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Mobile

Firm seeks thumbs-up from keypad typists

Business software maker Dejima has a mission: to ease thumb strain among executives trying to connect to corporate computer networks by way of a cell phone.

Business software maker Dejima has a mission: to ease thumb strain among executives trying to connect to corporate computer networks by way of a cell phone.

These executives, early adopters of new wireless networking services, are a patient and thumb-weary bunch. Usually, using a cell phone to get behind a corporate firewall involves many steps, all of which require typing on the phone's cramped keypad. Specialized commands also come into play, which often call for feats of memory.

Dejima's software is designed to make the thumb-numbing steps and mnemonic ploys unnecessary, letting cell phone users send a single e-mail to get what they're looking for. For instance, said Dejima CEO Antoine Blondeau, a phone user might send a message that asks, "What were the sales figures from the last quarter?" Within a few seconds, Blondeau said, an e-mail response arrives with the data.

Dejima's product is aimed directly at businesses looking to make their work force more mobile, as well as at wireless carriers that want to pump up their offerings to such businesses. Initially, though, it seems to be catching on in another market, with outfits that sell business software and services to large corporations.

San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, for example, is using Dejima's software to resurrect a wireless service it scrapped in October, said Tien Tzuo, vice president of product management for Salesforce. The company had pulled the plug on the service because customers complained about the hard-to-use interface, he said.

"The last product was more of an experiment, we knew the limitations," Tzuo said. "We think Dejima broke the code for wireless."

Salesforce.com is the first major business software maker to use Dejima's product on a broad scale. Its new service featuring the interface is scheduled to debut Dec. 2. SAP in Japan has been testing the software since July, and might introduce a similar offering soon, Dejima's Blondeau indicated Friday. Analysts believe other major business software makers that have taken to wireless will soon follow suit.

"The fact that I can enter a message in my own words and get an intelligent response back is a step forward" that others will likely soon take, said Warren Wilson, a wireless analyst with Summit Strategies Group.

Dejima is among the number of companies adding mobility to customer relationship management (CRM) software, which is supposed to make customer service better, simplify marketing and sales efforts and help companies find new customers. Salesforce.com sells hosted applications it claims are less expensive and easier to install than those offered by Oracle, PeopleSoft and other CRM makers.

The business software market--including everything from CRM to call center applications to manufacturing software--has been in a two-year slump that's not likely to end soon. Executives from Siebel Systems and Oracle recently offered a gloomy outlook for information technology spending in general for the next year.

Revenue from what's being called "mobile CRM" was about $300 million in 2001 and will increase 36 percent each year until 2008, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan forecast.