iPhone, BlackBerry to slug it out for “mobile CRM” supremacy

See related story and video: Blackberries and CRM are a “great combination”, says Canadian expert

Businesses are likely to roll out customer relationship management (CRM) apps on popular smart phone handsets, such as the new BlackBerry Storm and the iPhone 3G, say industry insiders.

And though scores of vendors are vying for supremacy in the mobile CRM space, at least one analyst predicts 2009 will be a showdown year between Research in Motion (RIM) and Apple.

In the past, RIM’s BlackBerry devices may have been used mainly for e-mail. But an array of CRM software apps has extended their business functionality, noted Michele Pelino, mobile applications senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

As for the iPhone, though it was designed mainly as a consumer product, Pelino said this doesn’t stop many executives from using the device for work.

“They pick the iPhone for its ‘wow factor’ and despite any objections IT might have, they will say: I want to use the iPhone, now you make it work (with our system).”

Mobile CRM apps enable businesses to cut costs and improve productivity, and in today’s environment these are key drivers for adoption, the Forrester analyst said.

“If CRM tools are made available on devices such as smart phones, it would be a big plus.”  

Despite the credit crunch, Forrester believes “mobility” will be a priority investment area.

As many as 60 per cent of North American firms say they will offer greater mobility support to employees, according to a survey by the analyst firm.

It says 25 per cent of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) and 29 per cent of large companies plan to adopt salesforce automation apps. Around 44 per cent of SMBs already use these tools.

Two kinds of users

Pelino distinguishes between two kinds of “mobile CRM” application users.

The traditional ones – typically executives or managers – use these apps in a sales context or to access client contacts.  These folk, she said, generally rely a lot on the e-mail features of their smart phones.

Then there are “vertical” users, she said. These are workers who take advantage of specialized applications to accomplish very specific tasks.

For instance, they could be healthcare sector employees who access online patient records during their rounds, mobile service technicians who update the status of an assignment, or managers checking on projects on the road.

Not so long ago such users were saddled with unwieldy handsets akin to World War II walkie-talkies, Pelino recalled.

But today’s mobile CRM tools enable them to access data and apps from the company network through smart phones, she said.

One such tool was recently unveiled by Vancouver-based Maximizer Software Inc. for BlackBerry users.

Maximizer CRM 10.5 Freedom enables BlackBerry users to access customer and sales information via mobile dashboards and integration with e-mail.

Previous versions of the product supported Windows Mobile devices, the iPhone, the Nokia Symbian OS, and the HPC/Android OS.

The tool uses a wireless push deployment method that enables data and applications to be transmitted to smart phones via e-mail, according to Angie Hirata, worldwide director of marketing and business development at Maximizer.

“For users it’s one-click, one-touch access to data via mobile dashboards and e-mail,” she said. Deployment is a piece of cake, she said, with IT administrators simply providing users with “Web user addresses and access codes.”  

Data transmitted through the system is encrypted, Hirata said.

Maximizer began with offering these mobile capabilities to laptop users, she said.  It later created smart phone versions of these apps because of the growing popularity of devices such as the BlackBerry in the business space.

Agents at RTR Advisory Group, an Edmonton-based financial firm, use Maximizer’s CRM product on their desktops, but their mobile capbility was hampered by agreements with RTR’s prime financial product provider which stipulated that the provider’s proprietary CRM tool be used on agent’s laptops.

Doug Roche, managing partner at the firm, said the proprietary software did not function well with RTR’s other applications and not all agents used laptops in the field because it tended to turn off some less technology inclined clients.

The situation resulted in agents having to jot down new client information and then going back to the head office to update client files on their desktops using Mximizer CRM.

Last December, RTR began rolling out CRM 10.5 Freedom on agents’ BlackBerry units to cut down this lag time.

The handy BlackBerry units were also the perfect unobtrusive devices to use when dealing with clients face-to-face, Rouche said.

“With mobile access to customer information online, there’s very little need for our sales team to return to the main office when they’re out closing a deal,” he said.  

Roche says CRM 10.5 Freedom provides his firm’s managers quick access to business information via a device they can easily – and always – carry around.

“Besides being compatible with BlackBerry’s new Storm, CRM 10.5 Freedom give our management deeper insight into key business metrics with real-time wireless access to mobile dashboards,” he said.

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