CTO: Unwired to the customer

The rollout of customer relationship management (CRM) applications over wireless networks has lagged behind expectations, as enterprises wait to see a proven return on investment from a reliable system with universal standards. But Tony Scott, chief technology officer at General Motors Corp., may change things when he deploys a wireless CRM strategy in the coming months in conjunction with GM's hundreds of dealership partners.

"We signed a deal with Siebel Systems where [wireless CRM] is one part of the functionality we are implementing with our dealerships," Scott says. "It will be in the dealerships this year."

GM and other companies, such as First Service Networks in Annapolis Junction, Md., and TaylorMade Golf Co. in Carlsbad, Calif., are among the first moving to an enterprise application that industry analysts say is weighed down by uncertainties about the overall direction that wireless development will take.

By virtue of its size, GM is able to dispel many doubts. "If we need something [from vendors], we are usually in a position to get it," Scott says.

GM plans to use wireless CRM as part of an overall technology upgrade for dealerships that traditionally have been slow to change, Scott says. "The technology in dealerships is 10 to 15 years old and at best just at the client-server stage," he says. "We have some challenges ahead."

The company will evaluate vendor proposals for the system rollout, Scott says, explaining, "GM is not at a point in the project where vendors have been selected. There will be systems integrators, hardware and software vendors, etc. ... and these will be managed by whoever wins the contract to do the project."

Siebel's suite of eBusiness applications can be deployed through its Wireless and eChannel offerings. "The salesperson on the lot can call [GM] and check inventory and find out what's coming in," Scott says. "Or if he's on the road and a customer calls, he can check in and call the customer back."

GM is able to deal with the uncertainties in the wireless CRM space because it has a companywide wireless strategy to make sure the potential ROI of wireless deployments is evaluated in detail, Scott says. A formal mechanism is in place to judge the progress of individual deployments. "Someone can make a business case for anything," he says.

Wireless CRM at the Retail Level

First Service Networks, a technical maintenance management company for retail chains and other commercial properties, is overseeing a trouble-free wireless CRM deployment and says it plans to extend wireless CRM systems.

The company is giving access to its CRM applications from San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Systems Inc. to a network of field service workers from 100 service contractor companies. Along with Siebel eService, the company uses Siebel Sales and Siebel Field Service incorporated into the Siebel Wireless application.

Russell Joyner, vice president of IT at First Service Networks, says the system has been in place for a year. "Service contractors do repair services for our retail customers," Joyner says. "Using a [Wireless Application Protocol]-enabled browser on a mobile phone, a service worker writes or accesses data from the customer database."

This service allows First Service Networks to dispatch calls to service contractors. "[It] allows them to give us information about services they are performing for us using a wireless device that can give us estimated time of arrival," Joyner says.

"We dispatch customers to the site. The service contractor updates us and the customer on his status, which our customers love," he adds. "The customers use Siebel's eService [on First Service Networks' Web site], which allows them to have a view of our system, which gives them the ability to see [estimated time of arrival] and the status of the call right on the Web site."

First Service Networks started its rollout slowly but plans to add functionality, Joyner says. "If you look out one or two years, once the service contractor is done with his work, they may have the ability to create invoices that go directly to the customer."

Seeking Real-Time Response

San Diego-based TaylorMade, a golf equipment supplier, plans this fall to expand real-time wireless capability to its 100 sales representatives using CRM-related applications from Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc., including I2's Rhythm Collaboration Planner application.

Tom Collard, director of IT at TaylorMade, says a pilot program is under way in which six sales representatives are using personal digital assistants (PDA) from Holtsville, N.Y.-based Symbol Technologies Inc. running a Palm operating system. Because the program isn't real time, Collard says, representatives sync up sales information nightly. With a real-time version set for fall, the company is evaluating Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE as the possible operating system for the Symbol PDAs.

"When our rep is in the pro shop and the customer asks how much [equipment] he can get, the rep can put data into the PDA and quickly access our network supply chain planning system, which responds in real time," Collard says. Representatives will be able to chart inventory and access pricing information, among other features. "We think this is very doable," he says.

Flexibility Brings Issues

The flexibility that wireless CRM potentially affords users will eventually lead enterprises to adoption, says Ed Poshkus, CEO of Creative Strategies Inc., a consulting and research company in Campbell, Calif.

"Some of the big companies can do it now, as long as it doesn't involve ultrasensitive data," Poshkus says. "There are difficulties with [settling on] protocols such as Bluetooth and 802.11b. Companies are waiting to see [the market] stabilize a little more, but they are going to implement it because it provides flexibility within an organization and tremendous outreach to customers."

One example of the application's flexibility is seen in its use by Key3Media Group Inc. The Los Angeles company allows service technicians at its Networld+Interop technology shows in Las Vegas and Atlanta to communicate using 802.11b wireless PDAs and with help desk application software from Computer Associates International Inc. in Islandia, N.Y.

The technicians roam a million square feet of show floor space to provide tech support to the hundreds of exhibitors, communicating back to network operations center. "The problem had been that a convention center as big as the Las Vegas center is unbelievably huge," says Steve Wylie, the director of content for the show. He also oversees the show's engineering team. "The sheer time it would take to walk from one end of the show floor to the other was the bulk of the time it took to close a trouble ticket." The technicians cut the average time to close a help ticket from 19 minutes to 11, he says.

Despite success stories, widespread use of wireless CRM remains one to two years away, says Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "Companies that want to deploy [CRM in] wireless devices for sales forces have to bet on what device will win," she says.

A poll of more than 600 developers conducted in February by Evans Data Corp., a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based market research firm, shows 28% are working on wireless CRM applications. Of those polled, 36% are working on applications currently being deployed, 23% on applications to be deployed within six months, and 26% on applications to be deployed in six months to a year.

"There's been lot's of talk but little action," Kinikin says. Much of the problem stems from general uncertainty over the future of wireless standards under development by Microsoft in its Windows CE mobile architecture and by Sun with Java 2 Micro Edition, she says. "These standards are just starting to evolve."

"Wireless CRM is going to take off when there is a clear business return," Kinikin says. "In 18 months, there will probably be a mobile device winner for enterprise applications, and that will cause everyone to look again [at wireless CRM deployment]."

This story, "CTO: Unwired to the customer" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon