Mobile CRM Coming Of Age

Siebel, PeopleSoft, and E.piphany are offering users easier ways to send customer data from their systems to wireless devices, but is anybody ready to use the stuff?

New offerings from Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc. for mobile CRM coupled with a fully-integrated suite of applications from E.piphany Inc. should give enterprises more options for extending customer relationship management to mobile devices.

But whether user demand can keep up with the technology improvements remains an open question.

Siebel, of San Mateo, Calif., this week rolled out Siebel 7 Mobile, a suite of applications for field sales and service, channel partner management and customer service accessible through virtually any wireless device with wireless messaging capabilities for alerts, recommendations and communications. On the same day, PeopleSoft, of Pleasanton, Calif., announced mobile sales and field service applications in its new 8.4 release.

Both PeopleSofts and Siebels mobile efforts are mainly focused on data synchronization capabilities—allowing users to access applications while disconnected, update information on handheld devices like PDAs (personal digital assistants) and wireless phones or disconnected laptops, then synch with the server when reconnected.

PeopleSoft in fact boasts a new data synchronization engine that the company says can synch a years worth of updates in as little as six minutes when reconnected to an organizations LAN.

E.piphanys new E.6 CRM suite, which will be announced next week, will incorporate the San Mateo companys existing synchronization capabilities. The big news with this release is improved integration between the disparate applications in the suite, which could make it easier set up links between the applications and mobile users.

The new version also portends to be easier to use, thanks to new technologies like ActivePath and E.piphany Dialogs, which provide guided navigation to sales, marketing and service applications, such as through scripts that customer service agents can follow to find what customers needs are and alerts sent to a user when an opportunity arises with a certain customer.

E.piphany E.6, due by the end of the month, has been rearchitected in Java 2 Enterprise Edition, tightening the back-end integration of all the applications, providing better analytics to operational apps like sales and customer service, company officials said.

"Weve gone from three platforms to one," said E.piphany CEO Roger Siboni. "E.6 brings together all of our function into a single integrated platform."

E.piphany customers whove seen or been briefed on E.6 cite the improved integration as a chief reason to upgrade as well.

"The benefit for the long-term is if we added in the call center or the dialogue piece, everything would be tightly integrated," said Mike Doyel chief CRM architect at online cosmetics store The San Francisco-based company uses E.piphany E.5 now for marketing campaign management and analysis and real-time Web site personalization.

"The primary benefit for us would be in future development, everything would work well together, everything would play together happily," Doyel said.

Online travel agency Expedia Inc. uses version 5.5 of E.piphanys suite now for its call center operations and related analytics. Jon Zimmerman, director of IT at Expedia, said hes attracted to the enhanced integration capabilities of E.6, as well.

"Were currently able to tie together data from the [customer] interaction platform with transactional data," said Zimmerman, in Seattle. "With E.6 it should get even easier to marry that data together."

Zimmerman said hes also interested in E.6 for the agent scripting capabilities it would add to his call center, plus the ability to run highly targeted e-mail campaigns. He said he likes the stateless model for application servers in E.6 as well, for the flexibility it would provide in allowing databases to be untethered from a specific application server.

As for wireless, Expedia has its Expedia To Go service now for sending travel alerts and flight information to wireless devices. That technology was deployed before the company licensed the E.piphany software. In the future Expedia may look to use E.piphany technology for that application, Zimmerman said.

"At some point well look to reconcile the two approaches," he said. "If we move that information into E.piphany, we can do a better job of tracking our customer contacts along with everything else we currently track to get a better view of the customer."

But more traditional users of wireless CRM, such mobile sales personnel who get wireless access to their applications, may not be ready for expanded wireless CRM. Even Siboni is reluctant to cheerlead for E.piphanys wireless capabilities.

"Were still in the early days [for wireless CRM]," he said. "The technologys still in the cradle."

Steven Hills, director of applications development at The Staubach Co., a real-estate firm in Addison, Texas, provides his companys sales team with access to their contacts, opportunities and calendars via their PDAs. But that information comes not from E.piphany e.Sales, which the firm uses, but from Microsoft Corp.s Exchange messaging software.

"Were very schedule-driven. Exchange is a better fit for us for that," said Hills.

But Hills has tested the beta of E.6 and likes its improved integration capabilities with Exchange 2000 as well as improved sales intelligence, brought about by the tighter integration of the suite.

"Were pretty excited about the sales intelligence model," said Hills. "And we like the navigation and presentation layer in E.6. Theyve cleaned things up quite a bit."