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Peppers & Rogers: BI in the palm of your hand possible

The new breed of handheld devices makes mobile business intelligence and analysis possible for General Binding Corp., according to Peppers and Rogers.

Handheld devices are as powerful today as desktop computers were before the dawn of the Web. Used correctly, that power makes palmtops vital business intelligence (BI) tools for organizations that integrate them into their customer-facing workflows.

General Binding Corp. (GBC) is an example of one company benefiting from a complete mobile overhaul. The company, which manufactures document finishing equipment, deployed Vertical Solutions' PowerHelp CRM Field Service to its 175 field service technicians to improve service delivery. Additionally, the technicians are using PowerHelp to capture customer information from service calls that GBC can then use in its product development. According to Tim Spencer, GBC's vice president, technical service and support, the company is also benefiting from "a more productive and efficient field organization that can handle calls more quickly."

"Most of the success around mobile CRM is still in field service," says Sheryl Kingstone, program manager at The Yankee Group. "That's where the slam-dunk is." GBC is extending that success by going beyond basic field service productivity increases and improving its customer insight by entwining its field service and product development processes.

Increasingly, companies are trying to improve the intelligence they send out to the field as well. Most of these efforts focus on providing field service staff the information they need to be more efficient on service calls, and on giving field sales staff access to the customer-related data they need to be more effective on sales calls. Some organizations are even trying to take that effectiveness to the next level by providing field salespeople and mobile executives with BI functionality on their mobile devices.

Early mobile CRM applications were geared toward delivering as much functionality as possible on the limited screen size and bandwidth of mobile devices, with mixed results. Today, nearly every CRM vendor is offering mobile applications specifically designed for PalmOne, BlackBerry, and other handheld devices. As with GBC, however, some experts say that companies should be doing more than simply giving their mobile staff access to customer data, they should be providing them with tools to gather intelligence from that information.

Vendors such as Business Objects offer CRM analytics dashboards for mobile devices, which provide access to data that the system has already analyzed. More recently, Siebel has touted its mobile analytics platform, enabling users to crunch numbers while disconnected from the corporate network and then synchronize results and reports to the corporate database upon returning to the network umbrella. These technologies can give mobile users access to customer insights that run much deeper than a basic "just the facts" overview of sales or service status. The application could also allow executives in the field to make better qualified presentations to customers or to reallocate critical staff and resources without having to check in at a corporate workstation.

However, unlike quick-hit information exchanges via email or text messaging, the form factor of a handheld has not proven itself for serious BI users. Despite the new crop of mobile dashboards and platforms, Kingstone anticipates that mobile sales and marketing functionality will need to evolve further before professionals take their handhelds as seriously as a BI platform.

"Doing analysis, doing pipelining on a mobile device? I don't see the value in that," Kingstone says. "If you're going to do serious data analysis, you're not going to do it on a Pocket PC."

Even so, the insight gleaned from existing mobile applications—delivering results like those achieved by General Binding—makes a strong case for improving the delivery of customer insight both to and from all areas of the company.

Reprinted with permission from 1to1 Media. (c) 2006 Carlson Marketing Worldwide.

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