#MobileCRM: A different mindset in projects

Today we had a nice discussion at the office. A discussion about mobile CRM and customers wanting a mobile CRM solution. Some customers really want to take it the the max, this means that they really want to do anything in the mobile CRM solution.

Personally I believe we should protect those customers from falling into a trap. Mobile CRM really can work, but there are some things a customer should take into consideration. One of those things is a solid backend.
No matter how fancy a mobile vision can be, as long as there is no solid back-end, the solution is likely to fail.

I have a strong opinion on how to do mobile CRM projects, and I want to share my personal (non political) opinion with you.


A different approach

Doing a mobile CRM project, requires a different approach. Instead of having to deal with a single platform: Dynamics CRM, we also have to deal with a mobile platform (e.g. Resco).
This means that changes or additions in the CRM solution have impact on both platforms. From a project management’s perspective, this is something that we have to take into account. This applies on the full life cycle of the solution.
Every change or addition is likely going to affect both platforms.

What makes the situation really complex, is that designing for mobile has a different set of rules compared to designing for conventional webbased CRM. Conventional CRM is centered around massive screens, entities, relations between entities, reports etc.

Mobile solutions are based on functionality. The question you have to ask yourself when designing a mobile solution is:

  • What job do you want to achieve (describe scenarios)?
  • What are the constraints I’ve to deal with (e.g. time, skills, audience)?
  • What is the minimum set of information I need to do the job? On the go, one doesn’t need to have all information!
  • What is the optimum flow (a.k.a. how can I minimize the number of interactions with the device)?
  • Is it possible to have data pre loaded (minimize data entry)?

What can we do to make the project happen?

1. It starts with a vision
For the creative process it is important not to think in limitations.

  • Make a global design to capture the ideas of the customer.
  • Try to make some screen mockups to get an idea of how the functionality should look like on the mobile device.
  • In this design a global mapping is made to (existing) entities in the existing CRM environment (try to be as specific as possible)

2. Existing CRM environment
Verify the current state of the existing CRM system.

  • What entities do we need?
  • What entities can be expelled?
  • What data is still relevant?
  • Can we clean up our data?
  • What changes do we need to make in the exisiting environment (entities, functionality, procedures)?
  • What external systems do we need to hook up?

No matter how good the mobile solution is going to be, it never can replace the backend functionality.
People at the office will need their web based CRM to maintain data and to prepare assignments for the mobile workforce.

A big screen, mouse and keyboard are much better suited for massive data entry than an on-screen keyboard. The customer needs to be aware of this fact. I see a nice task for the project manager in sharing that vision.

3. Implementation
Implement the changes in the existing CRM environment. This can be done in multiple stages. In order to start with the mobile development, the data model in the back-end CRM system should be (more-or-less) stable.

On the mobile side design the screens first and then test the flow of the empty screens. Once satisfied you can move on to implement the logic behind the screens. Finally implement the data synchronization between the back-end CRM and the mobile solution.

Once implemented, what is the impact?

4. Once implemented: changes are going to be more expensive
Every change in the environment will affect both platforms. This means that we really have to be careful when applying changes. “Being careful” means in project management terminology that changes take a lot of time. As time represents money, your project manager is likely going through the roof as he (or she) is always tight on budget.

My message to project management is that you have to get used to it! It is your job to convince the customer (who wants the mobile solution) that it is likely going to be more expensive than a conventional Dynamics CRM implementation.

5. Once implemented: administration is going to be more expensive
Instead of one platform, two platforms need to be supported. In most cases, this takes extra effort (remember: time is money) and skills.

My beliefs

I believe that we as a customer engagement company need to define a strategy on doing mobile projects (either small or large). We have the obligation to support our customers and protect them from falling into traps. If that means that we have to refuse to do a project then we should refuse to do it!

No matter how cool a mobile project can be, as long as the back-end CRM system is neglected then the project is doomed to fail.

A good mobile solution requires a solid CRM back-end!