Microsoft mobile CRM clients may mean more productivity

The productivity of salespeople could jump with the upcoming release of native Microsoft Dynamics CRM applications for specific mobile platforms and put the software vendor ahead of some of its competitors, an expert says.

CRM applications on mobile devices already improve productivity 14.6% for sales staff that use them, says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research for Nucleus Research, and these native apps should work that much better on their respective platforms, she says.

BACKGROUND: Microsoft to roll out wave of native mobile apps for its CRM software

Microsoft has announced that next quarter it will release native Dynamics CRM clients for its own Windows Phone 7 as well as Android 2.2, BlackBerry and Apple's iOS.

With native apps customized for each platform, the look and feel of the application on each device should improve over what it would be with a generic client, Wettemann says.

"I wouldn't say they're out in front, but native clients out of the box is pretty advanced," she says, adding that no vendor has delivered native apps for all these platforms yet, but that eventually "we're going to see all vendors doing model-specific clients."

She says this development is necessary for Microsoft because ease of use is important to CRM customers that want support for mobile devices, and native clients will be a step in that direction. For example, a December 2011 case study by Nucleus says that Kimberly-Clark had to develop its own custom Salesforce CRM applications for iPads in order for its field salespeople to use the service.

Mobile devices are enormously popular among salesforces: The iPhone is the most commonly used device for accessing CRM, Wettemann says, with 67% of CRM users using their iPhone to access some CRM application. With the increase in businesses that allow personal devices to be used for corporate purposes, the number of devices that need CRM support is constantly increasing.

From a management perspective, a single client that would perform with equal effectiveness on multiple devices is most desirable, but that will take some time to develop.

For its part, Microsoft says that it recognizes the rapidly growing desire for mobile CRM apps and that this is the fastest way it sees for supporting all the major devices. But with the longer term in mind it says it is also working on a single HTML5 client that fits the bill of working well on all platforms.

The new native applications for Dynamics CRM will come as part of a regular update to Microsoft's Dynamics CRM offerings. With future updates, Microsoft will add more features, but not necessarily to all the platforms at the same time. The timing of the updates will depend on the capabilities of each operating system and of the devices each system supports.

With the initial release, users will be able to work offline with data they have downloaded to their mobile devices, and they will also be able to synch the devices with other devices online.

While the new clients grab most of the attention, the latest update of Dynamics CRM includes a server component that includes management and security. One feature can wipe sensitive corporate data from devices if they become lost, stolen or compromised.

Another feature enables customizing the CRM application once and distributing the customized version to any mobile device without having to further tweak the application for each one, Microsoft says. The server side of the CRM platform can be hosted by Microsoft or owned and deployed on-site by customers.

Dynamics CRM costs $30 per month per user, and each license covers three devices and includes the full set of server features.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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