Wireless CRM Gains Speed

But for widespread implementation, transfer rates and apps' client/server dependence must improve

Wireless CRM applications are gaining momentum, but slow transfer rates of wireless networks and some applications dependence on old client/server platforms will hold back widespread implementation for now.

PeopleSoft Inc. this week will announce availability of its Mobile Sales for WAP software, which gives field sales representatives access to enterprise information over Wireless Application Protocol phones. The application lets sales representatives view and update information on companies, contacts, tasks, leads and opportunities using Openwave System Inc.s microbrowser.

Mobile Sales for WAP follows the Pleasanton, Calif., companys release last year of Mobile FieldService for RIM, which allows dispatch centers and field service representatives to exchange information via messages on Research in Motion Ltd.s interactive pagers.

PeopleSoft is not alone in providing wireless access to its customer relationship management tools. Interact Commerce Corp., of Scottsdale, Ariz., this month rolled out SalesLogix.net.

"Wireless is definitely a sweet spot for front-office applications," said Michael Petersen, technical delivery manager at Electronic Data Systems Corp., in Plano, Texas. The company uses CRM software from Invensys CRM, the front-office reincarnation of Baan Co., which released a personal digital assistant-based CRM application for the Pocket PC platform last month.

Speed is one issue holding wireless CRM applications back. Wireless data networks in North America typically deliver speeds slower than 14.4K bps. "The best [speed] Ive ever gotten over wireless is 19.2[K bps]," Petersen said. "Really, 9.6K bps is more typical. Its like the old days of the Internet."

But Petersen said mobility, rather than speed, is what CRM users are after. "Right now, speed doesnt matter that much," he said. "Its more a matter of something that I can put useful sales documents in—a description of what we sell, competitive information, pricing information, opportunities, contacts. Then Ill put it in its cradle and upload it to the system."

With Japanese wireless carrier NTT DoCoMo Inc.s announcement last week of its plans to build its i-mode high-speed wireless network in the United States with AT&T Wireless, starting early next year, bandwidth improvements could be realized sooner than expected.

Besides speed limitations, the client/server architecture of some CRM applications, such as SalesLogix.net, figures to create implementation headaches for wireless deployments. So charges Kevin Carson, one of the founders of Interact Commerce, which developed SalesLogix. Carson earlier this month jumped ship to Neteos Inc., of Waltham, Mass., which sells Web-based CRM software.

"Youd have to build an application four different times for every channel you want to use it for when its a client/server architecture thats been Web-enabled," Carson said. "When your business rules are designed for the Web in HTML, you build it once and deploy it on all platforms."

Not surprisingly, Neteos is touting the wireless capabilities of its eRMNow CRM solution.

But flaws or not, some customers cant wait to deploy wireless CRM applications. "A wireless device is something that every salesperson has," said Lyle Warszewik, manager of sales automation at ADP Dealer Services, in Hoffman Estates, Ill., which uses SalesLogix. "The portability of the laptop isnt portable enough."

When it comes to speed, Warszewik is ready to compromise.

"Of course you want to put in information and get your information quicker, but I think everybody anticipates some communication issues because of wireless technology," he said. "Its the same problem with talking on your cell phone, but everybody uses them today, so I dont think [speed] will be a deterrent. I think people will just work around it."