Five Critical Factors for Mobile CRM

With almost one-third of the U.S. workforce on the road or working from home, the ability to extend enterprise applications and Web content to mobile devices has become a business imperative. Companies are realizing that mobility is a mission-critical element for achieving higher value from their existing investments in CRM systems, enabling faster and more accurate data collection, improved field productivity and better decision-making.

So what's the key to making mobile CRM pay off for your business? There are many possible answers, but most lead directly back to the considerations taken into account during the application development process. The following are the five most critical factors for a successful mobile CRM solution in our view:

1. Off-line functionality is key. Sales professionals will use a mobile application only if they can reliably depend on it -- every time. To ensure that the mobile application and CRM data is always available when they need it, mobile applications must support off-line functionality. Contrary to what many in the industry would have you believe, wireless coverage isn't ubiquitous, nor is "broadband wireless" a possibility with current technology. Mobile CRM applications must be designed with the ability to intelligently use a wireless connection when it's available, but to not be dependent on it.

2. Open standards aid integration. Field professionals don't just need access to customer information in the field; they also need information on promotions, products, competitors, service requests or order status. So selecting a platform based on open standards that can integrate with a variety of back-end systems -- ERP, intranet, legacy, database and e-mail -- is imperative. In addition, support for open standards also ensures that your application can support a wide variety of platforms and is flexible enough to keep up with the rapidly changing device landscape.

3. Security is crucial. Mobile CRM applications typically contain your field service and sales organization's lifeblood: customer contact information. Handheld applications should be able to provide enterprise-caliber security through authentication, encryption and central, policy-based control.

4. Ease-of-use should be top of mind: Mobile application performance and ease of use are vital for field professional effectiveness and adoption. Unlike desktop or laptop applications, field professionals use handheld applications in small time increments of one to 10 minutes. This means that users in the field will quickly stop using a system that's slow or difficult to use. To be effective, mobile CRM systems must be instant-on, easy to navigate and require little or no training. Just as important is a user interface that is configurable to each organization's unique workflow and sales process. The right interface can make all the difference to your end users.

5. Timely information is critical. Features such as server-pushed alerts and scheduled synchronization will simulate an always-connected experience by delivering information to the user as soon as possible given the wireless coverage in a particular area. Mobile applications should accelerate communication, decision-making and customer responsiveness by keeping users in touch.

Up until recently, organizations have been very proficient at automating the flow of information in the back office but have had no effective way of bringing it to field employees, like sales or service people, whose core responsibilities are away from their desks. Using advanced mobile technology, companies are now getting more out of existing enterprise systems by delivering these applications and content directly into the hands of users whenever and wherever they do business.

Lubos Parobek is senior product manager of mobile CRM at iAnywhere Solutions Inc. in Dublin, Calif.

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