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Issue of July 2006 
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Mobile Enterprise

Live aid for the field force

Priya Jain discusses how SFA applications have become a powerful driver for mobile platform usage in the enterprise.

If ERP was the first level of automation among enterprises, sales force automation (SFA) was the first step towards application mobility.

Most of the sales force in organisations are constantly on the move. In recent times, equipping this sales force with a mobile application that connects a salesman to the ERP application running at the head-office has shaken up organisational work culture. Mobile SFA, also a function of CRM, is being widely implemented at many enterprises. Mobile SFA is proving to be beneficial in cracking deals as it gives real-time access to information and thus speeds up the process. The other advantage of mobile SFA is that in case a sales representative wants a report or details of a sample immediately, he can access it from a mobile device or a Website.

Reduction in handheld pricing and cheaper connectivity are spurring the adoption of mobile SFA. The hardware used can be a mobile phone or a PDA.

That the sales force was the first segment to get automated is a no-brainer. Though it is integrated with the applications in the organisation, it is much easier to have the sales force mobile than any other section of the organisation.

Observes Arun Ramachandran, Head, Presales & Professional Services, Sybase India and SAARC, “The reason to treat SFA differently comes from the fact that the business process affected by SFA ties in very neatly with mobility. Other EWAs that have a similar tie-in (field inspections, remote data gathering, etc.) show equally good returns to any corporation in being mobilised. However, that’s not true for all applications (e.g. payroll).” Besides, the other applications would need a comprehensive policy framework, and when the senior-level management gets mobile, security issues get focussed attention.

Front office to the fore


Anil Bakht

The capability of mobile applications in interacting, transacting and communicating regardless of location, and also the widespread availability of mobile devices, have given a fillip to mobile application usage. Besides, front-office applications like SFA, customer service, and marketing support systems are being adopted in mobile technology faster as opposed to back-office applications.

Comments Anil Bakht, Chairman and Managing Director of Eastern Software Systems: “It is necessary for SFA to be mobile. At the same time SFA has to be tightly integrated with corporate applications like ERP. The data captured by the ERP is critical for running a successful SFA. Sales pricing, inventory levels and production schedules can all be checked by a mobile sales force to give an accurate picture to a customer or potential customer.”

Handheld access also allows representatives to productively use their downtime to prepare for meetings and to follow up with customer requests. This results in a more effective sales force and better customer interactions

SFA has emerged as one of the top applications for mobile platforms. One of the reasons for the same is the nature of the work. Ramachandran explains that there are two reasons for increased adoption of SFA applications for mobile platforms. “Firstly, the large ‘on the road’ component of the business process wherein most of the sales team is either travelling or is at the customer/partner site for the greater part of the business day. Secondly, the productivity gains achieved by capturing the latest data at the right time as against capturing it once a day or once a week are immense.”


Jeremy Cooper

Adds Jeremy Cooper, VP, Sales, APAC, salesforce.com: “The role of the sales person includes a high degree of productive interaction. Mobility equips these people with real-time information access. Mobile SFA helps them to effectively initiate contract processes and maintain an effective workflow.” Handheld access also allows representatives to productively use their downtime to prepare for meetings and to follow up with customer requests. This results in a more effective sales force and better customer interactions.

Common approaches to mobile SFA

Unlike bulky notebooks, handheld devices turn on instantly and are compact. As a result, sales professionals tend to use the devices before, during and after sales calls much more readily than they do notebooks

Opines Bakht: “Mobile SFA should be integrated with the business processes as a converged enterprise improves responsiveness; it is also necessary for decision-making…it should access information at the back-end.”

Organisations can accelerate CRM adoption and improve sales effectiveness by giving field sales professionals quick and convenient access to enterprise systems through handheld devices. Unlike bulky notebooks, handheld devices turn on instantly and are compact. As a result, sales professionals tend to use the devices before, during and after sales calls much more readily than they do notebooks. This convenience and ease of use translates into more and better data from representatives in the field, which in turn means better forecasting, better customer service, and competitive activity tracking for management.

Ramachandran explains that the mobile sales application consists of three primary components: mobile sales application server, mobile middleware server, and mobile sales client application. The mobile sales application server is an application that provides integration with CRM systems and generates the three parts of an always-available application: user interface, business logic, and application data. Each of these components is delivered to the handheld device by middleware.

Once the mobile sales client application reaches the handheld device, the user interface and business logic accesses the application data stored in on-device databases. This architecture provides the cross-platform support and easy maintenance of Web-based applications, along with the robust performance characteristics and ubiquitous availability of native code applications using an on-device database.

For the mobile device, the most common platform is Java, though there are instances wherein organisations have developed applications using Brew.

Another approach that is preferred in terms of SFA is through the Web. salesforce.com provides a browser-based service of SFA and other EWAs on demand through a subscription model. It is feasible because you do not need to spend on infrastructure, and within days the SFA mobile service is up and running in your office; it is also cost-effective.

“The frameworks used in SFA applications could be many, but the popular ones are based on Linux or Windows. The servers used are mostly Intel-based. On Linux the Web server would be Apache and the database could be MySQL. On Windows the Web server could be IIS or one from IBM or Oracle, and the database used is mostly Oracle. For connectivity, the Internet is used extensively, wireless in major cities and dial-up in smaller towns,” notes Bakht.

An Analyst's View

Rajat Sharma
Rajat Sharma, Programme Manager, ICT Practice, Frost & Sullivan India, feels that implementing mobile SFA in reality translates to truly realising returns on current CRM/SFA investments. Mobile SFA further overcomes the cultural challenges which are associated with traditional CRM/SFA implementations. It enables a synchronous response to client information, product presentation, and customisation of information. Further, it cuts down the lead time between customer request, server access and upload of information. It also facilitates unit transaction of sales force management and not batch mode.

“In India, one sees firms preferring to implement in-house customised solutions over outside products,” says Sharma. The objective when deploying a wireless SFA solution should be to provide a tool that enables the user to focus on the customer rather than on how to access and update the information. Thus, firms should look at implementing easy-to-navigate interfaces to facilitate easy entry of information and retrieval. They should also ensure that the domain knowledge is captured by the overall architecture of the network since every vertical has specific business needs.

Product to service

Mobile SFA applications are available with vendors; they are also custom-made by enterprises. Many corporates have developed their own applications that can be used by the sales force on their handsets or mobile phones to file daily reports. In most cases, a mobile application needs to be customised as the needs of companies vary. Some would prefer just plain reporting, while others might want the handset to take care of financial transactions too. Says Ramachandran: “We see an equal representation of custom-developed applications as well as product vendors like Siebel and SFDC.”

Cooper believes that there is a market shift towards software as a service. He discloses that salesforce.com has over 100 customers in India. The use of a browser interface eliminates the cost of hardware and software maintenance, and therefore the TCO is also very low.

SFA is used differently by different organisations. While there are companies which have preferred to use the Internet for filing reports, there are others like Dr Reddy’s which use high-end PDAs. Naturally, a lot depends on the kind of information required, the ability of the application to integrate with back-end systems, and the budget allotted. Observes Bakht: “SFA as a managed service is certainly used in the developed world. Most organisations in India host SFA on their own intranet and then allow their sales force to sign in from whenever they are travelling.”

Need to know

Most mistakes in SFA usage are related to using the right application, server sizing and data integrity. User training is another area that is overlooked or casually approached

Most mistakes in SFA usage are related to using the right application, server sizing and data integrity. User training is another area that is overlooked or casually approached. Before going in for a mobile SFA application, it is necessary that the mobile SFA business case leverage key performance indicators that form a hierarchy of business performance metrics expected to be realised from the mobile SFA investment.

States Ramachandran, “The benefits from the mobile SFA application should fall into three categories of justification—tangible, quantitative measures having direct, measurable P&L impact on the business; ancillary quantitative measures with indirect impact on the business or non-quantitative measures directly impacting the business; and intangible non-quantitative, indirect benefits used to augment tangible and ancillary valuations of the project. The mobile SFA business case demands scrutiny of the benefit potential for both the existing and incremental costs of SFA deployment.”

There are also a lot of cultural changes that happen when mobile SFA is used in an organisation. To fully utilise the benefits of mobile SFA, training and user education is a must. While using a mobile SFA it is important to have compliance for user adoption and systems usage to maintain data quality.

Says Cooper, “Cultural changes improve sales processes. Certain changes are required to improve and adjust to the newly-adopted technology, or else there is no point in automating a process. It gives transparency to the sales process and initiates better usage of the information at hand.” To this Bakht adds, “User feedback must be encouraged in mobile SFA implementations.”

 
     
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