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CRM vendors line up for iPhone 3G; so do hacked-off customers

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16th Jul 2008
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The launch of the highly anticipated Apple iPhone 3G has been accompanied by new applications from CRM vendors - and customer management problems.

It might have been a PR nightmare for Apple and a customer management faux pas for O2, but the launch of the iPhone 3G attracted two leading business applications vendors onto the platform.

In March, Apple announced the release of a software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone that let developers create applications for that handheld device. Downloads of the SDK totaled more than 100,000 a week later.

Oracle released the first in a series of free front-end business applications that will let iPhone users connect to business intelligence data on application servers back at headquarters, while Salesforce.com announced that Force.com Platform-as-a-Service and its CRM service are available as Salesforce mobile applications that will be distributed through the Apple Apps Store which comes bundled with the new version of the phone.

The first Oracle application on the iPhone is Oracle Business Indicators, which allows iPhone users to access a variety of business reports, such as financial trends, sales performance results or customer satisfaction surveys, stored on application servers back at headquarters. Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Plus and Oracle Business Intelligence Applications, Fusion Edition, can both be downloaded for free at the Apple App Store.

The Oracle applications provide access to key metrics and analytical data, and run natively on the iPhone. They support SSL encryption for security, always a concern when enterprise data is transmitted, especially over wireless connections, which are not considered especially secure.

CRM and ERP applications are set to follow. "Today's business executives and mangers are highly mobile, and their information needs are too," said Ed Abbo, Oracle's senior vice president of application development. "We're excited to build out applications on the iPhone platform to support these highly mobile customers."

Setting the pace

Salesforce Mobile for iPhone integrates with the iPhone's native functions such as email, maps and phone capabilities. Users can navigate through key customer records, initiate phone calls and emails from within Salesforce CRM, and query this application for customer information, which will be sent to their iPhones. Users will also be able to call from customer information from the Salesforce.com servers and display it on their iPhones, allowing them to navigate through customer accounts, contacts and sales opportunities.

"Salesforce.com is committed to dramatically expanding the potential for mobile applications in the enterprise," said Chuck Dietrich, vice president of Salesforce Mobile, Salesforce.com. "The amazing iPhone interface, Salesforce CRM and the Force.com platform are a great combination that gives enterprises a new suite of mobile business applications delivered when and where their users need them. The iPhone brings a touch base interface, which opens up a lot of opportunities to make these applications more adaptable.

"The iPhone has set the pace for what that interface would be, so we can have our applications emulate that form factor. Our customers use the applications we make, and they re-customise and build their own. The iPhone client respects whatever you build online, and it opens up the possibility to build entire suites of customised applications.”

The first version of the iPhone attracted the attention of NetSuite, which offered its users full access via the iPhone's Safari web browser enabling them to create new orders, new contacts and new opportunities, and can also access all product pricing and customer information. NetSuite to date has not announced plans for a native iPhone version.

Other companies have also launched iPhone applications aimed at business users, such as British Airways. The BA app allows frequent flyers to view the BA timetable, get real-time travel arrival and departure info and book flights. "The iPhone is revolutionising mobile communications and allows us to provide instant access to arrivals and departures information which will enhance the experience of travelling with BA,” said BA CIO Paul Coby. "We're always seeking to improve the service our customers enjoy by the smart use of innovative technology and the iPhone is a fantastic way to achieve this."

The launch of the iPhone has been something of a customer management nightmare for Apple. Activation problems prevented new iPhone users from using their phones, rendered old iPhone unusable, and served up error messages to iPod Touch owners. But Apple's problems were not tied exclusively to the iPhone activations. It is also facing criticism for technical problems with its online storage and syncing service called MobileMe which launched at the same time.

Demand for iPhones was so strong on launch day that the phone activation servers at iTunes couldn't cope, causing untold customers to wait for hours to get their device working. Prior to this, UK customers of O2 were unable to place upgrade orders for the new phone via the company's website after its servers also fell over under the weight of demand. Activation of orders within O2 stores was also proving difficult, made more embarrassing by the revelation that web activation required the use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

In London, police officers assisted Apple staff to close the the Regent Street Apple Store in the middle of the afternoon when customers were told that it would take at least three hours to buy an iPhone.

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