CRM special: Getting big benefits from small devices

If you have been following the technology media, by now you have heard and felt the hype about running applications on small devices. I am sure your organization is asking: what else can these devices do for us?

Before we can discuss the correct approach to small devices integration for CRM, we should analyze what is available. There are several types of such devices, but they can be grouped into two distinct categories: network-enabled and standalone.

A network-enabled device, as the name implies, is connected to real-time data via some sort of protocol (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, phone network). Standalone devices, on the other hand, can only access data through a synchronization method with a desktop PC.

Your organization is probably trying to standardize the type, brand, and model of these mobile devices for corporate use. But the difficulty in achieving such uniformity often leaves you with no other choice but to find the most common denominator, so information can be delivered to users in a timely fashion and within tight budgets.

If you are looking for a CRM application or developing your own, certain considerations must be made. Clearly, standalone devices require a native application that can access the data locally and is as current as the latest synchronization. Palm and Pocket PCs, for example, are available in different models, some networked, others not.

The architecture of a well-designed native application must address data access both locally and remotely. Most current PDAs may have significant memory and powerful processors. But the reality is, regardless of how big the hard disk’s capacity, it will eventually run out of space.

So what criteria should you look for when researching a CRM application for your organization? The answer is actually not hard to find.

The first step is to determine a CRM application’s adherence and compliance to current standards. Compliant applications provide the best odds for a highly successful deployment.

If you really need to run native applications on your small devices, using Java platform is recommended. Java applications run on most portable devices and their performance has improved significantly in the last years. The BlackBerry, known for its ease of use and good performance, runs mostly on Java applications. Palm, Pocket PC, and a lot of new smart phones work well with Java.

But if you are choosing a network device, the best option is to use an application that already resides on that tool – the browser.

Your CRM application should have a Web service interface that delivers the information on demand. Through this technology, your small devices connect to the Web service via the browser, and interactions are performed on very simple and dynamic Web pages. The “smarts” lie in the Web service so even the simplest browser is capable of delivering exceptional performance and functionality.

There are enormous benefits of having your CRM enabled with Web services.

The first is security. Data never leaves your server so if the mobile device gets stolen nothing critical is lost. In addition, users connect to your network through secure logins and are only provided with the specific information they require.

Second, information is always current. Other users in your organization may be updating your CRM in the office, or even via other mobile devices. Web service gives remote users immediate access to information. Sometimes that can spell the difference between winning and losing a sale or providing good and bad customer service.

The third and highly important aspect is that it must be easy to use. Even though small devices now have “fancy” ways of entering data, they are not designed for data entry. Web pages delivered by the Web service must use “point and click” approach as much as possible. Pages have to be smart. They must pre-empt user requirements based on behavior and past usage. Performance is crucial. Users want information now and not in two minutes.

Lastly, the CRM Web service must provide personalized information. For example, when a user logs in, he/she should have quick access to matters such as the most companies visited, preferred contacts, recent actions, etc. These preferences must be configured from either the mobile device or from the desktop.

Browsers on small devices have significant restrictions in functionality and presentation. In some field applications it is required to make use of native applications to achieve desired results. For network devices, these applications should access your CRM data via the same Web service protocol ensuring security and accuracy of data. For the standalone ones, such data can reside on the device and is loaded by synchronization.

There are many other reasons for using Web services in a CRM application. Extensibility and versatility are some of them. Web services are centrally controlled through a server so policy changes can be implemented immediately and deployed to all users without delay. The processes on the server can even be changed to integrate database or legacy systems into the CRM application without affecting usages. Access to data is controlled and can be revoked on demand.

And remember, users are just opening simple HTML pages – your mobility portal – from their devices. So, if the device is lost or the battery runs out, they should be able to simply go to any PC with Internet connection and access their data using the user interface they know.

When looking for a CRM solution be sure you demand these capabilities for small devices. This will give you the most value for your investment.

— Rui Mendes is president and CEO of NOVAData Information Systems Inc. NOVAData creates on-demand, customer-centric solutions, available to users anywhere, anytime, producing security redundancy and audit trail capability for small to medium-sized businesses worldwide.

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