and doing work that immediately leads to
closing sales. Service personnel focus on making repairs and completing
installations, not documenting them. Real-time access moves data entry to
the point of service and makes it an integral part of doing the job. As a
result, it is much more likely that those data will be entered, and the
information will be complete and accurate.
Advances in three key areas are aiding enterprises in the pursuit of
effective remote access to CRM:
Wireless networks. Wide-area wireless data services from major
wireless carriers, such as AT&T Wireless, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, are
now readily available and affordable. Additionally, recent upgrades to
wireless networks have resulted in transmission speeds that now approach the
level of data throughput that is needed to support remote access to CRM
applications. When augmented by effective network compression, wide-area
wireless data speeds can consistently reach the 100'200 Kbps range.
Additionally, the increasing prevalence of Wi-Fi (both private access points
and public hotspots) now offers a viable, high-speed network option for
Mobile computing devices. As for devices, handheld PCs and
laptops are more portable and they both have longer battery life, greater
storage capacity and more memory than ever before. Most important, laptops
and tablets for mobile workers are now available for only slightly more than
the cost of a desktop PC.
Enterprise infrastructure. Virtually every enterprise has made some
accommodation for traveler and telecommuter remote access, typically via
dial-up combined with a robust authentication scheme. As a result, remote
access via wireless networks does not necessitate re-architecture of
Even given the advances above, finding the best solution for effective
remote access to CRM can seem a daunting undertaking for the following
' Most CRM applications were written for a high-speed wired environment,
requiring both sufficient network speed and connection stability to function
reliably. As a result, many IT managers assume that 'CRM mobility' using
wireless networks automatically means 'expensive and time-consuming
upgrades.' (Some CRM vendors have reinforced this notion by offering 'mobile
versions' of their applications that require both extensive changes to IT
infrastructure and considerable investment in professional services to
' The wireless landscape is far different from the wired LAN. It is
characterized by intermittent connectivity, varying signal strengths,
coverage gaps and security issues. Additionally, many enterprise IT managers
may be concerned that the wireless networks that offer greatest mobility '
wide-area networks from wireless carriers ' will offer data speeds that are
too slow to support the intense client/server data exchange typical of CRM
' Most IT managers believe they must choose between two similarly costly and
time-consuming options: extending fully functional CRM access (as enabled by
the kind of expensive development referenced in the first bullet point
above) to mobile workers using laptops or tablets; and 'mobilizing' their
CRM application for use on a handheld device (which also requires
substantial custom development).
Enterprises generally employ one of three mobilization strategies, each of
which offers advantages and disadvantages.
Synchronization/offline access. Using this method, field
workers (typically using handheld computers and a 'mobilized' CRM
application) periodically synchronize client data on mobile devices with the
central CRM database. Usually the mobile worker 'syncs' at the beginning and
at the end of the work day, using a wired connection (dial-up or broadband)
from his or her remote location. The device remains offline and out-of-touch
through the rest of the day.
This type of access may be adequate for companies (and customers) that can
afford to wait overnight for order fulfillment and updated customer records.
However, this approach is inadequate for any business in which rapid
response, highly accurate inventory management or real-time access to
customer information is a requirement. For example, using the sync method, a
customer order placed at noon and batch-entered at night would not be sent
to the warehouse until the next day. As a result, an order that could have
been delivered the day after the order was placed will instead be delivered
two days later.
In addition, for the synchronization method to be effective, mobile workers
must remember to synchronize their devices each day ' an additional task at
the end of what may already be a long workday. Clearly, compliance is not
OEM solutions. As previously mentioned, many CRM vendors have begun to
incorporate some capacity for mobility into their solutions, usually via new
software platforms or paid upgrades to existing deployments. Typically, this
option provides mobile workers with a subset of the functionality they
currently enjoy when using a wired version.
An advantage of this approach includes the ability to create a tailored
solution that presents mobile workers with only the key CRM functionality
they need for their field work. This approach also may be used to create a
CRM user interface specifically for Pocket PCs or other handheld mobile
In terms of disadvantages, it is not unusual for such 'mobility upgrades' to
necessitate entirely new CRM architecture and require considerable
investment in professional service fees to support implementation. Also to
consider, as with the synchronization model above, most OEM solutions
currently rely on some form of batch transmittal rather than real-time
wireless access and, as a result, suffer from the same limitations.
Mobility management. Mobility management solutions, sometimes
called 'middleware,' provide a software solution that insulates CRM
applications (and mobile workers) from the challenges of wireless data
networking. Typically, a mobility management server acts as a proxy for
mobile devices in the field, maintaining a constant connection with the CRM
server, even when wireless coverage in the field is intermittent. Mobility
management solutions may also maintain application sessions when mobile
workers move through network coverage gaps or switch from one network to
another (e.g., wide-area to Wi-Fi or Ethernet).
On the client side, mobility management software handles the chores of
authenticating to the various wireless networks, roaming from network to
network and providing security through a wireless virtual private network (VPN).
The key advantage of this approach is the ability to reliably extend access
to existing wired CRM applications over wireless networks without requiring
the kind of modification or upgrades necessary for either the OEM or
A disadvantage of this approach includes the introduction of a new software
element into the IT infrastructure mix, which may be of concern to some IT
Reducing Risks, Reaping Rewards
The greatest hurdle in implementing a mobile CRM solution may be human
nature. We've all heard stories of CRM deployment failures caused, not by
the underlying technology, but by staff resistance to new and cumbersome
tools and processes.
So as you consider your approach to real-time CRM access, bear in mind that
a solution that requires extra steps, hassles with network connections or
mobile worker retraining may be at much greater risk of failure.
Regardless of the approach taken, it is clear that providing to mobile
workers anything close to real-time CRM access requires careful
consideration, due diligence and substantial work on the part of IT
managers. However, for those who make the effort and investment, real-time
access to CRM results in dramatic and real financial and operational
improvements, as well as long-lasting, financially rewarding business
Aaron Burnett joined NetMotion Wireless (www.netmotionwireless.com)
as senior director of marketing in August 2003 after nearly a decade in
senior leadership positions with a major wireless carrier and a nationwide
broadband ISP. NetMotion Wireless' products aim to help make the
increasingly complex wireless network landscape more manageable and allow
organizations to leverage their existing applications without modification.
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