Small Business Applications for Blackberry
BlackBerry is more than a phone with secure email; it’s also an application platform, with plenty of business-focused applications and tools. Even though App World adds a one-stop shop for trials and downloads you still want to be involved in recommending business BlackBerry apps to your customers, so here are our top picks.
You can do email on almost any handset and there are apps (and app stores) for every smartphone. So why might you recommend BlackBerry to your small business customers over iPhone, Android or Windows Mobile? Perhaps because the same secure connection that protects their email enables some applications you simply can’t get on other platforms, like mobile credit card processing. If your customers need to charge their customers on site, being able to put the transaction through securely and on the spot, without calling back to the office, could make a difference to the bottom line.
There’s a range of other apps for BlackBerry and while customers may browse the new BlackBerry App World for useful tools, they’ll be looking to you for recommendations on more critical tools to integrate with existing business systems. App World isn’t the only place to find applications – you can download them over the air to devices, or use BES to deliver application installers to devices as part of its device management role.
RIM recently conducted a survey through YouGov to see just how SME users were using their devices. Nearly half thought they were more productive and a quarter of SME decision makers said they were using (or planning to use) handhelds to work with line of business software, including mobile accounting and customer relationship management tools. CRM was one of the top five applications (the others were mobile banking, conference calling, instant messaging and GPS). Social networking tools were also popular, though mainly among younger users. These could be tools for your own business as well as your clients’ businesses.
BlackBerry and Documents
iPhone may get much of the press, but RIM’s BlackBerry platform has had a thriving software development community for many years, and tools are available for many of the most popular functions – from mobile office to navigation, to full-scale business applications.
There’s a lot built in to BlackBerry these days, and the latest devices (running OS 4.6 and higher) come with much better Office file viewers. DataViz’s Documents To Go (www.dataviz.com) has a long history of high-quality Office support – right back to the early days of the Palm. The bundled versions let users view and edit existing documents, but they can’t create new ones. That’s a problem if you’re trying to offer high-end BlackBerrys as an alternative to laptops. The premium versions of Documents To Go add support for creating new documents from scratch – including complex formatting features – letting your clients leave their laptops at home and still manage most of their usual tasks.
You’ll soon be able to view WebEx presentations on a BlackBerry. Cisco is demonstrating (but has not yet released) WebEx on BlackBerry which will let you join a call using the device’s phone, and see the presentation at the same time. You initially won’t be able to start meetings from a phone, but just being able to take part wherever you might be is still useful.
While BlackBerry comes with a calendar and a notes application, as well as support for Outlook tasks (if you’re using BES), it doesn’t really have a tool to help you and your colleague remember things that don’t readily translate to tasks. That’s where ReQall (www.reqall.com) comes in; you can type or speak reminders, including real names rather than email addresses for colleagues. These are stored by the ReQall service, and delivered at the appropriate time as text messages, emails and alarms. Reminders can also be delivered to other ReQall users, and the system can learn who your regular contacts are – making it easy to send reminders to colleagues and clients.
BlackBerrys are often described as tools for ‘road warriors’, and Mobimate’s Worldmate Live (www.mobimate.com) is ideal for the regular traveller. Like ReQall, it’s a mix of software and subscription service. The free basic application handles most common travel scenarios – including currency conversions and itinerary management. Users can upgrade to a Gold subscription, which includes real time alerts of flight delays, as well as access to a global database of flight schedules to help organise (and reorganise) journeys.
Many of the latest devices include GPS hardware, and the bundled BlackBerry Maps application provides basic navigation capabilities. The free Google Maps application adds local search (along with street level photography to help you orient yourself). Similarly Microsoft’s Windows Live Search application helps you find places and avoid traffic. Other applications are starting to use BlackBerry’s GPS hardware – some, like Where, help find information about where you are, pulling information in from Web services like the Yelp recommendation site.
BlackBerry is an information management tool at heart, and there are plenty of tools
to help keep track of each and every piece of information you and your clients are likely to use – and many of them are low cost or free App World downloads. Tools like Viigo let you work with information sources from all over the Web without waiting for a Web site to load, offering quick access to news feeds, weather, and social networks.
Familiar Names in CRM
Customer Relationship Management is an important piece of the modern sales process, and BlackBerrys can help simplify things using the device’s phone functions and built in information management features. Your larger customers can take advantage for the SAP integration but smaller companies will appreciate familiar names like Maximizer CRM (www.max.co.uk) which lets sales staff manage customer contacts, dial directly from their BlackBerrys and attach notes to call records. It’s easier and more accurate to quickly jot down a few thoughts as soon as a call has ended than wait until you’re back in the office – or until the end of the week, or even the month – and try to remember what the call actually covered
You don’t need to run an on-premise CRM application to use it with a BlackBerry; it can also be a client for a cloud-based service, like Salesforce.com. Salesforce.com’s BlackBerry application is more than a Web page, and works well on the newer larger screen devices. Set up is simple – users are given mobile rights in the Web application, and can then download the mobile client to access Salesforce.com data, and get integration with standard BlackBerry features. Sage takes a similar approach, with a mobile version of its SalesLogix CRM platform (www.sage.co.uk/software_and_services/customers.aspx). There’s no native version of the ACT! contact manager software, so you’ll need to use third party tools like Handheld Contact (www.handheldcontact.com) to synchronise it with BlackBerry devices.
SalesNOW (www.salesnow.com) mobile CRM is a similar package, tied to an online service. The client software can be downloaded from App World for free – but you need an account to actually use the service. Unlike many CRM packages SalesNOW is designed for small businesses – and the basic account is able to handle one or two-person CRM for just $25 a month. You’ll get basic CRM and project management with another free download, Upvise (www.upvise.com), a Web-based collaboration platform. Premium features are subscription based, with a per-user per-year fee.
Keeping track of time and expenses is enough of a problem for the deskbound worker – let alone mobile users. Field service staff need to keep track of time at client sites, while lawyers need to be sure that they’re billing correctly. That’s where tools like Exgis’s Time and Expense (www.exgis.com/products.aspx) come in. The Lite and Pro versions are on App World, and you can use the time tracking and expense management tools on their own, but if you need to connect to server-based billing tools, then the hosted Enterprise edition syncs between mobile devices and Exgis’ own software as a service application – for a per user per month fee. MCaller (www.mcaller.com) is another useful time tracking tool, tracking calls and appointments and attaching time to specific customer accounts.
Supporting BlackBerry Apps
Devices need to be managed and the more apps they use, the more help customers will ask for. LogMeIn’s (www.logmein.com) remote support tools let you control devices remotely, and can record the steps needed to reproduce (or solve) a problem that you can keep for reference.
The company is also porting its Ignition desktop PC management tools to the Storm, giving you complete access to remote PCs and servers from the phone in your pocket. Rove’s (www.roveit.com) management tools run on BlackBerry, and connect to a management server running in a network. With control of many key Windows functions, Rove’s Mobile Admin can help you manage your clients’ servers from anywhere there’s a reasonably quality mobile data connection.
Even smartphones are designed for voice. Vlingo (www.vlingo.com) uses voice commands to drive search, and even send text messages to other Vlingo users (handy for users who drive between meetings). You can also dictate notes and tasks, which are recognised and stored in the appropriate application. A premium version adds the ability to dictate emails. You’ll find a similar service from Voice on the Go (www.voiceonthego.com), though instead of a one-off fee it offers a subscription service.
Some clients have very specific needs, like doctors and lawyers. Both need secure dictation services, which can take spoken notes and meeting records and convert them into text. BigHand’s dictation software (www.bighand.com) turns a BlackBerry into a dictation terminal. You’ll need to enable the service by installing an additional BES component – which then handles over the air installation of the BigHand software on phones. Recordings are transmitted to Bighand’s servers securely, and transcriptions can be built into any workflows you might have in place. The free version on App World lets you make short recordings (up to 15 minutes long) that you can play back as audio files on the BlackBerry.
Safe on the Go
Keeping devices safe when they’re out on the road can be a problem – especially if they’re being used in all conditions by field service staff. Protective cases like OtterBox’s (www.otterbox.com) can help extend device life. They wrap the device in protective silicone film, protecting keyboards from the rain, while strong plastic cases protect the rest of the device.
Protecting data is important too, and while BlackBerry’s built in security makes it one of the most secure devices on the market, there’s always scope for extra security – especially if important data needs to be sent between your clients and other companies. PGP’s email encryption tools (www.pgp.com/products/pgp_support_package_for_bb/) are built into the BlackBerry OS – all you need to do is purchase a license to activate them. If you’ve got legal or financial firms as clients, tools like this help them keep client confidentiality.
You can even encrypt voice calls: Cellcrypt’s (www.cellcrypt.com) tools use Wi-Fi and 3G data connections to secure voice conversations, for a single monthly per-user fee. Talk to your clients about the value of their information, how secure they want it to be and how much they want to pay for that.
BlackBerry’s secure connection to a network and across the Internet is one of its strengths, and that means that it’s possible to use a BlackBerry as a credit card terminal. eMerit (http://www.emerit.co.uk) is simple to use; if staff already carry a portable card reader it reduces the amount of equipment they need
to carry and it’s a safer and more professional service than phoning credit card details back to the office. Users log on, fill in card details using the device keyboard, and the online eMerit service handles the payment request, displaying results on the device screen. It’ll even handle payment processing and distribution. Tools like this set BlackBerry aside from other smartphones for business.
What you need on the server to support apps on the BlackBerry
BlackBerry is more than just the device – it’s also the server. You can use many of these applications with RIM’s consumer platform, and the hosted BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS). But to get the most from BlackBerry your customers will need to be running either the SME BlackBerry Professional Server (BPS) or a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Getting the right combination of server hardware can make a difference to how your clients use their devices, as well as ensuring reliability and availability.
As with OCS, if they have high call costs, your customers could save money on phone bills with BlackBerry, using RIM’s Mobile Voice System. This integrates BlackBerry with existing PBX hardware, using cheaper connections for long distance calls, as well as allowing desk phone numbers to link to devices. RIM recently certified Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager hardware and software for use with MVS, and it allows you to connect to a wide range of different telecoms hardware.
Once BlackBerry becomes a key business tool, it needs to be reliable and it’s time to suggest high availability tools and hardware. While the new BES 5.0 includes high availability features, it’s worth considering using a high availability platform to host BlackBerry servers; Double-Take Software (www.doubletake.com) and Neverfail (www.neverfailgroup.com) both provide this. Alternatively you could simplify network architectures by using hosted BES or a BES server appliance. There are several white-label options (see page 50), or with an appliance like SteelCloud (www.steelcloud.com) running BES is a matter of turning on a device and filling in some configuration screens.
Applications also require device management; while BES provides device management tools, you may prefer to add additional features or link BES and BlackBerry handhelds into an existing set of management tools. Novell provides a BlackBerry version of its Zenworks for Handhelds device management software (www.novell.com/products/zenworks/configurationmanagement/) and BMC (www.bmc.com) also has BlackBerry management tools.
RIM’s own pointers to BlackBerry software:
The BlackBerry Geeks blog rounds up some of the best free software: