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Mobile CRM: Service applications

Mobilizing your field and customer service staff can increase productivity and give your enterprise the upper hand when it comes to customer satisfaction. This tip discusses some critical questions you must ask before you deploy a mobile service solution.

Summary:

Last time, I discussed mobile CRM from a sales perspective. This week, we look at the other side -- mobile CRM for service applications. This is actually one of the oldest uses of wireless and mobile computing together, dating back at least to the early 1980s and a network called ARDIS (Advanced Radio Data Information System), originally built by Motorola for IBM's field service unit and still operated as DataTAC (the original name of the radio technology behind ARDIS) by Motient Corp. ARDIS was (and DataTAC still is) a nationwide, X.25-based network operating at a whopping 19.2 Kbps (peak). I remember back in the late 1970s, when I was an IBM mainframe customer, our machine occasionally failed (unbelievable, I know, but it did). The first thing the CE (customer engineer) would do when he arrived was to ask to use our phone, which he'd use just to tell his dispatcher than he'd arrived. Then he'd use the phone to talk to his help desk, and then another call to order parts, followed by one to find out where he'd be heading next. I was amazed one day (a few years later) when he pulled out his shiny new IBM PC Radio, which used the ARDIS network to handle all of the above. Wireless service was born, and I got to use the phone again.

The slow throughput offered by the ARDIS network wasn't all that much of a drawback in the alphanumeric era. Indeed, many current service fleets still use very slow wireless technologies, based on land-mobile radio or even satellite services, which still work pretty well. Obviously, however, service applications are evolving to require much greater data throughput. Sprint, for example, is currently running a TV ad featuring a mobile automotive claims-adjustment application, using a notebook equipped with an EV-DO data cardM.

One of the biggest advantages of a mobile service solution is the elimination of paperwork. Since field workers can file reports (and bills) electronically, both costs and error rates go down. Other popular capabilities include help desk, parts ordering, schedule checking (and updating on the fly), and directions to the next call – items that typify field service even today. GPS and mapping software are frequently used in mobile service applications. Sprint's Precision Locator service is an example of just how far this idea has come, with real-time tracking of specially equipped cell phones for a variety of productivity and location-based service needs.

And this leads to the two big questions facing anyone deploying a mobile service solution. First, what applications software will be used, and how will it interface to enterprise systems already in place? This is usually the area of greatest cost (and risk) when deploying a mobile service solution.

The second question, of course, is what wireless communicator to use. A cell phone? A smartphone (wireless PDA)? A specialized device, like the Symbol MC70? There are so many choices here, again because mobile service is one of the oldest wireless applications, and so many hardware, network and applications providers have been at it for a very long time. Have a look at Cingular's case studies for more information. This is an older area of wireless, but that doesn't mean that it's not a hotbed of innovation even today.

About the author: Craig Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm based in Ashland, Mass., specializing in wireless networking and mobile computing. The firm works with manufacturers, enterprises, carriers, government, and the financial community on all aspects of wireless and mobile. He can be reached at craig@farpointgroup.com.

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