New Mobiles, Same Old Problems
The rapid evolution of mobile technologies and devices shouldn't distract companies from focusing on the fundamentals, argues Edward Clark, Mobile Solution Architect, AMT Sybex. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The last few years have seen some dramatic changes in the mobile space: the availability of high-speed networks, the rise of Apple, the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, the development of app stores, the adoption of mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs), and many other innovations.
Yet from a business perspective, the fundamental challenge to successful mobile deployments in essential industries remains the same: how do you get your users to accept and adopt a new solution?
Although desirable handsets and intuitive operating systems may contribute to the overall ease of adoption, the core issue is whether the mobile applications that you develop make life easier for your team leaders, inspection teams and maintenance specialists. If they can't see the value of a new system or process, they will resist using it, and it will be much more difficult to deliver the projected benefits.
For this reason, it's important to get the basics right, and not get distracted by the idea that better technology will necessarily deliver a better result. The most important factors in the success of a mobile deployment are the same for the iPhones of today as they were for the iPAQs of the 2000s.
Firstly, understand the benefit of mobilising the process, and the value that this will bring to the wider business as well as the field user. If the aim is to eliminate paper-based processes and drive mobile user efficiencies by delivering the right information at the point-of-work and reducing time to complete, do you simply want to replicate the existing process in electronic form, or can you redesign it to be more efficient and relevant to the needs of both the business and the user? How is the output - data, compliance or audit records - used by the business, and is it worth the extra effort to collect?
Secondly, understand who you are designing the solution for. A COO or Head of Operations who just wants access to high-level reports on asset status probably won't need the same kind of interface or device as a field engineer who needs work order information and blueprints, or an asset inspector who needs to be able to review, edit and create asset records. Select the appropriate device and form-factor for the end users needs - one size doesn't fit all.
Finally, understand the changes that the solution is going to require from a human perspective, as well as a technical one. If you're replacing a data collection process, are you structuring the new mobile process to make it as easy as possible to gather the relevant information? Are you sure that all the users currently work in exactly the same way, or are there local variations that you need to be aware of? If you are going to standardise the process completely, are you prepared to get buy-in from the right people and, if necessary, make the right compromises? And are your new solutions and processes flexible enough to be updated and optimised post-deployment to reflect evolving business needs?
The key to all these issues is to get the business engaged as early as possible. Giving your end-users input into design and delivery processes is both a technical and a psychological advantage: if they have invested time in defining what they want from a solution, they are more likely to feel that the end result is "theirs", rather than something that has been imposed upon them.
Equally, involving them throughout the development process helps them to take ownership of the solution once the project is complete. If you can build an application that business users can learn to manage themselves, without support from the IT team or software vendors, ongoing adoption can become a self-sustaining process.
By keeping the user constantly in mind and taking a flexible approach that gives each person the right application on the right device, you can unlock the full value of the latest generation of mobile technologies - rather than getting derailed by the same old problems that have bedevilled mobile projects in the past.
Written by Edward Clark, Mobile Solution Architect, AMT Sybex