Playing matchmaker between product and customer is a weighty job, one that's particularly heavy and slow if the staffers are lugging around laptops for on-the-fly interaction.

That's one reason why financial institutions are starting to extend CRM capabilities to remote staff through mobile devices, taking advantage of advances in screen resolution and data mining capabilities to turn iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phones into cross-sell tools. And that's just one emerging use, as IT workers and independent advisors are also benefiting from new deployments.

"Mobile devices deliver 'just in time' information, so an advisor can pull up customer relationship data immediately, right on a handheld device while with the customer," says Peter Delano, research operations director for TowerGroup, who says that as cell phones have evolved into smart phones, new mobile devices work faster and can accommodate more memory and functionality.

Asset-management giant BlackRock, for example, has mobilized its institutional, retail and alternatives groups and purchased a mobile CRM platform from Pyxis Mobile, a tech project that's expected to expand when new staff from Barclays Global Investors arrives after the merger and conversion of the two institutions is complete.

The Pyxis Mobile platform extends CRM to BlackRock's workforce, aggregating and accessing all systems through native applications on employee devices, including BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile. The platform includes enterprise applications featuring multiple workflows to provide each business line with a customized application.

Pyxis Mobile has developed a proprietary internal data mining system it claims can navigate different processing and data systems among business lines-or different institutions in the case of a merger conversion in which a "winning" core vendor hasn't yet been chosen-to produce a 'single client view.' "You might have annuities in one system, funds in another, but the sales guy doesn't care about that. He wants to know about individual sales numbers and totals," says Todd Christy, CTO of Pyxis, whose clients also include TD Ameritrade, which recently used real time mobile alerts to engage attendees at a national advisor conference.

Another institution, Michigan-based Flagstar Bank, recently deployed Salesforce Mobile for Blackberry, iPhone and Windows Mobile to provide CRM data from Salesforce.com for sales and marketing staff. "If a staffer is with a business banking customer and wants to know the loan volume for that customer that's been done by our wholesaler, you can find that in a couple of clicks," says Renny Monaghan, a vp for Salesforce.com.

Staff members are also starting to use mobile devices for non-CRM purposes. Sterling Commerce, an AT&T company that sells data sharing products, has developed new mobile apps for IT mangers and line of business mangers to identify and quickly solve institutional and customer-facing problems.

William McKinney, a director for Sterling Commerce, whose customers include the 30 largest U.S. banks, says the goal is to enable IT staff to quickly identify and remotely fix problems on tech processes such as managed file transfers. The other use case is business line users, who can be alerted if a payment hasn't happened on time, or if a funds transfer hasn't been executed. "Before the customer calls, [the staffer] knows if there's a problem and that IT is working on it," McKinney says.

Earlier problems involving screen resolution have also improved. Travis Nisbett, senior product manger for Sage SalesLogix Mobile, which offers mobile sales and CRM tools for banks, says better screen resolution allows for more customization based on a bank or business unit's needs.

"You can now take a mobile product and make it fit with the unique characteristics of that environment," Nisbett says.

There are a few drawbacks-mobile phone screens are smaller than laptops, so the actual amount of viewable information on the screen at any one time is less. Sterling's first mobile release is on the iPhone, which McKinney says has more screen real estate than other phones.

Other potential barriers to adoption include staff buy-in, says David Schehr, research director, Gartner. "There is growth in mobile device use by remote staff, but we need to be careful not to over estimate how broad the use case can be," he says. "On the advisor side, there are a lot of advisors who are in their 50s or 60s and aren't as tech savvy."

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