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July 22, 2009

CRM in Governance

The government is a big customer when it comes to IT applications. As tax paying citizens or as non-immigrant skilled workers in our various assignments, consultants like me would have had opportunities to interact as a customer with various CRM applications in many countries. You might have applied for a Tax or a Social ID related requirement. What has been your experience? Have you experienced customer delight in any situation?

Generally, I have found people to be much more accommodating of poor service when it comes to the government. The same people who would log service request after service request of a listed company would grumble, throw their hands up in frustration but ultimately not do much about the poor service that they receive from the government. The reason is not far to fathom. It’s easy to change your broadband service provider but there’s only one place from where you can get that tax refund. Or only one place which will reissue your passport. Government is a monopoly in many cases.

But, in spite of the advantageous power equation, governments would like to keep their customers happy since citizens are the only customers who get to choose their CEO once every few years. This special fact is probably a big reason which ultimately explains the spending by the government on applications which improve governance, transparency and CRM.

My online experiences with governance in other countries have been limited to Visa related interactions, which I have found to be more or less hassle free or an experience with acquiring an important ID number. In this instance, my experience was mixed. While I was delighted to easily locate the nearest center online, I had to make multiple applications and trips to the center to ensure I finally received the said ID. I was partly to blame since my address changed during the time period but I couldn’t help wondering if a more customer friendly process couldn’t have said me and the government both time and money. I must say that tax related interaction in two developed countries that I have faced have been very prompt and hassle free.

In India, over the last few years, we have seen consistent improvements in this regard. Whether any of the CRM channels has reached a best-in-class standard is open to debate, but their very presence is at least a step in the right direction. The Indian Railways website, which provides online booking and reservation facility is one of the most successful e-commerce websites in India clocking close to INR 4 Billion a month! Apart from booking tickets, you can check the status of any waitlisted tickets or enroll into their loyalty program. Many other government agencies also have an internet presence, thus reaching out to the citizen in a more seamless manner.

Today, I can log complaints against errant auto rickshaws on the Road Transport Authority website, request the Chief Vet Officer of the Municipal Corporation to take action on stray dogs in my locality on the Municipal Corporation website and also book a new cooking gas connection online! Even the local Police Station in Hyderabad now has its own website and publishes the names and contact numbers of the concerned Police officers. Whether the service delivery against these requests is up to the mark is subject matter for the comments section, but the day of paper based applications to the maze of bureaucracy is coming to a close in India slowly, albeit surely.

July 1, 2009

Mobile Applications on Laptop or Handheld; And The Winner is….

Confinement has always been meted with a rebellion to move out free. The desire to be your own boss, to plan your own schedule or to work on your own terms has always been inherent in every living species (I did not want to state and confine these desires only for humans).

Though not all mortals are lucky enough to fulfill these desires but some of us get this opportunity, because of the very nature of our job itself. “Sales Force Professionals” could be cited as an example.  Organizations plan and spend to keep this mobile force active, productive and efficient.  But in this ever-changing technology world, the choice of tools to be given to your mobile workforce should be planned cautiously.

Primarily application service providers have been offering mobile services on two technology platforms:

·        Laptop based

·        Handheld based

Both the solutions might have different technology platforms, but the intent was same: “To provide an offline medium for your workforce to manage their work, which could later be synchronized with organization’s central servers upon finding the connectivity”.

Both the solutions were evenly placed so far but with the emerging technologies of SOA and Convergence, the tide seems to be tilting more towards handheld when it comes to mobility.  The reasons are as follows:

1.      Wireless networks dominance

a.       Gone are the days of physical LAN connectivity when it comes to internet. Wi-Fi networks are prevalent everywhere from Starbucks to Airports. So why companies should invest in a laptop based mobile solution for CRM/ERP when the users can get connected to their central application servers despite being outside their offices?

b.      Does it make a difference if a Sales Executive accesses his organization’s CRM application from his office or from Airport lounge or from his client’s wireless network? His laptop in Wi-Fi  network is as good as his office PC connected to LAN.

2.      Web-Services based offline content/documents

a.       Companies like Adobe have revolutionized the offline document content and storage facilities. Why should companies invest in expensive laptop based mobility solutions when offline content can be stored in Adobe forms and synced up with servers through web services?

b.      These solutions are economical and easy to implement instead of setting up heavy mobility infrastructure requiring multiple servers and development workstations.

3.      Rich internet applications availability on handhelds

a.       It is needless to state that the likes of Blackberrys, Palms, iPhones etc. are leading the convergence revolution like never before.

b.      Most of the leading packaged applications provider including SAP and Oracle have out of the box solutions for hand-held devices like Blackberry. 

c.       In this context, why a Sales Executive need to open his laptop to update an opportunity after meeting a client? All he needs to do is to open his CRM app on blackberry, attach the meeting note to an existing opportunity and save. And huh… he is done !!!

 

Though these few points should no way be considered as writing an obituary for Laptop based mobility solutions but this is just an indication of the things to expect in mobile world for the future.

Lastly, some of the specific industry’s business processes will keep utilizing the services of Laptop based solution due to the inherent nature of their business. One example could be the Pharmaceuticals, where the Medical Representatives will keep using the laptop to discuss drugs, formulations, regulations and order booking on his/her laptop irrespective of connectivity.

Considering the fact that mobile infrastructure needs heavy investment and longer implementation cycles, decision to choose optimal devices for your mobility needs can go a long way in managing costs in these challenging economic times.