Live aid for the field force
Priya Jain discusses how SFA applications have become
a powerful driver for mobile platform usage in the enterprise.
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,
thats 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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 Reddys 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 justificationtangible, 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.