Anywhere Is Everywhere: After Years of Unfulfilled Promise, CRM and Mobile Technology Are Finally Making a Move

Article excerpt

With consumers increasingly turning to mobile devices for information and demonstrating an overall obsession with getting information anywhere they go, and workers equipped with mobile appliances for on-the-road sales and service calls, the need for mobility has been seeping into the business landscape for more than a decade.

Every year, it seems, one CRM expert or another declares that we've finally reached the "Year of Mobile," or at least touts mobile as "the next big thing" (yet again). Despite the industry's best efforts, however--and its most fervent wishes--mobile CRM strategies and solutions have yet to reach the level of maturity these experts keep promising. Plagued by multiple platforms and operators and incompatible applications and devices, vendors and companies have tough decisions to make in order to go mobile.

And yet the inevitability of a mobile workforce is all too apparent. According to the research firm IDC, the global population of mobile workers surpassed the 1 billion mark this year--approximately 25 percent of the workforce. According to The 2010 Computing and Communications Benchmark by Nemertes Research, approximately 11 percent of companies state they employ people whose mobile devices are their only computing device. And those devices are increasingly sophisticated: In just the first half of 2010, 119.4 million smartphones were sold worldwide, according to IDC--56 percent more than the number of units shipped during the first half of 2009.

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But what steps should a company take to stay ahead--or even keep up with--the mobile curve? Ask enough companies to describe their "mobile strategy," and it quickly becomes clear that there's no cookie-cutter answer. One business may think its mobile effort comprises providing workers with the tools and applications they need to work anywhere. Another company may define mobile CRM as a way to delight its customers through the channel of their choice.

As devices evolve, many companies may find that tablet-style devices better suit their needs. Whatever device, platform, or application type companies so choose, one thing's for sure--mobile represents a significant disruption to the desktop computer and to the business itself.

When it comes to mobile strategies, organizations often take different approaches. To illustrate some of them, the following pages showcase examples from three very different businesses: an insurance firm, a hotel chain, and a large retail company. Each of these enterprises views the mobile space differently--not just in terms of how mobile affects its customers, but also how the technology can add value to its business.

1ST GUARD:

TECHNOLOGY KEEPS ON TRUCKING

Two years ago: I'm a truck driver looking for trip insurance. The provider I called for coverage requires that I print, sign, and fax a few forms back today. Since I'm on the road all day, that's a serious logistical problem for me. I've got to coordinate a place and time--maybe a convenience store a few hundred miles down the line--where the insurer can fax me the form. When I get there, I just hope I can remember to sign in the right places and provide the correct information before I fax it back and hit the road again.

Today: Signature? No problem. With an iPhone application custom-designed for insurance, as soon as I find a highway rest stop, I can access any documents in real time and have them back to my insurance agent in a flash.

Two years from now: What the heck is a fax machine? I control everything from my dashboard, using my mobile device's voice capabilities and augmented reality screens. No waiting for me. Time is money.

Truck drivers are obviously mobile--but not in all senses of the word. When it comes to truck drivers' usage of smartphones and mobile applications, they aren't exactly ahead of the curve. For 1st Guard, an insurance company geared specifically to truckers, the mobility aspect has presented both a challenge and an opportunity. …