Mobile, cloud computing, big data and analytics have launched a new era of IT that in time will replace our existing infrastructure and upend our existing processes. But the reality is we aren’t there yet. The aforementioned technologies are rapidly evolving and companies are taking it slow. For at least five years, I’ve researched and written about how mobile and delivering contextual services will change our existing business processes and the structure of the market.
While this is true, like many things in life, there’s a difference between today’s reality and a vision that will unfold over the course of several years. Before we can enter the promised land of contextual and personalized services for our customers and employees, we need to replicate at least a portion of our current business processes in the mobile format. Although it seems that we should’ve achieved this stage, I’ve discovered that many the businesses are still in the first phase of mobile enablement, particularly in providing business to employee (B2E) applications.
Over half of the companies that Lopez Research interviewed have a formal mobile strategy, which is good news. Many companies are focused on gaining quick wins in the mobile application development area to prove mobility’s value and drive demand. Businesses are starting the mobile journey by extending existing parts of business processes, such as inventory look up and approvals, to mobile devices. Others are increasing employee satisfaction and productivity by converting paper processes into a digital format.
Today we’re at a point where a mobile application strategy is essential, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Before we can run, we need to learn to crawl and walk. And we need to provide a wide range of simple mobile apps quickly, inexpensively and in a way that adds value, which is typically measured by increasing productivity. It’s with this in mind that I consider the concept of life hacking mobile.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term, Wikipedia defines Life hacking as “any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.” There’s also a very popular web site called lifehacker.com with inspiring stories of how to create the products and services in inexpensive and creative ways.
Can enterprises use a simpler approach to mobile enable? Yes! It starts by defining what those quick wins are. Once IT has a list of potential wins it can look for mobile software versions from its existing vendors, adopt new SaaS offerings or create micro apps that simply offer the ability to complete a few tasks from a larger process. In the past, many companies didn’t mobile enable their workforce because the equipment and the software was too expensive. Today, mobile devices offer high quality cameras, accelerometers and GPS capabilities at a reasonable cost. And cloud computing has enabled a wide range of specialized Software as a Service (SaaS) companies to enter the market.
For example, it used to be that working with barcodes meant buying clunky, handheld laser based scanners. These dedicated devices, like any other, require maintenance, will suffer downtime, and are expensive. Scandit’s value proposition is to do away with that. Scandit offers scanning software that helps companies replace bulky scanners by turning ordinary smartphones into enterprise grade scanners. It also provides set of mobile apps, such a mobile clienteling, that helps a company get started if it doesn’t have an app.
Accurate mapping is a critical tool for various industries such as logistics, manufacturing, oil and gas and utilities. Today, companies use proprietary handheld GPS devices and mapping services, but many would prefer a cheaper alternative. TerraGo, a provider of geospatial collaboration and enterprise mobility software, offers solutions to create custom, portable maps that can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone within Adobe Reader. Imagine an electric utility deploying field workers with iPads and custom PDF maps that will highlight where new infrastructure should be placed. TerraGo also offers mobile apps that allow workers to collect GPS field data from a mobile device and synchronize GPS location notes with headquarters in real-time. These solutions are mobile apps out of the box where the forms can be customized to match a company’s business process.
While the last two examples targeted specific verticals, a key requirement and issue for any company is accessing content on mobile devices. Employees want mobile access to content that already exists, such as brochures, price lists, presentations and video. But in many cases, it takes IT too long to develop an app to support this basic, yet essential, use case. A cavalcade of vendors has raced to the rescue, delivering new solutions to get the right content to a specific line of business team, such as sales, field service, HR and communications professionals. For example, bigtincan offers a mobile content platform that lets a company’s employees securely access, edit, view, annotate and create content directly within the bigtincan hub.
APPrise Mobile has developed a SaaS solution that combines a content management system and app templates for line of business groups. It’s targeted at helping departments, such as investor relations, marketing and communications, quickly develop their own mobile apps to share content. A new service called theEMPLOYEEapp, effectively creates a mobile communications Intranet where IT or LOB managers can upload documents, audio and video files into organized content folders that create apps where employees can download this content for later use even when an internet connection isn’t available.
While both of these services are called platforms, the intent isn’t to provide tools that create a wide range of highly customized apps. These services are meant to take existing content, organize it and deploy it as mobile app with a usable interface. Offline access is a key feature of for this space.
Although the task of mobile enabling the business may seem daunting, there are many solutions available today that allows a company to get started. These solutions use features in standard consumer devices and cloud computing to deliver new software solutions that help IT get the first few apps out the door. Most are offered as services with a per user, per month fee. With basic tasks off IT’s plate, the team can focus on designing and delivering apps that drive competitive advantage. This is how companies will navigate through the first phase of mobile enablement. What’s your strategy? Share it here or send me a message on Twitter @MaribelLopez
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