Companies are making it a priority
to provide their mobile users with ready access
to corporate data while they are away from the
office, 24x7. Often, though, they believe the
only way to do this is to give users complete
offline access to information — and this
sounds like a good idea. Consider field sales
teams and sales management; they commonly require
offline access to critical sales and customer-facing
SAP applications and data so that they can work
everywhere, even on an airplane.
But having spent a fair share of time at 30,000 feet,
very rarely do I see salespeople updating their sales
force automation (SFA) applications while flying.
After all, most salespeople would not want to expose
their highly guarded customer and prospect data in
such a public forum. (And from what I can tell, these
days DVDs and iPods are much more popular than SFA
applications in the air!)
After working in the CRM industry for the last 20 years,
primarily in the area of SFA, my firsthand experience
is that without a careful initial inventory of their
mobile needs, what customers demand and what they
actually implement can be worlds apart. In the area
of SFA specifically, many companies end up learning
the hard — and costly — way
by first implementing a completely "disconnected" or
offline mobile solution to give their salespeople access
to account, contact, and opportunity-related data,
for example, only to later migrate back to a connected,
portal-based approach. This, of course, can be an expensive,
disruptive process for an organization.
To avoid this costly, time-consuming headache, it is
important for your organization to distinguish between
disconnected and untethered access to CRM data and
to consider the trade-offs associated with each.
While a disconnected approach means 24x7 access,
having this access to data offline may have limited
usefulness. Some critical data often requested by
salespeople in the field, such as order or inventory
status, is meant to be accessed in real time, and
synching this data can be a maintenance headache.
Untethered access is another thing altogether; it means
that you have online access to the information you
need — and you can blend it with the right degree
of offline access for your users. One way to do this,
for example, is by using mySAP CRM Sales Online accessed
through SAP NetWeaver Portal. This solution, supported
with ways to access the offline information users require,
can often fulfill the complete needs of your mobile
By devising a well-thought-out plan for mobile applications
and understanding what information users will really
need out in the field (see sidebar), companies can
ensure that their users have the right kind of mobile
access. This article will provide some checklists
and practical advice for arriving at an optimal mobile
What Types of Data Do Your Mobile Users Really
A few years ago, AT&T Wireless
(now Cingular Wireless) and Accenture
commissioned a study to identify the
most commonly requested data elements
made by remote field sales forces.* In
order of priority, areas such as inventory
management and sales order status came
out well ahead of contact and opportunity
management. But if you think about inventory
and order status, by design they are
meant to be real-time checks. Making
that information available in an offline
mode means the data is not necessarily
current and is therefore unreliable.
Another takeaway from this study is
that sales representatives themselves
are not necessarily the ones asking to
have SFA capabilities (contact, account,
pipeline, and activity management) available
offline. This request more likely comes
from sales managers who are expecting
and hoping their sales reps will work
as often as they need to — including
offline when necessary.
* "Creating Business
Value with Wirelessly Enabled Business
Processes," Cingular Wireless
and Accenture White Paper (2004).
Untethered, Online Access Often Does the Trick
Untethered, connected access is often more than sufficient
for users' needs, even if they're constantly
on the road. Internet access has become incredibly
prevalent — it's as close as your local
coffee shop. Even confined to Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity,
practically every airport and hotel can accommodate
business users. Beyond that, the major wireless carriers
are now providing affordable wireless data cards with
coverage areas as wide as cell phone networks, and
with speeds approaching those of the wired state.
And on the back end, when compared with full offline
capabilities, untethered access alleviates the burden
on IT by reducing overhead and lowering maintenance
costs. More on these benefits will follow in the section "Think
Twice About Enabling Complete Offline Access."
When Are Disconnected Solutions Really Necessary?
This is not to say that there is no longer a need for
offline capabilities. The need is just not as widespread
as many organizations believe. Only in a handful of
scenarios would an organization still want to fulfill
the need for offline use:
- In regions where Internet access is not as
readily available, such as some areas of Asia Pacific
or Latin America.
- When reps need to update data
while working side by side with customers, and
access is not guaranteed. Consider pharmaceutical
sales reps who need to get an automated signature
from a physician to verify sample drops on a tablet
PC or a handheld device, or a medical products
company that takes orders directly from customers
on-site, needing access to products, pricing, and
While disconnected mobile solutions are the logical
choice in these scenarios, companies must be mindful
of the tradeoffs of offline access.
Think Twice About Enabling Complete Offline Access
Over the last few years, I have noticed a number of
companies migrating back to an online deployment
over an offline one due to the required overhead
associated with maintaining disconnected data.
When considering complete offline access, IT organizations
must ask themselves these questions:
who gets access to what data? Pinning down
access rights can be a very complex undertaking,
especially in large, highly matrixed sales organizations.
happens when multiple people access and potentially
change the same data in the same timeframe? This
is otherwise known as conflict resolution.
will we discipline reps to synchronize on a regular
basis? Also consider what issues will arise for
both the sales rep and the corporate server data
when this discipline is not maintained.
availability of IT resources can we provide? Maintaining
an offline, synching deployment adds considerable
overhead for the IT department. This would include
setting up synchronization rules and managing
any troubleshooting associated with discrepancies
in the field (inconsistent configurations, synch
times, access speeds, etc.).
will we deal with territory realignments? The most
overhead-intensive process when managing disconnected
users is conducting massive territory realignments,
which essentially means swapping out historical
records for each sales rep and replacing them with
data for their new territory. Depending on the
number of reps, the amount of customer data, and
how ready access to high-speed connections is,
managing this effort may mean having reps ship
their PCs to the office for updates, or sending
them CDs that contain the new data. Either scenario
can lead to unwanted downtime in the field.
Happily, it is possible to take an approach that blends
online access — through mySAP CRM Sales Online
and SAP NetWeaver Portal, for example — with
SAP solutions that support offline access as needed.
Additional Offline Capabilities Supported by SAP
In addition to the traditional, well-proven method
of deploying SAP Mobile Sales on a disconnected laptop,1
SAP offers a number of ways to package up data for
offline use, ranging from exports to Excel to populating
Offline Data in Read-Only Mode
Many times, read-only access to data is all that is
required to effectively support a sales call, primarily
for last-minute, pre-call planning. Through mySAP
CRM's integration with Microsoft
Office, data can be offloaded into Excel or can be
exported through a mail-merge-like function into Word
or PDF files.
Offline Data in Writeable Format
SAP has recently offered a capability known as Adobe
Interactive Forms. SAP customers can now create updateable
forms that interact with the server database in a bidirectional
mode. The example shown in Figure 1 depicts how sales
reps can distribute leads to a business partner as
an interactive form, which can then be updated by
the partner and processed electronically — and
automatically — back into the database, all using
email as the transport mechanism. This same capability
can also be used to create updateable forms sales reps
can take with them when meeting with key accounts,
when they really do want to work offline.
Automated Lead Distribution Through Adobe
Use of BlackBerry for Ready Access
The BlackBerry can also provide an effective alternative
for ready access to key customer data in real time.
SAP customers can benefit from this remote option
in the same way that the SAP sales force does today:
using the high-level capabilities of mySAP CRM Sales
Online, including account, contact, activity, and
opportunity management along with order status lookup
and some basic analytics.
My advice is this: Do not rush into a completely offline
mobile solution deployment. First consider implementing
mySAP CRM Sales Online — a connected but untethered
mobile approach — to determine whether mobile
users in your company truly require complete, disconnected
access. Also, investigate SAP-supported options including
read-only access, Adobe Interactive Forms, or BlackBerry
use as viable alternatives to an entirely offline approach
to mobile access. The time and cost savings will be
well worth your upfront planning efforts.
For more information, please visit www.sap.com/usa/solutions/mobilebusiness/index.epx.
You can also reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 908 391-6164.
Goldfinger joined SAP America in 2003 as a Director of CRM
Solutions, focused on sales automation for all
industries and deployment strategies. Jim has
over 20 years of experience in CRM solutions,
and he started working in this area back in 1984
with Brock Control Systems. Prior to working
at SAP, Jim also served as Director of Sales
Force Automation at Clarify (now Amdocs) and
as Vice President of CRM Strategy at PeopleSoft.
During his career, he has project-managed over
100 CRM implementations globally. Jim graduated
magna cum laude from Duke University with a bachelor's
degree in science.