Horizontal Wireless Business Applications

In a few years more than 100 million workers will spend the majority of their working life outside the office. Mark Blowers of...

In a few years more than 100 million workers will spend the majority of their working life outside the office. Mark Blowers of the Butler Group explains why businesses need to plan and implement wireless-enabled, horizontal applications if they are to remain competitive.

Mobile technology is still in its infancy, but that is no reason to be complacent and wait for the wireless environment and standards to mature. Your competitors are no doubt already looking at the benefits that utilising mobile devices can bring, not only for employees, but also for customers.

With the launch of General Packet Radio System (GPRS) services by the major network operators underway, now is the time to start planning your mobile applications. Organisations need to look beyond the hype of the mobile Internet and find ways of exploiting the undoubted potential that the wireless medium offers.

There are a number of key factors driving the utilisation of mobile business applications. By the addition of an instant means of communication, mobile devices will further enhance the efficiency of the back-office systems, such as Enterprise Resource Planning and Supply Chain Management Systems. As mobile devices become more common, new models of doing business will evolve, building on the anywhere and anytime strengths of the wireless media.

The reliance of many of today's workforce on e-mail is making wireless messaging one of the key applications. The technology becoming available has enabled the ability to combine messages of different media, such as text, voice, and video. There is a move away from the keyboard as the main input source for messaging as many of the mobile devices currently in use and planned for the future do not possess the means for
"For information to become knowledge, it must be available when and where the employee requires it"
Mark Blowers
"easy text" input.

The key to successful messaging in the future will be the ability to get any type of message to individuals, regardless of where they are and the kind of device they are using. Unified Messaging (UM) applications provide a singe access point for voice, e-mail, fax, instant messages, or video messages.

The combination of these different types of message into a familiar e-mail repository format means that there is no need to provide training in the use of UM services. Both consumers and staff will be able to manage messages as if they were e-mail. Employee productivity is increased, while improving communications between customers and the workforce. UM also provides mobile professionals with more flexibility and better efficiency both in the office and on the road.

Informing customers
There have recently been a number of innovative applications announced that utilise simple SMS technology. A number of application providers have developed the SMS infrastructure to allow organisations to send information to their customers' mobile phones.

The use of SMS for more and more innovative applications is causing a subtle shift in mobile communications from voice to data, even though wireless technology is still in its infancy and, as yet, does not adequately support data transmission.

However, SMS should not be seen purely as an interim messaging solution, providing a welcome revenue stream, but as an application that can be used to attract consumers to services, and also to keep employees up-to-date with the latest, critical, company information.

The mobile environment provides an opportunity for companies to communicate with customers on a one-to-one basis, via the wireless channel which offers global "24x7, 360 degree" coverage.

Mobile office functionality also allows employees to turn their mobile device into a business tool. The mobile professional needs to be kept up-to-date, all the time, while out of the office. Their requirements, apart from e-mail, enterprise system, and information access, include a number of personal information management tools including: corporate dashboard, calendar, contact information, connectivity/Synchronisation, word processing, spreadsheet, local database, and presentation software.

This functionality can either reside on the client device, for example, as with the Nokia 9210 communicator, or the applications could be accessed from the enterprise servers when required.

Ultimately, the goal is for remote workers to have access to mobile office facilities with the same speed, transparency, and security as provided for their office-based colleagues utilising the corporate local area network.

Moveable offices
Wireless appliances will enable sales representatives immediate access to Sales Force Automation (SFA), CRM, and field servicing capabilities while out of the office. Wireless connectivity will allow many other enterprise applications, such as in supply chain integration, procurement, job allocation, scheduling, and telemetry, to be revolutionised.

Another application where mobile functionality can add value is in the area of Field Force Automation. To-date, this has been one of the most popular uses for a mobile device within the enterprise. Eventually, mobile access will affect the whole way the organisation operates, making it more adaptable and responsive.

Wireless technology is starting to be used in the CRM arena by both established CRM application vendors along with newer mobile platform developer start-ups. Enhancing CRM functionality to include wireless access enables enterprises to offer their customers additional avenues for contacting the company and automatically obtaining services without recourse to organisation representatives. Wireless CRM provides the following benefits:
  • An improved customer support operation is possible by allowing multiple contact channels for the consumer looking for additional information or further assistance.

  • By providing access to information from mobile appliances, an organisation is capable of better responding to a customers requirements and problems.

  • Furthermore, enabling wireless communications allows clients to update their own information, and avail themselves of self-service applications via their mobile phones and PDAs.·

  • The opportunity to offer location-based marketing, targeted at a specific individual, presents itself with the wireless enabling of CRM systems. These emerging applications will be able to utilise previous buying patterns, align this with the location of the user, and transmit marketing information to the mobile device.

  • Mobile access enables the development and maintenance of strong relationships with customers.

Keeping in touch with sales
It is imperative for every sales representative, regardless of industry, to be in continuous communication with the administrative centre, and the various support systems, while out of the office. This access to the latest information improves productivity, allows real-time reservation of stock, and the immediate instigation of the shipping process. Shortening of the time taken for business procedures can lead to significant return on investment.

The use of wireless SFA technology by a company can open up a number of opportunities for sales professionals to improve administration of customer accounts, superior information retrieval leading to enhanced sales prospects, and better customer satisfaction while at client premises. Wireless SFA can benefit the selling process in the following ways:
  • Finding new customers with the incorporation in SFA systems of search tools for the Internet.

  • Improved information sharing amongst the sales force, along with the ability to quickly reference all aspects of company information, such as contact details, e-mail, meeting notes, and maps.

  • Closing the deal at one customer meeting. By the provision of up-to-date information from the company with instant communication of latest stock levels and delivery times, along with product sales data and customer credit limits.

  • Plus interactive customisation of terms and conditions, and updating of records while still at the customer's site, by utilising dynamic access to corporate systems.

  • Provision of alerts and automation. SFA can drive the sales process by automating recurring tasks and exception reporting.

  • Allowing e-mail to be annotated with diagrams, voice notes, and pictures, while still out of the office.

  • Functionality, allowing real-time presentations for displaying and demonstrating products.

  • Online time and expense billing.

Designing for mobile access
The special characteristics of mobile devices means that there is a need to tailor the information to take into account the small screen size and limited processing capabilities. When accessing information, search engines are required to bring back only relevant information, and data pushed out to the user should be personalised, to ensure that only details specifically requested by the user reaches them. Access to corporate databases should be as seamless as possible, with a common interface for each of the possible devices that an employee can use.

Advertising will need to be provided as a service, and only sent when requested by the user. The trick will be to disguise marketing as content. Wireless devices offer an opportunity for marketing campaigns that aim at users consistent with who they are, where they are, the type of device they are using at the time, and their requirements at that particular moment.

An extension of mobile advertising is wireless couponing. A big disadvantage of paper coupons is that people forget to take the vouchers along with them. This is where the mobile phone can be utilised to provide an ideal medium for providing discount for products about to expire, such as unsold seats to the theatre or free tables at a restaurant.

This concept is simple and can utilise SMS technology, so is available to nearly all current mobile phone users. Ideally, in the future it should be location-based, so that only those people in the neighbourhood are sent a coupon.

Wireless connectivity will allow employees and customers to be kept appraised of events which they have specified as being important enough for them to be notified of, wherever they are and at anytime of the day. The concept of exception reporting and alerts is not new, and has been used by companies for a number of years.

Innovative mobile services will be based on alert-driven content that is of high worth and significance to the user. These event-triggered applications should be user-focused and technology independent. They should be accessible by the current majority of SMS-enabled GSM phones, and cater for WAP and the various operating systems employed by the many PDAs on the market.

Knowledge to go
Having access to information and applications does not automatically mean that the workforce can utilise these assets to leverage corporate advantage. Before information is transformed into valuable knowledge, companies need to focus on a number of important issues:

  • Data identified as key should be organised and highlighted for reuse.·

  • Information needs to be pooled and disseminated to those who require it, where they need it.

  • Acquired information needs to be reformatted in order to provide added value.

  • The required information needs to be easily accessible, regardless of the whereabouts of the employee.

The requirement for sophisticated information has led companies to invest in numerous systems, such as information retrieval, document management, management information systems and data mining. These applications are assisting organisations to make sense of today's data overload, and present the information to desk-bound employees.

Unfortunately, they are currently not capable of catering for the complex needs of an increasingly mobile workforce. For information to become knowledge, it must be available when and where the employee requires it. Owing to the constraints of the mobile device, it is also more important to a mobile worker that the information is filtered and that it can be accessed regardless of where it resides.

The workforce on the move needs the power of the existing corporate systems combined with wireless applications designed specifically for the mobile environment.

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