Business Options Grow For BlackBerry

Software for the handheld device gives access to CRM systems.
Acceptance of PDAs by large companies is pushing their use beyond E-mail and phone communications, giving mobile employees access to enterprise applications such as customer-relationship-management software.

Research In Motion Ltd., which makes the popular BlackBerry, is trying to strengthen its grip on the business market by adding support for Web services to the device's application-development environment. RIM said last week that its next-generation development framework, the BlackBerry Mobile Data System v4.1, includes XML Web Services among its methods for integrating mobile applications with back-end servers, and supports the Microsoft .Net and Java 2 Enterprise Edition environments. It also offers a new visual-design tool for easier development and centralized deployment and management of applications.

BlackBerry MDS v4.1 will be provided to some customers for beta testing this month, with general availability coming later this year.

BlackBerrys are a favorite among salespeople, so using them to replace laptops for accessing CRM data is a natural progression. FFF Enterprises Inc., a pharmaceutical distributor, is using sales-force-automation software from Sendia Corp. that gives its staff access to its Inc. CRM platform on BlackBerrys, says Bob Coates, director of technology. "We have a lot of market collateral, a lot of information updates, and different customers that our sales reps connect with on a daily basis using Sendia," Coates says. Making the CRM system mobile was a priority, yet it also required some cultural adjustments. "We never had anything like that before here, so it was a heavy dose of critical technology thrown at our sales force," Coates says.

PDA vendors are working to make it easier to access company data

RESEARCH IN MOTION Next-generation development platform for BlackBerry supports Web services

SENDIA Upgraded salesforce-automation software offers integration between BlackBerry or palmOne and

eAGENCY SYSTEMS Nice Office Wireless CRM software for the 7250 BlackBerry provides access to company data and sales information

Data: Vendors

Sendia introduced the second version of its Wireless Salesforce Automation product last week, which also can be used on the palmOne Treo. The new version offers integration between PDA address books and contacts contained within a system. It also lets users share contact information stored in Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, and Novell Groupwise.

At ChoicePoint Inc., which provides risk-management and fraud-prevention services, BlackBerrys are used by about 250 employees, says Matt Lawson, director of command-center operations. The reason ChoicePoint supports the platform is simple, Lawson says: "It makes people's jobs more efficient."

Although executives, salespeople, and technologists at ChoicePoint use BlackBerrys primarily for E-mail, the company is evaluating integration software from Itrezzo Inc. that would let IT staffers use their BlackBerrys to wirelessly manage the company's servers.

Ranked third among PDA vendors in 2004, Research In Motion's market share shot up from 6.4% in 2003 to 18.6% last year, with annual revenue increasing 237% to $806 million, according to Gartner. PDA leader Hewlett-Packard's market share dropped from 26.5% to 26.1%, and palmOne's dropped from 24.9% to 19.3%.

Last month, eAgency Systems Inc. introduced its Nice Office Wireless CRM software for the new 7250 BlackBerry to provide mobile workers with access to leads, appointments, customer and sales information, and company data.

Independent agents at insurance marketing company R.A. Lotter Insurance Marketing Inc. retrieve and update client files stored in Nice Office from their BlackBerrys. "When you look at the BlackBerry, you might see a PDA with phone and E-mail, a small step up from a Palm or Windows CE device," says Mostyn Faulkner, an independent insurance agent with R.A. Lotter. "When I look at my BlackBerry, I see a networked computer wirelessly connected to my company's server, tied to my Nice Office account."

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