Web Meeting Service Startup Takes On Cisco, Microsoft

November 21, 2007

Dimdim, a startup made up of entrepreneurs and technologists, on Monday launched a free Web meeting service that’s meant to compete with Cisco Systems’ WebEx and Microsoft’s PlaceWare. The service, also called Dimdim, will be showcased at this week’s DEMOfall 07 conference where new products, technologies, and companies make their debut. The free service is offered as a private beta for now, but will be widely available on registration basis in two to three months.

Dimdim is browser-based and doesn’t require any software to be installed, which makes it easy to use, said DD Ganguly, the company’s CEO and co-founder, in an interview. “A customer once told us: ‘This is just like visiting a web site.’ Anyone who can use a browser irrespective of technical ability can use Dimdim,” Ganguly said.

Dimdim uses a rich Internet application with advanced collaboration features. The service allows people to share their desktop files, show slides, and chat using a webcam. Cisco and Microsoft offer similar capabilities as part of their Web meeting services. Cisco acquired Web conferencing company WebEx earlier this year, with plans to integrate its own voice and video products into the WebEx offering.

CEO Ganguly said what makes Dimdim unique is its open source foundation. “We’re about democratizing collaboration,” Ganguly said.

The service integrates open source components, such as the Google Web toolkit for Ajax applications, the Red5 open source Flash server, and the Tomcat application server, with Dimdim’s open source software.

Additionally, it works on computers that run different operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

There are three versions of Dimdim available: a free browser-based version, open source server-side software that can be downloaded from Sourceforge.net, and an enterprise version that can be purchased for a fee by small and medium-sized businesses.

The enterprise version is customizable and scalable. For example, it allows hundreds of participants to be on a Web conference at the same time, whereas the free version doesn’t. Dimdim also offers 24/7 support for the enterprise version.

Schools and universities can integrate Dimdim’s server-side software with e-learning apps, while companies can integrate it with customer-relationship management (CRM) apps for a better collaboration experience, said Ganguly.

Dimdim is supported by venture funding from firms that also have invested in Skype, Hotmail, and MySQL. The investors include Draper Richards, Index Ventures, and Nexus India Capital.

Source:

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Evaluating Tech Startups: The Risks And Rewards

November 15, 2007

By John Foley

Tech startups are enthusiastic about the prospect of selling to businesses, and rightly so. Opsware, VMware, Salesforce.com–they’re just a few recent examples of startups that hit it huge, whether through buyout, IPO, or organic growth. Venture capital firms are pouring money into promising early-stage tech companies–$1.1 billion went toward 187 software deals in the third quarter, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association–and Web 2.0 has everyone thinking again about all the business possibilities on the Internet. The pieces are in place.

[…..]

See more at http://www.unitedbit.com/


HR Software Face-Off Reveals Latest Trends

November 15, 2007

By Ed Frauenheim

A highly anticipated “battle” at this year’s HR Technology Conference & Exposition revealed that social networking and “Web 2.0” features are key weapons for HR software vendors today.

Oracle, Lawson and Workday presented elements of social networking and the kind of consumer-friendly Internet interactivity that people have come to expect of software during the October 11 head-to-head-to-head showdown, held at the annual Chicago conference put on by Human Resource Executive magazine.

Lawson, for example, demonstrated how its new set of HR software tools can allow employees to post jobs from their firm’s career Web page directly onto their page at the popular social networking site Facebook. And companies can arrange to have employees earn a referral bonus if a job is filled by someone who applied through their Facebook page.

Such features let companies “put the job postings where the future talent lives and breathes,” says Larry Dunivan, Lawson’s vice president of global human capital management.

There’s a push to build greater interactivity and social networking capabilities into HR software. The applications are being used by a wider variety of employees as well as younger ones who grew up with the Internet and who frequent sites like MySpace.

Partly because of potential talent wars, HR applications are now the hottest area of business software. And the “battle” among vendors at this year’s HR tech show promised to be intriguing.

Unlike other HR Technology Conference showdowns among vendors, audience members were not asked to cast votes at the Oracle-Lawson-Workday event.

Organizers says a new format would make apples-to-apples comparisons impossible. The lack of a clear victor may have lowered the excitement level some, but drama was provided by having legendary PeopleSoft leader Dave Duffield pit his Workday product against Oracle. Duffield founded Workday in 2005, not long after losing a bid to keep PeopleSoft from being snapped up by Oracle.

At the “battle,” Duffield didn’t fail to entertain an audience that probably topped 1,500 people. Surveying the crowd, he made light of the legions of lawyers brought to bear during Oracle’s initially unwelcome acquisition attempt.

“I haven’t seen as many people in one room since our attorneys during the hostile takeover,” he says, drawing laughter and applause.

Duffield’s new firm stood out from Lawson and Oracle with its Google-like search field. That search box can be used to scan the Workday application using terms like “bonus.” The results from the searches are links that allow users to take actions such as creating a new compensation bonus program.

Oracle demonstrated that it is up on the latest trends of collaboration and social networking. Gretchen Alarcon, Oracle’s vice president for human capital management strategy, showed how an Oracle technology could allow employees to establish informal networks devoted to a particular topic and help workers further their careers by learning about job openings from colleagues. Alarcon called this embrace of peer-to-peer networks and sharing “Enterprise 2.0 for human capital management.”

A version of the collaboration technology, called WebCenter, is available now, but Oracle’s demo used a version of the product that is still in development.

Source:Workforce.com


Talent Management Keeping Score With HR Analytics Software

November 15, 2007

By Ed Frauenheim

Today’s cutting-edge technology for managing talent has much in common with car dashboards and baseball cards. Makers of software to help firms recruit, assess, develop and retain employees are trying to present key data in ways as simple to understand as a speedometer or fuel gauge. And just as baseball cards combine player photos with important statistics, companies can view snapshots of their team members that include a range of key information, such as salary level and performance rating.

Software firm Authoria, for example, allows managers to see an organizational chart on the computer screen with images of their direct reports presented almost like baseball cards. Below the photo of Joe Smith is his job title, performance rating, the amount of time Joe has worked at the company and how long he’s been in his current position.

This way of organizing information not only is easy on the eye, it eliminates much of the grunt work associated with trying to analyze data stored in paper records, spreadsheets or Microsoft Word documents, says Jeff Cooper, senior business consultant at Authoria. In effect, workforce analysis and presentation tools like those from Authoria raise the game of human resources managers and other company leaders, Cooper says. “Now that person can focus more strategically,” he says.

Workforce analytics applications refer to software products that help a company draw conclusions from its human resources data. These tools are considered particularly vital for the most strategic talent management tasks, which include recruiting the right employees, measuring their performance, helping them develop and compensating them effectively. To make smart decisions around hiring, promotion and pay, firms ideally need to sift quickly through data such as performance reviews, salary levels and even store revenue.

Partly because organizations are eager to make wiser talent management calls, there is growing interest in workforce analysis applications and related “dashboards” or “scorecards.” The momentum also stems from the way such software has become both more sophisticated and simpler to use during the past five years or so.

Still, some skepticism surrounds the analytics field. Vendors of analytics tools have not always provided effective software or guidance to customers, experts say. It remains difficult for large companies to gather basic employee data such as headcount—which makes scouring the information for trends difficult. And it’s not clear that organizations know what information they should be looking for.

Jodi Starkman, a talent management specialist with consulting firm ORC Worldwide, says diving into workforce analytics applications can just result in making a bad pro¬cess—such as recruiting from poor sources of candidates —more efficient.

“HR is collecting a lot of data,” Starkman says. “But people are still confused about what kinds of business questions they should be answering.”

Firms showing interest
A recent study from the International Association for Human Resource Information Management professional group and consulting firm Knowledge Infusion suggests many companies are not doing heavy analysis of their workforce data. In the survey, which polled IHRIM members and Knowledge Infusion customers, 52 percent of respondents with 2,500 employees or more cited very light to moderate assessment of the impact of HR initiatives on business results through standard reports and spreadsheets. Twenty-four percent of such organizations indicated they are not doing this type of measurement at all. Just a quarter of companies with 2,500 employees or more had implemented workforce analytics software.

On the other hand, the study found growing interest in workforce analytics. Thirty-five percent of companies with 2,500 employees or more are in the process of implementing analytics software, making it the top category among 12 types of HR-related applications. And, the study found, 30 percent of companies with 2,500 employees or more indicated they will make significant investments in analytics software during the next three years.

One firm dipping its toe into workforce analytics applications is Dallas-based software company Intervoice, which employs about 800 people worldwide and whose products include software for contact centers. Intervoice recently began using a dashboard within SAP’s E-Recruiting software. Among the tools available to the Intervoice staffing team are a summary of job applications waiting to be processed and links for recruiters to schedule interviews, says Don Brown, senior vice president of human resources at Intervoice.

Brown has higher aspirations still. He’d like to configure his SAP software to create an improved dashboard for line managers. Already, his manager self-service portal includes open job requisitions, employee birthdays and service anniversary dates. He wants to add such information as year-to-date turnover, talent development goals and progress toward them, and performance reviews ranked by score and linked to summaries. “We can justify the funding,” he says, “but we can’t do everything at once.”

Product categories
Analyzing workforce data may be as complex as finding the most important factors in store profitability or as simple as generating a companywide breakdown of employees by age. Firms sometimes rely on their existing spreadsheet software to tackle the easiest of these tasks. More sophisticated application tools, though, can cost large organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Analysis results can be presented in reports sent by e-mail or posted on a Web page. In some cases, the conclusions also can be seen on computer-screen dashboards that quickly signal whether a particular figure exceeds an acceptable level—say, annual turnover above 10 percent. Dashboards and scorecards, which differ slightly from dashboards by measuring progress toward a particular goal, often broadcast the status of a particular metric with a green light for “OK,” a yellow for “caution” and a red for “trouble.”

Besides slicing and dicing workforce data and presenting the information back to users, analytics tools can fire off e-mail alerts to employees when danger levels are reached.

Sellers of workforce analytics products divide roughly into three categories. The first is comprehensive business software providers such as Oracle and SAP. The second is talent management specialists including Taleo or Authoria. Then there are stand-alone analysis applications from vendors such as Cognos and Infohrm.

Lawson Software is an example of the first group. Like SAP and Oracle, Lawson makes software to automate various business areas including human resources, finance and manufacturing. Lawson, which is based in based in St. Paul, Minnesota, says its Lawson Business Intelligence software allows companies to peer across multiple areas of the business to come up with useful information.

Cecile Alper-Leroux, Lawson’s director for human capital management product strategy, cites hiring metrics as an example. She says Lawson Business Intelligence goes beyond simply measuring the time it takes to hire someone to consider the effectiveness of the hire—seen through figures such as total cost of the employee, how quickly the person became productive and how successful they were in performance reviews. “That’s a much more complex view,” she says.

Oracle also boasts of workforce analytics software that spans the typical “silos” of information in a company. It sells analytics tools for both its Oracle E-Business Suite and PeopleSoft Enterprise product lines, and is working to “embed” analytics in individual product modules. For example, its Oracle iRecruitment application is set up so managers who are asked to approve an offer letter to a new hire automatically see the range of salaries given to employees with similar jobs, says Gretchen Alarcon, Oracle vice president for human capital management product strategy.

Alarcon concedes that vendors specializing in talent management applications such as recruiting or compensation software may allow users to drill more deeply into the information presented in reports or alert e-mails. But she argues that the specialists’ products often lack the ability to compare data from different areas, which is a priority for customers. “Rather than getting into super-detail in any one type of product, they want to see how their learning management, performance management and recruiting data tie together to meet their business goals,” Alarcon says.

Adam Miller, chief executive of talent management software firm Cornerstone OnDemand, agrees that vendors need to provide a range of applications in order for analytics tools to result in the most useful information. But Miller, whose firm offers software for performance management, succession planning, compliance management and compensation planning, takes issue with the idea that the big business software players have an edge in analytics and dashboard tools. “In virtually every case, it’s much easier to configure, navigate and report in our system,” he says.

Also in the mix are companies that focus on analytics tools alone. These include “business intelligence” software makers Cognos and Business Objects, both of which make tools for analyzing a range of business information, including workforce data. Another analysis specialist is Infohrm, which focuses on HR and talent management matters.

Brian Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing at Infohrm, says his product will gather data from a variety of sources in an organization. But a key part of Infohrm’s pitch is its willingness to consult with customers about how to use metrics effectively in their management style. “It’s not a technology issue at companies,” Kelly says. “It’s a change management issue.”

Companies have been banging on Infohrm’s door. The firm has seen revenue grow more than 35 percent annually over the past three years, and clients include such big names as Starbucks, Nokia and Time Warner. Other vendors of workforce analytics software report growing interest in their products as well. “It gets talked about a lot,” says David Ludlow, SAP’s vice president of product management for human capital management applications.

On the other hand, Ludlow says relatively few organizations have actually put analytics tools and dashboards into place to glean wisdom about their talent. Among the challenges to greater use of analytics is that many companies still make decisions about things like succession planning and performance management on paper or in spreadsheets, where data is hard to retrieve, he says. “You can’t have analysis unless you automate these processes,” he says.

Another obstacle to the adoption of workforce analysis software is that the tools aren’t always easy to use. Authoria, for example, offers clients a variety of “pre-baked” reports designed to be simple to access and comprehend. One such report, intended to aid in succession planning, plots out employees on a grid showing both performance rating and potential. But using Authoria’s software to ask more complex questions takes sophistication, such as understanding how to construct a multi-variable search.

An example of such a search would be an attempt to find, for a given job family, all the employees and external candidates who meet criteria around current location, willingness to relocate, length of service and performance record. Cooper says HR “super users” and other champions of the tool are the ones likely to do such ad-hoc digging, which can lead to important insights. “Yes, it requires some understanding to create a complex, multi-variable search from scratch,” Cooper says. “And rightfully so.”

Vendors of analytics tools also must overcome some residual distrust, says Jim Holincheck, analyst with research firm Gartner. He says vendors haven’t always done enough to help organizations get the right data in front of the right people, whether they are the HR director, CFO or chief executive. “Different stakeholders need different metrics,” Holincheck says. “The vendors haven’t really delivered on that.”

Along these lines, Lawson is working on specific role-based dashboards, such as ones for compensation analysts or recruiting managers. But the company’s Alper-Leroux says there is a limit to the effectiveness of “canned” reports and dashboards. She says Lawson delivers about 275 preconfigured reports, but the nuances of every business mean clients almost invariably want to build their own metrics. “More than 50 percent of our customers use 25 or fewer of those reports out of the box,” she says.

Some analysts, though, question the wisdom of HR departments in choosing how to analyze their talent management data. “If HR leaders don’t know what to do as a result of the metrics, then having them doesn’t matter,” says Naomi Bloom, managing partner at Bloom & Wallace, a consulting firm in Fort Myers, Florida. “The missing piece is the business savvy.

Early results
Infohrm’s Kelly says clients thus far have focused on very basic data chores. “You’d be amazed how many companies struggle to get an accurate headcount figure,” he says.

There was a flurry of activity around workforce analytics about five years ago, followed by a lull and now growing attention to the topic, Kelly says. He expects that attention to continue, in part because case studies of early adopters are persuasive.

In one example, a large retail client of Infohrm analyzed its data to determine that the greatest factor in store revenue and profitability was manager tenure. That sort of insight allowed the firm to do more to hold on to its store managers, Kelly says. “They know which levers to move,” he says.

Holincheck says interest in analytics will follow the course of companies’ now-common adoption of recruiting, performance management, learning management and compensation management software. “We’re where talent management was three to four years ago,” he says. “It’s going to be a mainstream thing that people are interested in.”

In other words, it soon may be as normal to have a dashboard in front of you at work as it is to have one in front of you while driving there.

Source: Workforce.com


Tools help staff see the effects of effort

November 14, 2007

By SAM HISER

Securing the services of the best available candidates is at the heart of e-recruitment systems. But once the new recruits are on board, technology now plays a big part in helping to monitor, incentivise and manage them.

Performance management software tools are maturing, taking advantage of the internet and replacing custom-grown solutions to help managers more effectively monitor and offer incentives to staff.

Also known as business intelligence (BI) or business performance management (BPM), e-performance management is a growing field.

Oracle, through its Peoplesoft and Hyperion acquisitions, SAP, Cognos and Business Objects are some of the big software providers helping managers collect, organise and massage data coming in from across finance, back office, manufacturing, production, sales and compensation business processes.

A growing list of smaller players, too, provides targeted services in a variety of niches. In the sales performance management (SPM) arena, for example, sales personnel and managers need a clear view of objectives and sales plan rules. They also need real-time visibility on their compensation statements and incentive goal sheets as well as
performance comparisons versus prior periods.

A dashboard screen on a desktop, laptop or smartphone allows them to absorb this information by showing up-to-the minute sales and compensation statistics and integrates incentive plan information.

In any sales organisation where the compensation plan drives the business, there is a need for everybody to be connected to central goals and respond quickly.

“You want to turn the business rules into compensation. With a centralized book, you can cascade strategic changes in the call plan,” says Leslie Stretch, senior vice-president of global sales, marketing and on-demand business at Callidus Software. The implications penetrate to the bottom line.

Mr Stretch says integrated software permits incentive compensation to be awarded faster and targeted with precision, while slowness and inaccuracy can demoralise a sales force.

Callidus, for example, is establishing a de facto standard for sales performance it calls the “true performance index”, that a professional can use to monitor the effects of their efforts. They can take this statistic with them – possibly to different employers. For heavily unionised customers, such as telecoms companies, Mr Stretch reports
fewer disputes, due partly, he claims, to trust in the Callidus data.

E-performance management tools are making a difference in operations management, too. A UK software and consulting group, eg Solutions, offers straightforward technology and advice which seeks to identify processes and tasks, assign roles, groups, teams and skills, and match desired outcomes with human activity. The business-intelligence
gathering mechanism is embedded in the process, which means data input is not segregated from the work itself.

Elizabeth Gooch, eg’s chief executive, says: “It’s like driving a car, first in manual and then in automatic.” The key is to make people autonomous optimisers by showing them the results of what they do.

Employees are said to appreciate sharper e-performance management tools and thrive because they feel a greater sense of accomplishment when their efforts are connected with results.

Source:


Mobile CRM: Six Experts Dial In

November 14, 2007

If you have a mobile workforce, chances are it is a vital part of your business . Now that the vast majority of mobile devices can access the Internet, it’s no surprise that a growing number of companies are looking to mobile CRM to increase the productivity of their mobile workers, streamline business operations and boost customer satisfaction.

Simply put, mobile CRM means workers have access to company CRM, enterprise resource planning , sales force automation or other back-office software such as order management and accounts receivable through their browser-based mobile devices (BlackBerry, Palm, iPhone, etc.).

Mobile CRM

This marriage of CRM software and the mobile network is possible through the advent of high-speed mobile Internet access and hosted software, or Software as a Service (SaaS). Though only a small percentage of companies are using mobile CRM (and many of those only on a limited basis), the ones that are using it have reported great success, and it appears to be a market segment poised for rapid growth, in part because it’s now within reach of the profitable small to medium-sized business (SMB) market segment.

Recent research from Compass Intelligence suggests that businesses in the U.S. will spend roughly US$9 billion on mobile applications, including mobile CRM, by 2011, up from an estimated $3.8 billion this year.

Mobile CRM brings many advantages to an organization, some of which are yet to be discovered. Suffice it to say that it does much more than enable mobile access to e-mail and text messaging. This is about access to real data and the ability to manipulate it in real time, as well as the ability to conduct transactions remotely.

With mobile CRM, changes and updates made in the field can take effect in real time (or near real time) on the servers at the central office. This “virtualization” of the company network means business information can be seamlessly shared across all channels, mobile or otherwise — a huge leap forward compared to the clunky interfaces of the not-too-distant past.

With mobile CRM, workers can share documents and have full access to their companies’ CRM or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system while they’re in the field or at home. Plus, depending on the software being used, management can get centralized, Web-based “dashboard” views of business activity and do real-time analyses of the information. In most cases, mobile workers don’t have to perform additional operations or follow-up work upon returning to the office: It’s just as if they had their office PCs with them the whole time.

However, mobile CRM isn’t just about improving internal processes, it’s also about improving the customer experience. When a mobile worker is doing business with a customer, it helps tremendously if that worker has all of the customer’s information, past and present, right at his or her fingertips.

The ability to, for example, get the status of an order, see past buying trends, get the model number of the last item purchased, or find out if a particular part is available at the warehouse, while the customer is there watching, leads to a much more satisfying sales experience and, as a result, greater customer loyalty.

Six Experts Weigh In

How do today’s mobile CRM solutions work? What other advantages do they bring to organizations? What are the main considerations to keep in mind when selecting a mobile CRM solution? What features or capabilities should companies look for? Can an older CRM solution be modified to “go mobile?”

To find out, Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed executives at some of the top companies working in the mobile CRM realm: Michael Rich, senior product marketing manager at Microsoft; Mark Krieger, vice president of development for Numara Software; Guy Waterman, senior director of mobile CRM products at Oracle; Kris Brannock, vice president of corporate development, Vertical Solutions; Jay O’Connor, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for NetSuite; and Chuck Dietrich, vice president of Salesforce Mobile. What follows are selected responses to our questions.

Question: If you have a mobile workforce, what are the key benefits of implementing a mobile CRM solution?

Kris Brannock, Vertical Solutions: Mobile CRM apps are invaluable for companies that must take their support to their customers, such as in field service . Time is of the essence, not only in terms of customer satisfaction, but also in terms of efficient use of company resources.
Mobile CRM enables companies to streamline the process of providing on-site technicians with the right tools, information and parts they need to perform a fix. Techs can tap into online schematics, tutorials and manuals to ease their troubleshooting and speed repairs; they can gather warranty and contract information instantaneously; and can provide customer information back to corporate in real time.

Mobile CRM makes customers happier because their provider has the right answers, and it makes providers happier because they can dramatically boost efficiency and effectiveness while capturing valuable customer information. In almost every case, there are positive, tangible ROI (return on investment) statistics once mobile technology is deployed in the field.

Guy Waterman, Oracle: Key benefits of our mobile CRM solutions include access to up-to-date enterprise sales and service, customer and product information, anytime, anywhere; deployment options for wireless , handheld, tablet or laptop PCs allow the user to choose the device and application that are best suited to his needs; lower costs, higher customer satisfaction and increased revenue from improved sales and service representative productivity; industry-leading mobile applications tailored to meet the requirements of a broad range of industries; improved IT operations with the ability to configure business rules once and deploy everywhere across multiple mobile platforms using Siebel Tools; and patented, scalable synchronization technology to ensure fast, easy and robust data sharing across the enterprise for mobile workers.

Q: When’s the right time in the CRM selection process to start looking for mobile tools?

Jay O’Connor, NetSuite: As soon as you have a distributed sales force, a field service staff or any employees who travel out of the office and need a wireless means of accessing their customer or transactional data. It should be a key part of your buying decision. First, you should consider whether the tool meets your most fundamental needs: Does it provide anytime, anywhere access? Is it an integrated system? Is it easy to use? Can you grow and scale with the tool? Can you afford it? How much will your business benefit from this tool in terms of increased sales/increased productivity and efficiency/reduced cost/better decision-making ability?

Michael Rich, Microsoft: Definitely look at mobile tools and capabilities before selecting a CRM product, even if you don’t think you’ll use it at the current time. It’s important to plan ahead and find out how much it could cost before you realize it’s needed.

Q: What are the two or three most important ways CRM must be modified for mobile usage?

Mark Krieger, Numara Software: For those customers who want a real Web interface, there are two methodologies: Either you buy an interface through a third party or you do it yourself. There are a lot of products out there that will take my existing Web pages and run them through a filter, and they’ll let the customer know that, if you’re coming to the Web site, and you’re coming from a BlackBerry or a Palm or an iPhone, don’t go to this site, go to this slightly different site, and the third party will actually filter my pages. The key advantage to this method is that there’s no programming effort on the customer’s part, or on the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturer) part.

The other way to do it is to modify your CRM program yourself, so that it knows when the user is coming from a small browser. There’s a browser variable that gets passed, so it knows, on my Footprints server, that a BlackBerry user is asking to connect, so it can render a different [sized] page than it would for a PC screen. That approach typically means you have to have a programmer work on it for months, or perhaps even years — but when I’m done, I own it completely and I have control over it. And my customer gets the benefit of not having to go through some third party — and me paying fees or my customers paying fees based on that contract.

Brannock: Typically, there are three primary ways companies view mobile usage in the field. The CRM system must work in an “online” mode, an “offline” mode and a blended “online/offline” mode. The technical differences when creating a mobile application are significant. Dependencies, such as mobile coverage and critical data access, play a large role in the decision-making process.

The benefit of online-only access is that it’s the easiest to create and deploy if your engineers typically have mobile coverage. Offline mobile options work well in environments where online access is intermittent. The advantages of a blended mode offer the best of both worlds. Therefore, finding a vendor that meets your specific requirements is key from the very beginning of a search.

Chuck Dietrich, Salesforce Mobile: The key to a successful deployment of any mobile application is giving the mobile users access to the data they need in the field and not flooding them with nonessential data. A good business process review is a great step in identifying the correct data set.

Our Salesforce Mobile product gives customers two options for selecting the correct data to mobilize. One, via a simple point-and-click Web-based administrative interface, a Salesforce admin can configure data filters for each type of mobile user. Second, the mobile user can easily run a search from the device for any Salesforce record. These records become marked and over time the user has constructed his or her own mobile data set.

Q: What are the main considerations you think companies should be aware of when selecting mobile CRM?

O’Connor: We don’t think that CRM applications should require modification to support the mobile workforce. However, we do think that planning for your mobile device integration does take some thought. Here are what we think are some top points to remember in creating a mobile workforce:

Good mobile integration is a business tool, not just a communication mechanism. It is a way for your teams in the field to always have access to up-to-date customer data and to be able to address customer requirements at the point of interaction.

Business data security cannot be compromised. Like any other computer access, you want to ensure that security is provided for users of mobile devices.

360-degree customer data is essential. The mobile sales team needs to be able to reliability see the most recent data on the customer — including the products or services purchased, the status of deliveries or returns to that customer, any problems or issues raised by the customer, and the status of his accounts.

Availability-to-promise is a mobile requirement. Remote sales people need to be able to look into stock and tell if the item the customer wants is available. Likewise, field service personnel need to know if a part is in stock, on order, or at another depot location.

Enable transactions. The empowered mobile workforce needs more than just data access: it needs the ability to conduct business from any location. The ability to place an order, close a deal, update a support record, post time against a project – done remotely through a wireless device – can shorten the lead-to-cash cycle, improve customer satisfaction and result in increased accuracy.”

Rich: Plan ahead and prepare for growth. Choose a product and vendor that will not only allow you to tailor the CRM product to your needs, but will be flexible and can alter specifications as your business changes. In addition, companies need to ask more questions about start-up and add-on fees for CRM services . We’ve heard of other companies charging an additional 50 percent or more on top of fees quote per user.”

Q: What would the mobile CRM tool that comes to dominate the mobile space do that the others didn’t do?

Waterman: It should support multiple device platforms (laptop, personal digital assistant, smart phone) from a single development environment without having to manage multiple instances for each platform; allow for alignment of the data models and business processes; deliver error handling for incompatible transactions; upgrade support between the various platforms; and offer the ability to connect to multiple enterprise data sources yet render in a single mobile platform without the user really knowing that the data reside in different systems on the server.

Dietrich: “Ultimately, the CRM tool that will come to dominate the mobile space will be differentiated by its ease in use. Companies are always going to focus on the top handful of activities that sales and service reps need to do their jobs effectively: account and contact lookups, deal or case information and follow-up activities.

Although most mobile device CRM applications can do much more than just serve as an on-demand database, keeping it simple ensures that users can quickly and easily access core functionality without getting bogged down by extraneous bells and whistles. In the same sense, the mobile tool of the future should also extend beyond CRM so that companies can extract additional value out of their mobile CRM deployment by extending access into these other areas, such as inventory, order and time management and expense tracking.

Q: What features do mobile users ask for the most?

Waterman: Configurability, a rich Internet application experience; the ability to integrate to other services available on the Internet (i.e., mapping software, searches, look ups); and compatibility and capability of the desktop solution on the PDA or smart phone.

Brannock: It’s easy to get hung up on demanding features such as Bluetooth capability or continuous real-time connectivity and lose sight of the long-term focus of continuous process improvement.

Rather than demand specific features, users must focus on benefits: what application will enable them to get the information they need to perform at peak efficiency while boosting customer satisfaction? What tools will enable them two-way access to corporate databases, both to receive and enter customer information? What functionality can be deployed quickly and what will drag implementation out for months or years? How much ROI will be wasted while companies wait, and can they better achieve benefits by building a chain of modular, achievable successes?”

Q: What are the two or three most common mistakes companies make when selecting mobile CRM solutions?

Krieger: The good thing about our FootPrints product is that all administration is delivered through Web screens, which means no programming. So one mistake that a customer might make in general would be to purchase a CRM tool where you have to bring in the programming troops and go through months of consulting before you can have it up and running. And that goes for the base product and a handheld interface. And that’s one of the reasons I think Salesforce has been so successful. They have a sales tool that a human being can use, without years of programming and training.

Dietrich: Too often, companies selecting a CRM solution are often thrown off track by vendors leading the selection process. This leaves most companies with a CRM solution that has unnecessary and complex features that they may never use, making management more difficult and costly.

To avoid this, define your rationale for installing a system up front before you begin discussion with vendors. Make sure that the user community is at the center of defining your requirements. If you are looking to improve how everyday employees collaborate and share information, your primary concern should be usability and achieving high adoption. If you need greater control over complex, regulatory-driven processes, you may want to focus on a long checklist of features.

The solution you choose in the former case should look very different from the one you pick in the latter. It’s easy for vendors to feel that they know what is right for users but the reality is that the users are better at defining what they want and what they don’t want. Additionally, many other mobile solutions require significant custom development work that results in hidden start up costs and time delays.

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