Blackberries and CRM are a “great combination”, says Canadian expert

The ability to access and use customer relationship management (CRM) applications from SAP AG on the RIM BlackBerry is a big deal for sales people, says a Canadian analyst.

Since the alliance between SAP and RIM was announced earlier this month, the phrase “office on the hip” has been used by execs from both companies to describe the offering that natively integrates SAP CRM apps on to the Blackberry device.

“Being a former sales person myself, this certainly makes a lot of sense to me,” said Vinay Nair, research manager, enterprise applications at IDC Canada in Toronto.

Nair spoke to ITBusiness.ca at Sapphire 2008, SAP AG’s user conference held in Orlando last week.

CLICK HERE TO READ FULL INTERVIEW WITH VINAY NAIR

Demo video of how SAP CRM apps can be accessed on the BlackBerry.

Increased efficiency and productivity are likely to be the most immediate benefits of accessing and interacting with SAP CRM apps in this way, he said.

While many Canadian firms invest heavily in CRM, users of these apps don’t interact with the system effectively enough to benefit fully from it, the IDC analyst noted.

“The hardest part is actually getting users to relate the application to the way they work and operate.”

Nair sees the SAP-RIM offering as resolving this challenge by bringing CRM closer to end users, specifically sales and marketing folk.

With its huge installed base, the BlackBerry is widely used by sales persons to interact with customers, either via voice or e-mail, he noted.

“It would be invaluable for them to track the progress of customer relationships over time, reviewing things such as: frequency of contact, the level of interaction for each call, challenges and opportunities at every step of the way.”

The problem is tracking and documenting such metrics long after the interaction is over is very painful for sales folk, he said.

The value proposition of the SAP-RIM offering is it allows salespersons to interact with the CRM system directly, not do that manually and after the fact, the IDC analyst noted.

“As this has huge implications – from a productivity and efficiency perspective – it’s likely to boost adoption of SAP CRM.”

That SAP CRM on the Blackberry aligns with the natural way sales people operate was also something highlighted by presenters from SAP and RIM during the demo session on the new offering at Sapphire 2008 in Orlando.

“One thing we learned years ago in RIM is that when you change your access to information you’re really changing your relationship to it,” said Alan Panezic, vice-president, software product management with Wateroo-based RIM Ltd.

With real time access, he said, information no longer is something people would just look at periodically.

“Instead, if I know that updates are coming to me as they are actually hitting the system, I start to have a very different relationship with that information. I start to depend on it and react to it differently.”

This phemonenon, he suggested, would be experienced by sales persons with access to SAP CRM on their Blackberries.

SAP executives at the event also echoed this view and dubbed it a “game changing” application for SAP CRM application users, most of whom today carry mobile devices such as the Blackberry.

“In the past 10 years that I’ve worked with our CRM customers I’ve seen them aspire to achieve a certain vision around CRM,” said Michael de la Cruz, senior vice-president, CRM at SAP.

It’s a vision of a customer-centric business, he said, where data on customer interactions is available across the organization.

“But this vision is only attainable if users have ubiquitous access to the data, and can change and update it in real time and conveniently.”

And that’s exactly what the new joint offering with RIM offers them, de la Cruz said.

“The have access to several SAP processes and capabilities natively, within the experience of the BlackBerry.”

Nuts n’ bolts

A demo of how this “native access” to SAP capabilities plays out in practice was provided to ITBusiness.ca by Vinay Iyer, vice-president, solution marketing, SAP CRM.

As part of the demo, he zeroed in on a calendar item – noting that he had just opened up SAP CRM.

“The beauty is that the CRM functionality is part of the core BlackBerry calendar capability. There aren’t multiple calendars on the device.”

Iyer contrasted that with other vendor offerings that include another calendar along with the BlackBerry calendar forcing users to keep managing between the two.

“Here’s there’s just one calendar – the Blackberry calendar – and it ties into the SAP CRM system.”

Clicking on a calendar item takes you to the Appointment Details page – in SAP CRM that provides you with appointment information – timing, place, meeting, with whom and more.

Clicking on View Account it takes you into the CRM environment, where you review all your account details – and get ready for your sales call.”

Right on the BlackBerry, the software also offers the sales person visibility into their sales pipeline performance.

“A dashboard shows you where you with respect to your quote, opportunities in the pipeline, and more. And you can take a look at leads.”

When a new lead created in the CRM system, Iyer said, it gets pushed automatically to the BlackBerry and is added to the device’s native capabilities.

“So you can look at the lead details, accept or reject it and so on. You can also navigate through a bunch of different items – such as opportunities.”
The SAP CRM application that resides on a server behind the company firewall determines what data the sales person has access to.

“SAP has built functionality to push that information to the BlackBerry enterprise server (BES) – and BES, in turn, pushes it to the device.”

The transfer of information, he said, is bi-directional, so when the BlackBerry user creates and appointment or adds a new contact (for example), the server is automatically updated with the new information.

The SAP exec highlighted what he called the “simple and seamless” way the system operates.

“No new hardware is required. And from the user perspective there’s nothing new to learn. You just work as you would customarily with your BlackBerry device. It’s just a matter of clicking on further options.”

Multi-pronged security

RIM’s Panezic, outlined what he called the “defensive depth” strategy offered by the system, in response to a question by our reporter Jeff Jedras.

There are technologies in place to ensure the secure transit of data and to protect the data itself, regardless of where it is, Panezic said.

“What you’re not going to be able to do with this system is get access to somebody else’s file. We’re taking advantage of all the security that’s built into the SAP CRM.”

The RIM exec said the IT department can control, through BlackBerry Enterprise Server, whether or not a password is required, and how long the password needs to be enacted on the device.

“So even if the device is lost, you don’t need to be worried about all your corporate data. It’s secure behind an unbreakable password.”

The delete feature is something that really makes CIOs rest easy about the critical information that may be on the BlackBerry, he said.

“This means you actually have the capability to send a delete command that will completely wipe out all the contents of the device.”

You want to ensure it’s secure when it’s transmitted over the air. We’ve got government certified encryption for doing that. You want to make sure that it’s secure when it’s on the device; that you’re controlling what the user has access to on the backend system. And users.

And users will be users – they’re going to forget their passwords, lose their devices. We have mechanisms available to the CIO to react to all those situations.

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