|K2fly CEO Brian Miller discusses the evolution of mobile technology IT and key considerations for the successful deployment of mobile field working solutions.|
I first became involved with a successful implementation of a mobile field working solution in 1999 when the technology, the software and the devices were far less reliable and the systems could in no way be described as user-friendly. The mobile device was about as big as an adult shoe with a readable screen only about the size of an average business card. Character-based, green screen messages went across the screen at a very modest pace and it was a bit like receiving a message on a pager – if anyone can still remember those !
However, the supplier and the client were very happy. It felt like a real breakthrough in terms of delivering information to the field worker who previously had received some instructions in the morning briefing in the depot, and then headed off to do whatever jobs he felt like doing from a list which was invariably unachievable. The introduction of the new system brought almost immediate efficiency gains. It also led to greater levels of job satisfaction within the technician community, and there was a climate of more effective decision making taking place. It was a win-win situation for everyone, and let’s not forget we’re talking about a roll out which started in the last millenium !
Nearly two decades later, the world has changed dramatically, and clearly the global acceptance of smart phones has played a part in this. It seems as if everyone over the age of about 12 – and sometimes younger – has access to this technology and expectations have risen dramatically. So against this background, have the rules of how to do successful mobility implementations changed very much ? Perhaps not as much as we might have thought.
Setting The Scene
The implementation of IT systems has always been a risky business. Seasoned business executives will often point at multi-million dollar initiatives which never went “live”. The reasons for these failures are varied of course but often include such elements as: inadequate set of customer specifications, scope creep in the project, unproven software being heavily customised, and poor communication between the supplier, the client IT function and the ultimate business users. Many of the major IT failures have been office-based, desktop implementations of enterprise-wide solutions. So when we talk about delivering successful mobile field working solutions across large geographies to remote staff who won’t necessarily have immediate access to Help Desks and the like, it is obvious that the risks will need to be tightly managed. Sadly, this does not always happen.
Mobile Projects – experience tells us to avoid two simple errors
Based upon exposure to a significant number of mobile implementations, it is clear that one of the biggest barriers to success will be the end users and their attitude towards the project and what it will mean to them. There are some workers who will view the introduction of mobile technology as being “Big Brother” or a “Spy in the Cab”. They might adopt an unhelpful or sceptical approach to the project. I think we saw a lot of this about 10 years ago, but thankfully some of those attitudes have moderated. Nevertheless, it needs to be acknowledged that because the new solution threatens to track the workers or the vehicles, there might be resistance.
This can be further compounded when the choice of the device is made. A material number of significant, high value mobile technology projects have floundered because the IT department or the executive have made a hardware decision which has been opposed by a significant number of end users. Some companies have adopted a “Bring Your Own” or BYO approach which sees the field staff having the corporate software loaded on to their personal or preferred phones and devices. There are some good examples of how this approach has been implemented, but many more where this has led to security issues and additional costs to the enterprise.
The take-home message needs to be that consultation is critical if you want to keep resistance at a manageable level. The end users will need to feel engaged and involved in the process.
The other obvious error is to choose a system or suite of software which only works with one or two proprietary devices, or in one digital environment. The growing trend is towards open technology which means that clients can “future-proof” their investment rather than finding themselves “stranded”. The rate of change in the mobility space is relentless, so you need flexibility. Some major device manufacturers from a decade ago are no longer with us, or are in a much weaker position than they were.
In choosing a software solution, the mandatories should be that it will allow you to capture anything, integrate with anything and work on any device. For a successful implementation, the system should also be offline by default and near-real time when connected. The choice of software should not be based solely on how good a fit is it with the existing business processes. The deployment of a mobile solution is a wonderful opportunity to refine, streamline or even revolutionise how business is conducted in the field. The more “open” the solution the more likely it is to deliver business benefits.
Mobile Projects – everyone wins
When an enterprise rolls out a corporate, desk-top business solution such as an ERP or EAM system, there are often winners and losers. The enterprise hopes to need less people to conduct its business, or less computing power and associated costs, or it gets greater control or visibility of management information. In many cases, the enterprise justifies its IT investment on the basis of a subsequent reduction in headcount. There are normally staff who leave the organisation and these are normally the losers.
However, the deployment of a successful field-based solution can make everyone a winner. Yes, the enterprise gets more accurate and timely data and subsequent decisions are made more effective because of this new source of information. The customers of the enterprise will often experience improved levels of service and responsiveness, so they are happy. But in addition to these two significant groups, the field-based technical staff will also be “winners”. The accuracy and efficiency of their work is likely to improve, and so will their job satisfaction. They are more likely to go the “extra yard” and more likely to buy-in to the corporate messaging. Everyone wins with a successful deployment of a proven mobile field working solution.