In five years' time the concept of "Mobile CRM" as a separate entity simply won't exist.
As technology matures, features that were once regarded as new, leading edge or differentiators become subsumed into the standard product. Car owners used to buy stereos for their vehicles, TV owners bought satellite/freeview boxes and recorders, now all these capabilities come as standard in today's products. Similarly with CRM systems. What was a complete product set five years ago, comprising account, contact and opportunity management, sales forecasting and remote access for laptop users on the road, has been expanded to include campaign management, mass emailing, lead nurturing and customer support and service. Cloud CRM used to be a differentiator, now customers assume that all CRM systems are Cloud systems; or can at least mimic some Cloud functionality. CRM on mobile devices is going the same way.
Mobile CRM started off as a separate entity, a distinct product that would be installed on a smartphone and purchased in addition to the rest of the CRM suite, normally on a per user basis. Functionality was limited to a subset of the overall CRM system's capabilities, normally the sales functions for field sales people. The range of devices supported was limited to a small amount of handsets with little support for tablets and data had to be synchronised at the end of the day or when the user got back into the office. Now users have roaming wifi points and 3G, but the concept remains the same.
Two technological advances are changing this world. The first is the ubiquitous availability of the Internet though wifi and 3G access everywhere, with 4G coming soon. The second is HTML5 and responsive design, which allows cloud applications to deliver the same pages across multiple devices, with the device formatting the page according to its capabilities. HTML5 can also tie into the device's mobile capabilities, linking to the phone and email systems. A good HTML5 design running on a smartphone is indistinguishable from a native App, plus it never needs reinstalling for updates and always has up-to-date data, obviating the need for any synchronisation.
There is no need to deliver a chopped down version of the CRM systems' capabilities, the complete set of functionality can be offered with minimal extra development by the vendor. And as a bonus, again for very little extra effort tablets can be accommodated too. So the user gets a seamless experience of the CRM system, with access to all the functionality, integration with each device's phone and email systems, formatted perfectly to fit the smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop, with all devices working on the latest data in real time and no need for synchronisation.
And as the icing on the cake, CRM systems using this technology tend not to charge separately for mobile access, so the application is effectively free once the user has been given access to the desktop version.
So the user gets a cross-platform CRM system, with real time data, for free. There are benefits for the application vendor too. Once they have moved to responsive design they don't have to worry about smartphone versions, or tablet compatibility, or whether they should support Windows Mobile and BlackBerries, and if their system will work under the latest version of iOS on iPhones or some new smartphone running Android, or on some hybrid device, it should all just work. This is just an extension of what Cloud vendors have experienced with Windows PCs and Macs - write it correctly and it works on both platforms. Linux too, while we're at it. So instead of spending development time and resources on separate teams supporting all the individual platforms, the vendor can concentrate on adding functionally that will immediately work on all platforms at once, without having to roll out new features on the desktop version first and then update the mobile versions later.
Many CRM users start by just using a smartphone when they are on the road, and just for accessing contact details and directions, and then use a "proper" desktop back in the office. Then they find that using a smartphone in the office is quick, and that a tablet is handy at home, and also that some more advanced CRM features such as kicking off a marketing campaign can be done from those devices too. So they start using whatever device comes easily to hand, without worrying about which is the "right" device.
CRM, like everything else, is become device independent, with all the features available on all the platforms, accessible all the time.
So, going back to the beginning of the article, "mobile" just becomes another piece of standard functionality rolled into the product, no longer a differentiator nor a separate product. Today, everything and everyone is mobile, all the time.
John Paterson is chief executive at Really Simple Systems.