Pushing the envelope of consumerization

Rave CRM is a new sales automation product that uses smart client technology to deliver what on-demand CRM vendor Entellium calls a 'visually immersive' user experience.

On-demand vendors are at the forefront of the trend towards consumerization of enterprise applications, redesigning their software to emulate the look-and-feel of popular consumer-oriented Web sites such as Amazon.com, eBay, Google and MySpace. Their pay-as-you-go business model motivates on-demand vendors to maximize user uptake and return on investment. Therefore they have a vested interest in making it as easy and appealing as possible for users to become productive with their applications.

But why stop at copying existing best practice on the Web? Why not push the envelope even further? All of a sudden, those familiar tabbed interfaces look old-fashioned That's what CRM provider Entellium is aiming to do with Rave CRM, a new sales automation product that uses smart client technology to deliver what the company calls a 'visually immersive' user experience. [Disclosure: Entellium is a client and, because of a historic relationship, I hold a small equity stake in the company. See disclosure page. By sheer fluke, Entellium and Rearden Commerce, another client, each independently chose Nov 14th as the date to make landmark announcements, so this week's blog is exceptionally client-heavy.]

Thanks to my special relationship with Entellium, I've had early previews of Rave, and I've been looking forward to the time when I could publicly write about it. Whereas traditional sales automation software is designed to serve sales managers — and therefore is often used only reluctantly by the sales people on their teams — Rave's core design point is to engage the individual sales person. Recognizing that this is a demographic that's typically mid- to late twenties, highly attuned to the Web and more often male than female, it goes out of its way to use visual metaphors and gizmos to present and manipulate information. All of a sudden, the familiar tabbed interfaces of today's dominant on-demand applications look old-fashioned.

Screenshot of Rave CRM's drag-and-drop, zoom-in activity map
Instead of traditional table-based views of client history, Rave displays a timeline of interaction with a client, with the ability to zoom out for a long-term view or zoom in on a specific moment (see picture). Icons are used to drag-and-drop in new activities. Rave prioritizes actions by allocating a star ranking to prospects and deals, just like on a review website. RSS feeds can be added to stream relevant headlines alongside a prospect record. Behind the scenes, Entellium's workflow engine automates common tasks and provides templates for best-practice sales processes. As summed up by Entellium's CEO Paul Johnston, "Our design goal was to present in one screen the answer to the key question, How can I most profitably spend my time today?"

Somewhat controversially, all this visual richness is powered by Entellium's proprietary user interface platform, dubbed Sparkle, which is a PC-based smart client. Although the Entellium model is 100% on-demand, with the application managed from Entellium's data center and all customer data stored there within a multi-tenant architecture, the data is sync'd to the client both to allow for offline working and to ensure the visually rich interface runs with the full benefit of the client environment. I've written before about my belief that this kind of hybrid client is a more durable model for on-demand applications than a purely Web-hosted browser-based client. Rave CRM (which will be available for free-trial download or full subscription use from December 4th) is a harbinger of the new capabilities this form of client can bring to the business application market.

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