Planning for a Mobile Future

By  Dan Ortega — April 29, 2011

Once you understand the tremendous potential of a mobile enterprise, deciding to empower your employees with technology is easy. The difficulty is in creating a road map that maximizes the return on investment (ROI) of your IT dollars. After you’ve nabbed all the low-hanging fruit, such as e-mail and calendars, the path forward can start to get complicated.
 
Fortunately, the biggest efficiency opportunities are universal. All companies have sales, service, supply chain, and other divisions that could be mobilized. These use-case scenarios can help you visualize the best ways to mobilize your organization.
 
Sales
Your sales team is likely the biggest beneficiary of your mobilization efforts. You want your team to be in front of the customer, on-site, and prepared.
Arming your salespeople with real-time information from your enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain, and inventory systems from a mobile device will provide better customer service, a trusted relationship, and higher margins through better decision making.
 
While CRM is likely the place to start, it isn’t the only application that sales teams can use. Salespeople are often enthusiastic users of social media tools, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, which they use to engage customers. In the near future, sales teams will leverage tools with uniquely mobile capabilities, such as on-device cameras for augmented reality applications or GPS for enhanced geospatial sensitivity.
 
Service and Support
A mobile service fleet is an obvious place to improve the quality of mobile support tools and is often the place where organizations begin their mobilization or digitization investment. Automating delivery of trouble tickets and service orders to a mobile device streamlines processes and eliminates waste. But newer ideas to mobilize the service workforce focus more directly on driving higher revenue.
 
For example, imagine cable service technicians in the field who can offer promotion packages during service calls based on the customers’ interests. If technicians can create an order and provision the service on the spot, customers get the personal touch and immediate satisfaction. Mobile field service applications also help technicians resolve problems more quickly and serve more clients per day, creating potentially higher sales revenue for the company in the process.
 
Amica Insurance created an application that lets adjusters send and receive data in the field rather than compile data after they’ve returned to the office. The mobile application helps Amica perform 235 additional appraisals per year and increase same-day inspections by 265%. The projected ROI of this mobilization project is only six months.
 
Supply Chain
Every organization has a chain of partners. Working with these partners involves complex interactions, including ordering parts, negotiating contracts, approving discounts, obtain­ing status reports, and more. A typical workflow could comprise multiple interactions by different departments across all partners in the chain. Mobilizing these process flows can not only make them faster, but it also enables real-time data analysis for ongoing process improvements.
 
For example, at beet harvest time, Belgium sugar producer Tiense Suikkerraffinaderij needs to closely coordinate the operations of many suppliers and trans­portation providers to prevent shipping delays and product loss. The company replaced a tedious and complex paper-based system with a tablet-based mobile solution that coordinates data about transportation, cranes, weighing, field readiness, crop ownership, and the labor force. The solution has shortened the total processing time for a beet field by several days.
 
Human Resources
Workflow applications are very useful in human resource (HR) departments, where approval bottlenecks often impede processes and paperwork. Allowing employees to fill out and submit time sheets, vacation requests, and expense reimbursements from their mobile devices speeds the process; letting managers provide approvals the same way frees them to use their time more effectively. In some cases, the faster pace can measurably lower costs.
 
For example, a chemical production company with 20-plus facilities spread across thousands of miles will employ engineers, scientists, geologists, and businesspeople in many locations. With no HR presence to work with, these remote users need self-service capabilities for personnel records, benefits forms, performance management processes, and resignations and trans­fers. A self-service HR portal with mobile accessibility could slash administration time and improve job satisfaction for many high-value employees.
 
Management
To be effective, a manager must understand the pulse of the organization—and that requires metrics. A dashboard view of key performance indicators helps managers make optimal on-the-spot decisions and provide leadership when away from the office. Likewise, they can provide better advice if they can call up pertinent data—margins or order history, for instance—during a consultation.
 
In one case, a Polish baby food company, Alima-Gerber, implemented a mobile solution to provide a critical feedback loop for salespeople and their managers. Both regional and executive managers can use the mobile application to measure very precisely the market potential as well as the effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts, based on real-time updates from sales representatives in the field. Managers can analyze historical data instantly and react quickly to the changing market.
 
Manufacturing
When plant managers have mobile access to the spare parts database, they can determine immediately whether the broken valve on the production line is in stock. As an added measure, RFID tags on the spare parts allow plant managers who have a GPS-enabled smartphone to not only verify availability but also determine exactly where (closet, shelf, and bin) they’ll find the part they need. Such applications return the production line to service as fast as possible.
 
Mobile monitoring of wireless sensor data is another excellent way to improve efficiency on the shop floor. For example, food manufacturers employ sensor technology to track the pressure, temperature, or rate of flow for edible materials as they are processed. Since floor supervisors can’t be everywhere at once, a mobile dashboard of sensor readings would make it possible for them to detect problem conditions immediately and react quickly before production is affected.
 
Retail
Mobile point-of-sale applications untether clerks from the central register, freeing them to provide better customer service. From the floor, a clerk can tap into the inventory management system, call up images of out-of-stock items, or perform transactions directly from the handheld device.
 
Tablets, too, are joining the fray: Wells Fargo employees are demonstrating financial service offerings to potential custom­ers on iPads, and Mercedes-Benz salespeople are calling up financing options for customers from the Apple tablets while roaming the showroom floor.
 
Information Technology
Even IT can benefit from greater mobile efficiency. Giving systems and database administrators the ability to monitor performance on the systems and services they are accountable for can help them be more productive.
 
Dominion Enterprises, a 5,800-employee marketing services firm, uses smartphones to help its network and systems administrators keep tabs on the infrastructure that supports the company’s 24x7 Web site and Web services. But simple monitoring is just the first step: Technicians can run jobs and manipulate those systems. For instance, database engineers will remotely run a job to rebuild indexes, improving overall IT responsiveness.
 
An Investment in the Future
Once you’ve begun mobilizing the enterprise, you’ll find additional ways to leverage your initial investment everywhere. A well designed mobile framework is easy to extend and modify, mak­ing it possible to improve on your initial ROI by orders of magnitude, with very low ongoing costs. Let your imagination be your guide as you consider the many powerful opportunities of mobile enterprise applications.
 
Dan Ortega is senior director of product marketing for Sybase mobility products.
 

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