Mobile Workforce Management: The Brave New World

By Susan Nunziata — April 30, 2009

In an industry enamored of semantics, the phrase "mobile workforce management" has very specific applications attached to it. These include solutions for processes such as time clocking and payroll for field workers, dispatching job orders and optimizing routes. And, for many organizations, mobile solutions such as these have immediate direct and indirect benefits, such as increasing worker productivity, improving customer service and decreasing time-to-bill.

At the same time, especially for enterprises with large field crews -- such as utility company Pacific Gas & Electric and direct-store-delivery operation Coca-Cola Enterprises -- the concept of "mobile workforce management" is taking on a much broader, and more holistic, meaning than it previously has had.

"The new mobile world for us is really about designing a common solution, a common platform for all of our applications to ride upon," says PG&E's Shawn Crossley, Enterprise Platform Architect, Information Systems Technology Services (Read the complete article on PG&E's platform strategy).  "I would say I'm starting to venture away from the whole concept of 'mobile computing.' It's a client that has some different needs, and they happen to be roaming from time to time. We really want to almost start to break away from this split brain between mobile computing and fixed computing. It's all client computing, at the end of the day. It's just our clients have diverse needs."

Kevin Flowers, Director of Enabling Technologies for Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), concurs (Read the complete article on CCE's platform strategy). "We're really changing the way we look at mobility completely. A lot of companies just have a mobility application team focused on mobility. You really need to take a step back and look at it with a more holistic view, using the lense of an enterprise architecture team in conjunction with a mobile team. Mobility is much bigger now than just an app for a specific purpose."

Spokane, WA-based Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories likewise needed a broad mobility platform to manage the services it provides to more than 100 hospitals, 12,000 clients and millions of patients a year. The company uses its own mobile units plus 200 couriers a day to  collect specimens. The company worked with Dexterra and development partner inCode to build a Microsoft Dynamics-based barcode system using Motorola handhelds running on the AT&T cellular network. It automatically tracks every step of the specimen collection process.

While Antenna Software, Dexterra, Spring Wireless, Sybase, and Syclo are among the mobile enterprise application platform providers that can help facilitate this type of ecosystem approach, there are also a vast array of tactical solution providers offering a range of mobile workforce management options. These include, but are not limited to, vendors such as @Hand, AirClic, Apacheta, Astea, ClickSoftware, CyberShift, Gearworks, Global Bay, Wonderware, Xora, and TeleNav.

In addition, some enterprises continue to take the proprietary, custom-built route to their mobile apps. There are as many options as there are needs:

  • Florida-based social work organization Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, is finding its proprietary solution to be a major step in the right direction (Read The Full Case Study Here).

  • ThyssenKrupp Elevators is deploying Servigistics' Command Center and Scheduler & Dispatch applications on Tom Tom navigation devices rather than traditional PDAs or computers.

  • AIS Construction Equipment turned to a solution from Gearworks to manage its field crews (Read The Full Case Study Here).

  • For One Hour Air Conditioning & Heating, GPS is the key (Read The Full Case Study Here).

  • Ireland's Electricity Supply Board is integrating its SAP platform  with ClickSoftware's ClickSchedule to manage more than 500 field techs.

  • UTC Fire & Security, and facilities management firm TDIndustries are among the enterprises to have selected Astea's FieldCentrix solution for their mobile workforces.

Gartner predicts that the number of mobile application tools and platforms in use by enterprises will increase 30% by 2011. With so many options, ThyssenKrupp Elevators' Mark Williams advises enterprises to understand their business requirements before they even begin to evaluate mobile workforce management solutions or broader enterprise mobility platforms.


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