Handhelds Can’t Do It All

By Geoffrey James

Let’s face it. When you bring the whole setup – plug, adapter, case, disks, spare battery and so on – carrying a laptop in your briefcase is like lugging a brick in a bag. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get by with a much smaller device, such as a handheld computer or even a cell phone? It sounds nice, but while plenty of CRM systems support such devices, they’re not for everyone.

Wireless handhelds and cell phones are different from laptops in more than just size. While wireless handhelds (and even some cell phones) support the industry standards that make Web pages appear on computer screens, the screens on these small devices are simply too tiny to display the content-rich layouts used in many CRM applications.

Of course, CRM vendors are working hard to shrink their big displays to a smaller format by presenting a special, customized view of the CRM system for use on smaller devices. By necessity, however, the handheld version of the CRM application will have a different look and feel than the full product. This means the sales team will need to learn two different user interfaces to get the job done.

Furthermore, the smaller CRM format available on handhelds may not present enough information to be useful. The reason there’s a wealth of information displayed on CRM Web pages is that it allows sales reps to conveniently pick and choose what to see. The richness of the environment – and the relatively fast retrieval speed – allows reps to browse and surf for the required data on the Web pages.

Unfortunately, shrinking that richness into a format that can be displayed on a handheld means segmenting it into tiny, bite-sized chunks that force sales reps to undertake a seemingly endless series of menu clicks and picks to retrieve a desired item. Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that some users of wireless handheld CRM wait until they get to a real computer to do serious CRM work.

Wireless handhelds, such as wirelessly connected laptops, also are hampered by the slow communication speeds available in the wireless environment. Even if you’re in a hot-spot where wireless Internet is available, transferring screens of data still takes far longer than with a broadband (wired) connection. Because of this, sales professionals who are accustomed to the fast response of cable and DSL hookups are likely to become impatient waiting for the wireless connection to transfer a few pages of data.

To summarize, wireless handhelds might look convenient, but it may not be reasonable to expect them to do jobs normally accomplished with a laptop.

The above is based on a conversation with Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner, a market research and analyst firm headquartered in Stamford, CT.