By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Managing Sales Wirelessly
The use of 802.11 technology has reinvigorated wireless, providing fast access within defined areas. But before 802.11 became the rage in the last two years, another form of wireless was touted to help the most mobile workers — salespeople, traveling executives and consultants, and in-the-field support and technical staffs. Today, such cellular data services are struggling for attention and adoption (see the story "Which Carriers Are Serious about Cellular Data," in the April 28 issue), but there is a promising development.
The Research in Motion BlackBerry service, as well as the competing service from Good Technology, uses pager networks to transmit data in an always-on mode, and the BlackBerry has attracted a loyal user base of several hundred thousand people who sometimes call their email-oriented devices "CrackBerries." Unlike cellular-based services, users aren't charged based on access time or bytes used, which can make cellular data services very expensive very fast.
Research in Motion has tried for several years to get beyond the email market so it could reach more than traveling executives. Newer BlackBerries support application installation, in hopes of making the BlackBerry a more widely usable platform, more akin to a PDA than to a messaging device. But screen limits and keyboard limits hamper the use of messaging devices and PDAs as alternatives to the laptop.
Dejima is using natural language query tools to overcome these limits, and the its technology has been picked up by Salesforce.com as part of its sales force automation offering. Salesforce.com subscribers can now access sales data over their BlackBerries using email-based queries. It also works with wirelessly enabled PDAs. Mark Smith, vice president of global sales at NetScreen, a security software provider, is a true believer. "I found it to be really intuitive, especially because they give you a list of 50 to 100 queries. I just started using it — no training." For Smith, a key benefit is "being able to look at a salesperson's pipeline and forecast for the quarter" as he travels throughout the country. "And being able to walk into accounts and be able to look at the historical trends and what we're going to do is huge." Smith says it takes about three minutes to complete a query, less time than booting a notebook and finding a place to connect it to the Internet with.
The Dejima technology also supports a menu-driven mode so users don't have to remember queries, but Smith never bothered to install it since he makes the same queries all the time. But Salesforce.com spokesman Tien Tzu says that mode permits users to fill out forms, which is useful for sales reps updating client orders and records while on the road. Because Salesforce.com offers its sales force automation tools as a hosted, subscription-based service, there's no IT effort involved in connecting the sales systems to the wireless devices; an administrator simply enables the wireless option in a Salesforce.com user profile screen — and no setup is required for email-based access. For customers paying $125 per month, Salesforce.com doesn't charge extra for the wireless access to its Internet-based sales databases; it costs $20 per month extra for the $65-per-month service.
802.11-based applications tend to be standard Windows or Macintosh applications that simply use 802.11 as a network transport, perhaps with additional login and authentication, which is fine for high-bandwidth connections. But in the low-bandwidth cellular world, another approach is needed. While the Dejima interface approach is more like DOS than Windows, the technology demonstrates that the slower paging and cellular networks can be used to access critical data efficiently, with the benefit of accessibility almost anywhere in populated areas.
Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at email@example.com.
THE ESSENTIAL WIRELESS
PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Spring 2003 Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 18-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the directory now!
THE ESSENTIAL WIRELESS
PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
The Latest in Wireless Products and Tech
Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week, Palm announced it would acquire Handspring in a stock deal, bringing back the founders of Palm, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, to the company they left in 1997 after they grew frustrated with the slow progress made by then-new owner 3Com. This news is actually quite sad, since it shows how desperate the Palm market has become. PDA sales dropped 21% in the first quarter, another in a series of slides. And according to a recent research study performed by In-Stat/MDR, the once-anticipated corporate purchasing of PDAs has not happened to any significant degree. Worse, what little inventory was shipping through businesses seems to have abruptly decelerated.
Once a very hot product that triggered hopes of easily accessible, ubiquitous data services, the Palm platform has struggled to get past its origins as an electronic organizer of contacts and appointments. After years of promises, Palm finally began offering in earnest this year a revamped Palm platform, the Tungsten series, that supported 802.11b and 3G cellular connections for wireless access to the Internet and corporate data. But Research in Motion made a name for itself in that market several years ago, and key providers to mobile-oriented markets such as field force and inventory management, such as Intermec Technologies and Symbol Technology, also offer similar services in their handheld. So Palm is a latecomer to the very enterprise market its 1992 debut foreshadowed. (It is good, of course, that Palm now has partnerships with companies such as BEA Systems, IBM, and Oracle for enterprise data connectivity.)
Handspring abandoned the PDA market a year ago, focusing instead on the smart phone market, which combines a cell phone with traditional PDA and wirelessly accessible data services. That market has struggled, with even Microsoft getting no traction in it — perhaps the cellular carriers' incessant promotion of faddish game and camera phones for consumers, coupled with PC-level smart phone prices, has killed any enterprise appetite for pricey devices apparently designed for teenaged mall rats.
Now, Handspring's Treo will simply be Palm's smart phone, a Tungsten with a dial pad. That may help round out Palm's offerings, but it also removes the only real Palm OS-based innovator from the market. It's hard to imagine that Palm is any more receptive now to innovation than it was when Dubinsky and Hawkins first left. After all, Palm's seeming focus since then has been an unending series of reorganizations rather than product leadership. The internally focused Palm management remains, and Dubinsky and Hawkins will again be inside a culture they rejected firmly for the last five years.
One ray of light in all this: Palm's past failed leadership did open the way for RIM, Intermec, Symbol, and other companies to reinvent their mobile devices, so the market doesn't depend on Palm any longer to lead the way. A reenergized Palm would be a good thing, but it's not a necessary thing.
Another ray of light: Palm is continuing its effort to spin off the operating system group as a separate company, maintaining its commitment to keeping the Palm OS available to other hardware makers rather than stay captive to Palm's hardware group. That's a hard decision to make (Apple Computer came close to it in 1997 then had a palace coup when cofounder Steve Jobs decided he couldn't allow the Mac OS to be available to other computer makers, especially since one licensee had been seriously damaging Apple's sales), but it will ensure that the Palm platform has a chance to thrive whether or not the Palm hardware group finds compelling uses for it.
From IT Wireless
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