Thursday, 29 December 2011

(Mobile) Telephone Thing

We have all succumbed to the lure of the Smartphone, so have your staff. iPhones, Androids, Winphone7’s, tablets  and Crackberry’s. Are there benefits to equipping your staff to have their housing systems on their phone or mobile device? Will staff work harder or customers receive enhanced service? Will you save money overall? Like any project all of this needs to be run into a solid business case for you.

There are three main modes of mobile to look at, solutions that require an ever present connection to the internet, those that can operate ‘off-line’, effectively caching information and having the ability to catch up later. Finally solutions that do not need an internet connection at all, like ‘Snap Survey’. Here my interest is in the first two.

Mobile devices by their nature only offer limited screen display real-estate. Therefore the expectation that a mobile version of a system or its modules may give access to all the functions of the full size product, is clearly unreasonable.
The majority of organisations these days utilise Citrix or Terminal Services to provide thin client connectivity. Often home workers can use a PC to access the main systems and file system folders they are authorised to via CAG (Citric Access Gateway) or similar, via Internet Explorer, Firefox or other browser. It is missing a trick to not consider using the larger tablets or even an iPad to allow access to the main system where a good internet connection is available.  Some RSL’s in my experience that are lucky enough to have scheme built properties, are adding WiFi points expressly for this purpose.

One large organisation I am aware of, has rolled out a few hundred iPads to its staff, using this principle and seen higher productivity (more visits fitted in each week), lower mileage claims (as staff are needing less to drive back to the office to type up notes or CRM calls) and increasing customer satisfaction (as issues can be escalated, repairs logged, ASB incidents recorded etc on the main system straight away).

One other benefit of using iPads in this way, is that it’s a closed environment. Therefore easier to control what apps go on, reducing queries back to the organisation IT team. With any mobile solution however, there needs to be rules drawn up as to what acceptable usage is. Possibly your organisation’s data policy already covers these issues for your employees.

The second type of mobile applications are often tied to particular devices or device operating systems. Microsoft embedded (or windows mobile 5.x, 6.x as it used to be known) is a popular choice of platform. Software developers like it as it’s a vanilla starting point and a single app can reasonably run on a variety of hardware.

The web is full of pie charts telling you that windows mobile market share is minimal and dwindling. This is not the story however outside domestic markets. Next time your groceries or a UPS package is delivered, your meter is read etc, ask to see what type of device o/s is in use. Chances are it will be windows mobile. Android is currently too specific to manufacturer or device, limiting what useful business strength apps are available on what is at present the cheapest devices. This might change however, when the Nokia/Microsoft partnership gets into full swing. We will see.

One big danger is the speed at which devices are brought out and become discontinued, particularly in the business world. Vodafone, O2, Orange etc are often unable or unwilling to supply adequate ranges of business devices as volume is so small. Buying devices direct from Motorola or HTC can allow deals where an organisation can have assurance that (for a price), failures over a set period (two or three years in some cases) will be replaced, no questions asked. Follow the old adage, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

Enjoy your Telephone Thing.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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