EWA on the move
India Inc has realised the potential of mobile-enabling enterprise
wide applications. By Shivani Shinde.
Indian enterprises, ERP has been adopted the most with other enterprise wide
applications being restricted to specific verticals. For instance, CRM has been
adopted by the banking and retail verticals, SCM finds favour with manufacturers,
and SFA (sales force automation) has been widely used by FMCG, pharmaceutical
and media companies. The only enterprise wide application that has truly gone
mobile is SFA.
Says Nilay Sharma, Director, Base Information, We have had a mobile solution
ready for the last four years, but whenever we approached an organisation we
encountered apprehension. However, since the last two years we have seen this
come down considerably.
The role of connectivity has been crucial. PDAs have been
around for a long time, but what happened earlier was that though a person had
a PDA he would need to synchronise the device to a landline or base station.
Thus, earlier, people were never mobile in the true sense. On that the
sync was something like a flat file which needed to be merged with the applications
database, recalls Sharma.
Arun Ramachandran, Head, Presales and Professional Service,
Sybase India and SAARC, feels that the need for mobile applications stems from
the need to enhance productivity and efficiency in the workplace.
Indian enterprises are certainly not new to the concept of
mobile applications. According to Ravi Subramanyam, Managing Director, Mobile
One, in 2004 people were not aware of the concept of mobile applications, while
2005 was the year that saw investments in pilot projects across verticals, and
2006 will see some of these pilots moving into the mainstream.
Enabling the sales force
Sumeet Gugnani, Business Group Lead, Mobility and Embedded Devices, Microsoft
India, believes that the industry started by enabling the sales force to optimise
and leverage it for business growth. It has now started to encapsulate other
Smartphones have solved the connectivity and applications problem, kicking off
adoption. The first thing that organisations did was to mobile-enable their
SFA application. Mobile applications are still developed as stand-alone
products, which creates problems when integrating them with enterprise systems,
Sharma points out.
Most SFA systems are mobile-enabled via SMS. Apart from voice, SMS was the only
killer application on mobiles. Even today this is the most extensively
used. Says Seshagiri A M, General Manager for Applications Sales at Oracle India,
Among other SMS-based applications which are becoming popular in business
are the missed call service, banking queries, and simple financial transactions.
Outside of SMS, corporate directories, location-based services, and e-mail on
mobile devices are the other applications which have caught on in the enterprise
space. According to him, the biggest change coming up in the mobile applications
space is integration of the mobile device with back-end ERP, SCM and CRM applications.
Organisations have already begun to provide instant information on changes in
the financial status of corporate bank accounts, inventory and stock supply
situations, work order status, etc. Workflow-based approvals are becoming popular
through mobile devices.
Although PDAs are well-suited for mobile-enabling EWA, smartphones
can do that and handle voice, believes Seshagiri. Nowadays smartphones (essentially
devices which are phones first with PDA featureslike Blackberries and
Motorolas MotoQ) are gaining marketshare because of the enhanced business
functions that are being loaded onto them.
Sharma agrees. When you look at devices you need to
look at PDAs, smartphones and notebooks. Java has become more or less the default
platform. Gugnani feels the same: Our applications are generally
written on .Net and Java technologies, and then integrated with the main application
such as SAP.
Going beyond SFA
Yes, SFA has been widely used, but there are any number of cases wherein ERP,
CRM and SCM are being used on mobile handsets. Some of the areas that are showing
increased adoption are inspection, marketing applications, mobile tariff rate,
and loan processing.
Gugnani gives the example of the State Electricity Board of UP, which had been
having problems in getting transparency in meter reading. The board then provided
its employees with handhelds with a built-in camera and a small printer too.
When a meter is read the person takes a picture right in front of the owner
and also provides a printout, which has helped the board in reducing corruption
and increasing transparency.
ERP has already gone mobile, with sales order confirmation and workflow integration.
Again in ERP it is the inventory module that has been mobile-enabled.
According to Seshagiri, customers are looking at field service, notifications
and approvals, exception alerts in inventory management, distribution, asset
management, expenses and SFA. He gives the instance of Oracles Mobile
Supply Chain application that enables users to perform many common warehouse
and shop-floor transactions through hand-held radio frequency devices, PDAs,
and truck-mounted radio frequency scanners. Transactions can be carried out
on these wireless devices at the point of use, offering real-time transaction
processing, improved data accuracy, and increased mobility and convenience.
Apart from ERP and SFA, CRM initiatives in many verticals have also gone mobile.
CRM to a large extent is the part of the SFA initiative. In the pharmaceutical
and FMCG verticals, the reports that the field force send to the head-office
is a part of CRM.
Organisations with assets distributed in different customer or geographical
locations use field service applications for scheduling jobs and updating work
completion reports. SFA has been the fore-runner of CRM applications, and is
used by a large number of FMCG, retail, pharma and telecom companies.
For connectivity, GSM and CDMA are the most preferred, with GPRS and WAP features.
Wi-Fi hot spots are another area for experimentation by many organisations,
especially those that are trying to implement RFID, or in a retail outlet.
Wi-Fi can best be used in the mall concept. In a mall there are lots of shops
that are branches of a particular brand, and these branches need to file reports
of the purchases made every day. The agent in the shop, through a handset that
has Wi-Fi connectivity, can easily file reports.
|Integration of customer accounts with the mobile
is already a reality. Customers query their accounts on the mobile, manage
payments for utilities, carry out fund transfers, and get information about
promotional offers, forex and interest rates. SBIs mChq initiative
with Airtel is one of the biggest steps towards integrating mobile applications
on the handset.
Companies that have gone in for deploying mobile applications have either developed
their own solutions or taken assistance from a third party.
Microsoft, with its various offerings in the applications segment, is working
closely with ISVs to come up with solutions. One such partner is Mobile One.
Then there is Sybase with its Anywhere suite. Similarly, Oracle is eyeing this
market. The Oracle e-business suite enables wireless access for all desktop
self-service HTML applications, store and forward access for service and sales
applications, as well as PIM integration. Base Information Management has mobile-enabled
the sales force of many a company.