Maximising CRM, putting the customer first

As the saying goes, the customer is always right. With the right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) procedures in place your business can make sure you meet your customers' needs. Peter Semmelhack explains.

The ultimate aim of Customer Relationship Management is to develop a complete picture of the wants, needs, and expectations of the customer.

In order to be effective, customer-facing employees must reach across many software domains during the course of the day, from sales management, to order management, to financial management, to supply chain systems.
 
However, 90 per cent of all business interactions occur when service or sales representatives are face to face with the customer and not in front of their computer screen.

When field-based personnel have access to relevant information at their fingertips, they can best manage customer expectations and so can establish lasting and profitable client relationships.

The combination of customer-centric composite applications deployed on powerful wireless devices fulfils the real promise of CRM. 

Unleashing composite applications

The integration of enterprise applications has traditionally been achieved using costly, complex and tedious custom programming. Today, the trend is to use message brokers, applications servers, and other highly specialised and complex integration products to provide a common integration foundation.
 
The emergence of service oriented architecture (SOA) is a compelling factor for building composite applications that extend existing back-end systems to mobile devices and thereby increase the return on investment on those applications.

Although composite applications can be implemented by linking together non-SOA hosts and using other interoperability protocols - such as Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP) and Java Messaging Service (JMS) - the combination of SOA and web services offers a powerful architecture that makes it possible to build rich, functional composite applications rapidly. 
 
In parallel with the growth of SOA, there has been a resurgence of software as a service, with hosted CRM and sales force automation applications leading the way in field sales and service.

In a recent survey, by mobile industry analyst Yankee Group, more than 40 per cent of mobile CRM users said they were interested in having a service provider manage their applications.

This signals a trend towards enterprises embracing hosted services as a key part of their enterprise mobility strategy. This enables round the clock support for the receipt and delivery of live updates, from and to, customer facing staff around the world, in a format and on a device that's appropriate to them.

Creating successful mobile composite applications

A mobile composite application is simply a transactional application consisting of business functionality and information from multiple enterprise information sources delivered in a single view on a wireless device. The application is designed to support a field organisation’s business processes and map them to underlying enterprise systems.

It can combine various heterogeneous applications, for example: a legacy mainframe system, a Unix-based client/server solution, and perhaps some application logic developed on a J2EE server.

Typically, the various application workflows, logic, and transactions interoperate by invoking each other in real-time via an application middleware platform at the backend and using much of the data integrity functions residing in the databases.
 
The transactions from the host sources are captured, transformed, and optimised into a data format that can securely travel through the various wireless carrier gateways and ultimately to wireless devices.

The same process takes place in reverse when users transmit transactions back into the host systems. However, for the mobile user, the backend applications are transparent since the interaction appears as one seamless user interface on the device.

The transactions on the wireless device are automatically and intelligently routed back to their specific host system with full data integrity. 

Driving down costs, while improving the customer experience

Mobile enterprise applications are no longer just WAP and screen-captured browser applications running in limited bandwidth on weak devices.

Today's enterprise-class mobile applications are feature-rich with intelligent functionality and provide an optimised user experience whether in or out of coverage. Mobile composite applications epitomise this next wave of field-based workforce optimisation technology.
 
The convergence of composite applications and real-time enterprise mobility means that a field workforce can finally have a total CRM solution in their hands.

With it, sales representatives can instantly call up customer records and get all their related information from across the enterprise; field service technicians can update case and inventory information in real-time, even up sell customers; and the organisation can enjoy more accurate and timely information flows throughout the enterprise for superior forecasting and planning.
 
By deploying this new generation of mobile composite applications to frontline workers, it enables them to access information in real-time and in one continuous flow, regardless of where that data resides - CRM, ERP, SCM, or elsewhere.

This elimination of geographic and data boundaries offers enormous advantages with respect to responsiveness, flexibility, and effectiveness. Information delivered based on the role, context, and location of workers is a powerful competitive advantage and the ultimate in delivering total CRM.

Conclusion

While the trend points towards a growth in software as a service, with information from composite applications being delivered directly to the mobile handsets of field based staff, the fact remains that the majority of applications, and therefore the critical customer data they 'own', still remain cordoned inside the four walls of the enterprise.

Once field service and sales workers leave the office, desk-bound enterprise applications immediately lose their value and mobile workers are isolated from their vital customer and business data.
 
Enterprise mobility is therefore key to unleashing the full potential of SOA and composite applications.

Mobility arms field personnel with the means to respond quickly to opportunities, recover from problems faster, outmanoeuvre competitors, and give customers more of what they want, immediately. In other words, they are empowered to be customer centric at all times.

Peter Semmelhack is the  CTO of Antenna Software

January 2007