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SAP, RightNow make CRM more mobile

With SAP's acquisition of Sybase and RightNow's new mobile capabilities, mobile CRM is taking off. Some early adopters are optimistic.

The CRM market got a heavy infusion of mobility in recent weeks. But early mobile adopters say that there are still plenty of challenges to sort out.

The biggest news was, of course, SAP's planned acquisition of Sybase. SAP executives touted the move as part of their strategy to offer their suite of applications on "any device, at any place, at any time."

While details on the SAP-Sybase roadmap are sparse as the company awaits regulatory approval on the deal, it was a popular topic at Sapphire SAP's annual user conference. SAP will be linking not just CRM but its full suite of applications to other devices and interfaces under Project Gateway. The foundation of Project Gateway was Duet, SAP's collaboration with Microsoft to bring SAP data to Microsoft Office applications; and Alloy, its collaboration with IBM to bring SAP data to Lotus applications. While the program initially created a great deal of buzz, neither was widely adopted, a fact SAP's CTO Vishall Sikka noted in his keynote address at Sapphire.

"I know those of you that have tried the early versions of Duet… it has been a learning experience," Sikka said. Duet, Alloy and the system SAP is building with RIM to bring applications to the BlackBerry device are all using Project Gateway.

"Our planned acquisition of Sybase will supercharge how we bring our existing landscapes to mobile devices," he said.

Meanwhile, RightNow Technologies rolled out a new set of capabilities making it easier for its customers to provide customer service over mobile devices. RightNow Mobile is part of the Bozeman, Mont.-based company's CX May 2010 release. It provides a Web self-service feature that allows consumers to search for help, view and rate answers, and submit email inquiries from mobile devices; a chat feature designed for mobile devices; and a guided assistance feature to help customers find the answers they’re looking for when using a mobile device.

While the demand for providing customer service over mobile devices may seem nascent, some RightNow customers are ready to take advantage of the features. CBS Interactive, the broadcasting company's online arm, has 35 mobile applications deployed, many centered around sports, including fantasy sports websites and its annual broadcast of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Last year, more than 75,000 watched NCAA games from a mobile device, and CBS Interactive wants to be able to support its customers right from that device.

"If somebody's deciding they can't watch the game from their home with a 50-inch flat screen TV and they opt to watch from the mobile device, when they have a problem, we need to be able to identify and rectify that problem, or that application is garbage," said Robert Monteiro, contact center operations director for CBS Interactive. "We need to get them the support they need right then and there."

Currently, CBS Interactive can deliver support from mobile devices in one of two ways: It can deliver a static FAQ, or someone can fill out a Web form and email it in.

"That's taking 2010 technology and backing it with 2000 support," Monteiro said.

Alternatively, customers can access a webpage through the device, but that takes them out of the native application, he added. With the RightNow application, customers access a RightNow instance from within the application, and RightNow detects the type of device and serves up its chat or self-service features optimized for the device's UI.

Managing multiple mobile CRM devices still a challenge

Device management has been difficult for many organizations as they cope with multiple mobile platforms. SAP's initial partnership with RIM to bring SAP CRM natively to the BlackBerry was replaced a year ago by the Sybase partnership, which delivered SAP mobile CRM for Windows and the iPhone earlier this year and has since evolved into a merger. The reason for the shift, according to analysts, was the need for many organizations to support multiple devices, which in turn required a mobile middleware layer. A direct partnership with the device manufacturer did not solve the problem of managing multiple devices.

"Yes, it's total chaos," said Steven Yasbek, chief accounting officer for SmithMicro, an Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based company that makes wireless software and applications. Due to the nature of its business, SmithMicro has to avoid exclusive relationships with wireless carriers and mobile devices for its own business.

SmithMicro recently deployed SAP CRM, and Yasbek said he is looking forward to taking advantage of some of the mobile capabilities. Getting the mobile features rolled out to the sales staff is his next priority.

"The real big thing that will make them power users is when they can do all their stuff on an iPhone or a BlackBerry,” he said.

Yasbek is hopeful about enhancements that the Sybase deal could bring, particularly the idea of saving sales calls as a .wav file and associating that to accounts.

Lincoln Electric, on the other hand, insists its sales reps work with BlackBerry and nothing else. Its mobile sales strategy has evolved. Six years ago, the Cleveland, Ohio-based welding equipment manufacturer rolled out SAP Mobile Sales and ran it on tablet PCs. However, less than a third of the reps were entering data into the tablets after a sales call, according to Gregory Langston, vice president of sales for the Harris Products Group, a division of Lincoln Electric.

Langston and John Goetz, the director of IT, have since revamped their sales force, forcing a strict adherence to a revamped sales process and entering accurate data. Yet they still have hopes for future mobile development.

"I believe that the iPad may open up some frontiers we haven't explored yet," Langston said.


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