FIELD OF INVENTION
This application claims the benefit of U.S. provisional patent application No. 60/388,832 filed on Jun. 13, 2002.
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to a computer method and system for simulating an online session while offline, and more particularly, to such a method and system in the field of customer relationship management.
The Internet provides the capability to provide services to customers without requiring them to install additional software on their local computers. Specifically, by exploiting the customer's web browser, all functional logic and all data can reside at a remote server rather than at the customer's local computer (i.e., the client). As such, the customer, via instructions submitted through web pages that are displayed in the web browser, can remotely invoke the functional logic to view, create, update, delete or otherwise modify the data residing on the remote server.
In the field of customer relationship management (“CRM”), the foregoing use of the Internet is ideal for enabling sales, customer support, and marketing teams and individuals to organize and manage their customer information. For example, all leads, opportunities, contacts, accounts, forecasts, cases, and solutions can be stored at a secure data center but may be easily viewed by any authorized sales-person (e.g., with a proper username and password) through a web browser and Internet connection. One key benefit of such an online CRM solution is the ability to share data real-time and enable all team members to leverage a common set of information from one accessible location. For example, sales managers can track forecast roll-ups without requiring each sales representative to submit individual reports, as well as instantly access aggregated sales data without requiring each sales representative to manually submit such data. Similarly, reseller sales representatives and other external partners can be granted secure access to a company's sales data by providing them a username and password for the web site.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Nevertheless, such an online CRM solution suffers from the requirement that a user must have access to an Internet connection in order to access and manipulate the data residing on the remote server. For example, when a sales representative or manager is working in the field, such an Internet connection may not be readily available. As such, what is needed is a method for simulating an online session while the user is offline (e.g., without a network connection). Furthermore, it would be advantageous if such a method minimized the amount of user training and client-side installation and customization by taking advantage of pre-existing interfaces and technologies on the client computer.
The present invention provides a method and system for simulating an online session between the client and a remote server when the client is offline. The client includes a local interface that can communicate with the remote server. During an online session, the data and the functional logic that is invoked to manipulate the data reside on the remote server. As such, the user transmits instructions to view, create, update, delete, or otherwise modify portions of data through the local interface and subsequently through the underlying network. These instructions are ultimately received at the remote server, which then invokes the proper functional logic to perform the instructions in order to manipulate the data.
In preparation for simulating an online session when the client is offline, when the client is online, it imports at least a subset of the data that resides at the remote server. Furthermore, the client imports at least a subset of the functional logic used to manipulate the data as an embedded portion of a format or document that is capable of being interpreted and performed by the local interface. To initiate an offline session, the user invokes the local interface (as in the online session). However, rather than accessing the remote server, the local interface accesses local documents formatted with the embedded functional logic. As in the online session, the user transmits instructions to view, create, update, delete, or otherwise modify portions of data through the local interface. However, rather than transmitting the instructions through an underlying network, the local interface invokes the embedded functional logic in the documents to manipulate the imported data in response to the instructions.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
As such, the present invention provides an offline simulation of an online session between the client and a remote server. Because the same local interface that is used in the online session is also used in the offline session, user training for the offline session is minimized or even eliminated. Furthermore, since functional logic is embedded into a format capable of being interpreted and performed by the local interface, the need to install additional standalone software applications is also minimized or eliminated. Further objects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from a consideration of the drawings and detailed description.
FIG. 1 is a diagram illustrating an online session between a client with a local interface and a remote server with a relational database and functional logic.
FIG. 2 is an example of a client initiation of an online CRM session with a remote server.
FIG. 3 is an example of the presentation of CRM data on a client's web browser during an online CRM session.
FIG. 4 is a diagram illustrating an offline session.
FIG. 5 is a expanded block diagram illustrating one embodiment of the various phases used to provide a client with the capabilities of engaging in an offline CRM session.
FIG. 6 is a flowchart illustrating one embodiment of a process for conducting an offline CRM session.
FIG. 7 is an example of a login session to connect to a remote server during a synchronization process.
FIG. 8 is an example of a visual representation of a synchronization process with the remote server.
FIG. 9A is a first example of the presentation of CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 9B is a second example of the presentation of CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 9C is a third example of the presentation of CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 9D is a fourth example of the presentation of CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 9E is a fifth example of the presentation of CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 10A is an example of the presentation of “Accounts” CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 10B is an example of the presentation of “Accounts” CRM data during an offline session (All Accounts View).
FIG. 10C is an example of the presentation of “Accounts” CRM data during an offline session (Specific Account View).
FIG. 10D is an example of the presentation of “Accounts” CRM data during an offline session (New Account View).
FIG. 11A is an example of the presentation of “Contacts” CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 11B is an example of the presentation of “Contacts” CRM data during an offline session (All Contacts View).
FIG. 11C is an example of the presentation of “Contacts” CRM data during an offline session (Specific Contact View).
FIG. 11D is an example of the presentation of “Contacts” CRM data during an offline session (New Contact View).
FIG. 12A is an example of the presentation of “Opportunities” CRM data during an offline session (Home View).
FIG. 12B is an example of the presentation of “Opportunities” CRM data during an offline session (All Opportunities View).
FIG. 12C is an example of the presentation of “Opportunities” CRM data during an offline session (Specific Opportunity View).
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 12D is an example of the presentation of “Opportunities” CRM data during an offline session (New Opportunity View).
- Online Session
The following detailed description will first describe the structure of an online session that may be simulated by an offline session in accordance with the invention. The structure of the offline session, itself, is then detailed. Following the description of the offline session, preparation of the client prior to conducting such offline sessions (e.g., installation and synchronization phases) is described.
Referring to the drawings, FIG. 1 illustrates an online session between a client 100 and a remote server 200. The client includes a local interface 110 while the remote server 200 includes a database 210 and functional logic 220 that is invoked to manipulate the data residing in the database 210. The client 100 establishes communication channels through a network 150 that connects the client 100 to the remote server 200.
In one environment, the network 150 used by the online session may be the Internet. In such an environment, the client 100 may be a laptop or desktop computer and the local interface 110 may be a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. The functional logic 220 at the remote server 200 may be invoked through an underlying application or specification such as a CGI program (including, for example, scripts such as PerI), Java servlet (including, for example, JavaServer Pages, or JSP, technology), daemon, service, system agent, server API solution (including, for example, ISAPI or NSAPI) or any other technique or technology known in the art. The database 210 may be a relational database management system such as Oracle or DB2. The communication channels between the local interface 110 and the remote server 200 may be governed by the HTTP protocol. For example, by selecting various options from a web page, a user transmits instructions in the form of an HTTP message through the Internet to the remote server. Upon receiving the HTTP message, the underlying program, component, or application at the remote server performs the pertinent functional logic to interact with and manipulate the data in the database in accordance with the instructions. Those skilled in the art will recognize that the foregoing general online client-server scheme is merely illustrative and that various alternatives, possibly exploiting different technologies, standards and specifications, may also be utilized to create an online session over the Internet in accordance with FIG. 1.
- Offline Session
In the field of customer relationship management (“CRM”), such an online client-server scheme can provide the capability to track contacts, leads and customer inquiries without needing a complex software solution on the client-side. For example, in one instance of an online CRM session, the user securely logs into the remote server by entering a username and a password through his local web browser, as shown in FIG. 2. Once the user successfully logs into the remote server, he may be presented with an initial home page that provides access to further features and information. As shown in FIG. 3, for example, the initial home page may provide the user with a brief synopsis of his upcoming events 310 and tasks 320. Furthermore, the initial home page provides access 330 to further pages that enable the user the track, manage and organize other data including campaigns, leads, accounts, contacts, opportunities, forecasts, cases, and reports. Those skilled in the art will recognize that FIGS. 2 and 3 are merely examples of one way of presenting CRM information on a local interface and that there exist innumerous ways (e.g., look and feel) to present CRM information on a local interface in accordance with the online client-server scheme presented herein. Furthermore, those skilled in the art will recognize that the online CRM session described herein is merely an example of one area in which the online client-server scheme may be exploited and that there exist innumerous fields and areas in which this online client-server scheme may be exploited.
As shown in FIG. 4, during an offline session, in contrast to an online session as described earlier and illustrated in FIG. 1, the client 100 can no longer establish a communications channel through the network 150 to connect to the remote server 200. As such, at least portions of the data from the database 210 and portions of the functional logic 220 at the remote server 200 are imported to the client 100 so that the client 100 can conduct an offline session in isolation. In FIG. 4, at least a subset 130 of the data 210 is imported to the client 100. Similarly, at least a subset 120 of the functional logic 220 is also imported to the client. This imported functional logic 120 is embedded into a format capable of being interpreted and performed by the local interface.
- Preparation of Client for Offline Session
Furthermore, prior to going offline, a user may synchronize the imported subset of data 130 at the client with the data residing in the database 210. For example, if synchronization is occurring for the first time, all data residing in the database 210 that is needed for conducting an offline session may be downloaded from the database 210 to the client 100 (Step 550). This downloaded data may, for example, be defined and customized according to the user's criteria for conducting an offline session. In one implementation, the synchronization process may download this data as XML documents (e.g., according to data type such as accounts, contacts, opportunities, etc.). Once such XML documents are downloaded, XSL templates that are used to visually render the data (e.g., 130 in FIG. 4) on the web browser may be constructed at the client by utilizing the formatting instructions provided by the XML documents. Alternatively, such XSL templates might also be generated at the server and subsequently downloaded to the client. During subsequent synchronization processes prior to going offline 540, as depicted in FIG. 5, modified data records and data records created since the previous synchronization may be downloaded to the client (Step 560). Furthermore, the synchronization process 540 may also provide the opportunity to download (or modify) user customizations (e.g., XML layout information used to construct XSL templates at the client or the XSL templates themselves) for the visual representation of data and other information on the web browser (Step 570). Similarly, upon re-establishing a connection with the remote server 200, the user may also desire to conduct a synchronization process 580 in order to upload any modified or newly created data records to the remote database 210 (Step 590). In one implementation of the synchronization process, the communication channel between the client 100 and the remote server 200 may be established through the HTTP protocol using XML-RPC and a related HTTP/HTTPS server based XML API. Those skilled in the art will recognize that there are alternative synchronization processes other than the one presented in FIG. 5 that may be conducted in accordance with the present invention. For example and without limitation, all synchronization processes, regardless of whether the subsequent activity is an offline session or the re-establishment of an online connection, may simultaneously download modified and newly created data records from the server database to the client as well as upload modified and newly create data records from the client to the server database. Additionally, those skilled in the art will recognize that any variety of techniques and models known in the art may be used implement the synchronization process in order to maintain consistency and coherency while accessing data (e.g., atomic, sequential or causal consistency, etc.).
FIG. 6 illustrates one embodiment of a process for initiating and conducting an offline CRM session. As depicted, in this embodiment, an initial installation process should be conducted before an offline session can begin (e.g., Steps 610, 510, 520, 530). After installation, a user may initiate an offline session by opening an HTML page downloaded to the client during the installation phase (Step 620). While still online, the user may then synchronize local client data with the remote database before going offline (Step 630 and expanded in Steps 632, 634, 550, 560, 590). As shown in FIG. 6, this may involve downloading data from the remote server (Step 550) as well as uploading data to the remote server (Step 590), and if necessary, an initial download of all offline session data (Step 550). As previously discussed, one implementation of such downloading and uploading may be implemented through HTTP communications channels using XML-RPC. Once synchronization is complete, the user may go offline and manipulate, view, and modify his customer relationship data by selecting from various options through the web browser (Step 640). For example and without limitation, the user may view his calendar, tasks, and activities (Step 642). Additionally, data may be organized into certain categories such as accounts, contacts, and opportunities. The user may be able to maneuver through the web browser to access, edit, create, delete, or otherwise modify data within these categories (Steps 642, 644, 646, 648).
FIGS. 7 to 12D represent examples of the local interface 110 as a web browser that may serve as visual examples for certain steps in the flowchart of FIG. 6. For example, FIG. 7 illustrates a login interface to access the remote server to initiate a synchronization corresponding to 632 of FIG. 6. Similarly, FIG. 8 illustrates the synchronization process of downloading modified and newly created records from the remote database as in 560 of FIG. 6 (and possible uploading of any modified or newly created records to the remote database as in 590 of FIG. 6). Corresponding to Step 642 in FIG. 6, FIG. 9A illustrates one example of an offline home page and FIGS. 9B to 9E illustrate various other alternative “Home” views that may be accessed by the user during an offline session. Similarly, corresponding to Step 644 in FIG. 6, FIGS. 10A to 10C illustrate various views of data organized into an Accounts category. Corresponding to Steps 646 and 648 in FIG. 6, FIGS. 11A to 11D illustrate various views of data organized into a Contacts category and FIGS. 12A to 12D illustrate various view of data organized into an Opportunities category, respectively.