Mobile app development moves beyond CRM, but slowly

Mobile app development moves beyond CRM, but slowly

Tiny screens, lack of demand hamper mobile development

Specialists required

More than half of North American and European enterprises have deployed mobile e-mail, contacts and calendar, according to Forrester Research. In addition to those basic tools, some enterprises are using smartphones for inventory management, logistics, field services and customer-facing applications, the research firm reports.

At DirecTV, 130 sales managers access Oracle's Siebel CRM On Demand on their BlackBerries.

"These guys, they live and die by this thing," says DirecTV program manager Erik Walters.

Getting to that point required help from a third-party vendor called Antenna Software. DirecTV uses Antenna's technology to access Siebel CRM On Demand through the BlackBerry. "Antenna is the resident application that sits on the BlackBerry device," Walters explains. "They use connectors to the Web services from Oracle."

DirecTV began using Siebel CRM more than three years ago, and chose Antenna because the CRM tool itself hadn't been extended to mobile devices. While Oracle made the Siebel CRM platform accessible through BlackBerries last year, Walters says the functionality is light compared with using Antenna to access the Oracle system.

That's not uncommon, according to Gartner's Dulaney. Big vendors in general haven't spent as much energy on mobile applications as they do on their flagship products, allowing mobile apps to go long periods without any updates. A lot of third parties like Antenna have cropped up to pick up the slack, he notes.

DirecTV's sales managers rely on their BlackBerries when visiting resellers, or dealers, whether it's a big company like Best Buy or a small satellite company, Walters says.

Phone calls to dealers, service requests, and tasks and appointments are automatically associated with the dealer's account. Sales reps also can place notes into an account that are visible to other DirecTV salespeople.

"The BlackBerry gives us the opportunity to have a complete 360-degree view of a dealer," Walters says. "Because as other people are working on these accounts . . . everybody's managing information into the same spot."

If sales reps meet with dealers they haven't corresponded with previously, they can use the BlackBerry to get all pertinent information about payments, service requests and activation rates.

Walters hopes the future will bring further integration allowing the BlackBerry to access DirecTV's proprietary back-end systems. "It would be nice to go through Web services and have direct links to those," he says. DirecTV even applied to Apple for a beta program to test out the iPhone for business purposes.

Meanwhile, for other companies interested in expanding their deployments of business applications to mobile devices, there's good news on the security front, according to Gartner's Delaney. The ability to perform a remote wipe on a lost device is pretty standard on the BlackBerry and similar devices. Encryption, virus checking, password systems and virtual private networks are readily available as well, Dulaney says.

In terms of security, "we don't look at these devices as being any different" than a laptop, he says.

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