Like many enterprise IT buyers, Martin Howard wants to give his road warriors the edge. For Howard, CIO of health care provider Patient Care Inc., in Newton, Mass., mobile wireless access needs to go beyond e-mail and PIM (personal information manager) data. He wants to extend his companys Salesforce.com Inc. CRM (customer relationship management) application to sales representatives on the road.
"What we are finding is that, with mobile folks, before they start the day, they print everything out because the laptops are too cumbersome to carry around," said Howard.
"In a day they may arrange three, four or five visits with customers, and what were hearing is that they review their materials at their computers at home, and what they bring with them are refreshers, such as contact lists, or other information so they can stay up-to-date in the meeting," said Howard.
Simplicity, reliability and flexibility to make modifications are top priorities when evaluating mobile CRM solutions, said Howard. "A key factor for us is not only how wonderful does it look at startup, but when we want to make a change—such as adding different screens—how easy is it to update?" he said.
But while many enterprises are looking into extending back-office applications to their mobile workers, some IT managers are struggling to justify the cost.
"We are looking at a couple of vendors that offer these solutions on the [Research In Motion Ltd.] BlackBerry, [and] our trial with a few salespeople in North America and Europe is about to start," said Don Devost, director of finance and administration for Analog Devices Inc., in Norwood, Mass.
"The biggest issue we have is that many of the add-on solutions for CRM applications cost nearly as much as the license for Salesforce.com itself. It seems that the business model the companies are pursuing is scaled to the more expensive CRM solutions like Siebel [Systems Inc. provides]. They need to understand that when we evaluate the cost-benefit relationship, the benchmark is our monthly subscription cost with Salesforce.com. We expect the cost to be a small fraction of that because it is virtually certain the benefit will be."
But RIM officials said the ability to tap corporate information at the point of sale could pay off in the long run. "If you look at it from the salespersons perspective, theyre using a laptop and relying on hotel VPN connections at night. If you equip them to [connect] at the sales call or in the taxi or as theyre waiting for a plane, it makes them more productive," said David Heit, senior product manager at RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario.
RIM has teamed with several CRM providers to let BlackBerry users more easily access their CRM applications on the road, and several CRM application partners also offer prebuilt connectors for the BlackBerry and other devices.
Good Technology Inc., whose GoodLink remote data access device and server software compete with RIMs BlackBerry platform, last week announced it is extending applications to mobile workers beyond e-mail to allow users, for example, to more easily access back-end corporate applications, such as CRM software, on several models of Palm OS and Pocket PC handhelds and smart phones. Support for Symbian OS-based handhelds is on the horizon, said Good officials.
To that end, Good, in Santa Clara, Calif., has teamed with CRM providers Oracle Corp., Siebel and Salesforce.com.
Goods GoodAccess connects mobile users to enterprise applications behind the firewall. The GoodAccess platform includes three components: client software, server software and development software from Above All Software Inc.
GoodAccess lets mobile workers, such as salespeople, check customer accounts, review meeting details, answer order status inquiries, look up order information to see if orders have been filled, view or answer customer requests, and fill out time and expense forms from their devices.
GoodAccess can also wirelessly push out updates such as leads, sales reports and customer service issues.
For IT managers, GoodAccess provides AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), password security, and the ability to remotely erase Good applications and data if a handheld is lost or stolen.
GoodAccess is available now. Pricing for deployment starts at about $30,000, with licenses costing about $170 per user, per year, said officials.