Mobile Apps for the Field Workforce: Opportunities & Risks

There is no doubt that organisations operating globally, across all manner of business sectors and markets, recognise that mobile apps are invaluable tools for people on the go.

This is understandable, as a company's field workforce spends by far the most time with its most valuable asset - the customer. Regardless of whether field employees are involved with service or sales, their productivity and the quality of interaction with clients has a direct impact on the overall health of the business.

In recent years, the worldwide market value of Global Mobile Enterprise Application Platforms has experienced exponential growth. One of the key factors contributing to this growth is the increasing demand for enterprise mobility. The market has also been witnessing growth in cloud-based mobile solutions, with complete integration of platform and apps widely acknowledged as an obstacle that could impede its future expansion. Since the annual smartphone shipments began to overtake those of PCs, it is quite clear that mobile computing is to remain a core facet of the future business landscape.

A prominent debate related to the rapid adoption by firms of mobile tools is whether or not companies should 'go native' with their development of apps. This means deploying applications that are individually customised for each type of device used by their field workforce. Alternatively, an organisation could try to get by with the relatively inexpensive option of investing in web-based apps that can be used by all, regardless of the mobile equipment they carry.

Professional services firm Deloitte has looked at the key arguments in detail, noting that business users expect their enterprise apps to have "bells and whistles", just like the ones they purchase themselves as consumers. Some would argue that staff would be disappointed with - and may, as a result, work less productively - with anything less. On the other hand, the obvious differences between business tools and consumer toys shouldn't be ignored. "Business people don't need to be entertained - they want the simplest, easiest solution to their problems," explains Deloitte.

Another potential argument for the development of native enterprise apps is that companies equipping personnel with expensive handheld devices should leverage all the functionality the device has to offer, in the interest of maximising return on investment. However, Deloitte's counterargument to this is that while some business problems demand a full-features solution, many are much simpler to fix. It explained: "You don't need an app with a sophisticated look and feel to submit an expense report from the road."

Additionally, one of the biggest concerns for organisations investing in mobile apps for the field workforce is the issue of data management and security. Jeremy Allen, principal consultant with the Intrepidus Group, has said if businesses are not yet concerned with data security on their employees' mobile devices, they soon will be.

"I think in the next year we're going to see a lot of awareness for application privacy. People install dozens of applications and they leak your private data like it's going out of style. Ultimately, you're entrusting your users to do the right thing, and even with a BlackBerry, a lot of security comes from policy and user awareness that you shouldn't do these bad things," said Allen. It is widely believed that over 30 per cent of smartphone users have transferred sensitive information through their device on at least one occasion.

As companies continue to embrace the potential of mobile devices going forward, minimising risks and developing enterprise apps that empower the field workforce to do their job more efficiently are likely to top the agenda for organisations across the globe.

Categories: Enterprise Mobility Exchange, Mobile Apps, Field Workforce, Mobile Solutions, Apps, Native, Mobile Device Management, Data Management, Security, Deloitte