Compliance and legislation puts an ever-increasing burden of accountability on organisations, whether it is for the benefit of financial regulations, health and safety or, more frequently today, for evaluating customer service, writes David Perry, director at Cognito.
IT has played a significant role in helping companies meet their accountability obligations by making the process of recording, storing and then accessing critical information highly efficient. However, with the proliferation of mobile devices, new sources of data are becoming available to the business, recording more detail of the day-to-day operations of field workers.
As these devices and supporting mobile applications exist outside the corporate firewall, and are often operated by non-technical personnel they are much harder to control.
For mobile applications to work properly, they are dependent on the reliability of mobile networks, which are still not as reliable as their proven fixed-line counterparts. Mobile workers must cope with the often patchy network coverage of a mobile operator. This means it is important to build in mechanisms to manage workers' actions and safety when they are offline.
Giving mobile workers the equivalent level of technical support to office workers also isn't always feasible as problems that require remote management cannot be reliably addressed over the air. In the worst case, problems can only really be dealt with if the worker returns to base, disrupting the working day and playing havoc with a worker's productivity.
In addition to connectivity, another problem with mobility is basic usability. Businesses often bring in mobile solutions to replace paper-based systems such as forms, which are frequently subject to human error such as a missed entry or illegible handwriting. However, these businesses then find workers will struggle to use the small screen and often awkward user interface of mobile devices, which in turn offsets any of the intended benefits of disposing of a paper-based system.
The overarching challenge is that delivering improved business performance through mobile IT requires the specialist knowledge of integrating mobile devices and applications with back office IT systems. However, in a recent Cognito survey, 44% of IT departments said they lacked such expertise. This inexperience is not surprising given the fact that mobile integrated applications that go beyond push email, calendar and contacts or even access to a single application are still in their infancy.
Knowing all this makes little difference to the irate customer who has been waiting all day for a package with no reasonable explanation as to why. Hence in order to achieve true mobility, IT departments should consider looking outside their four walls for help. For example, instead of building or managing a mobile application and the hardware it resides on, it might be more viable to work with a managed provider that can remove the burden of this activity
Instead of attempting to make a back-office application such as an ordering system fit on a mobile device as-is, there's also greater value in designing the application to take advantage of features such as a touch screen, GPS, camera or barcode reader. These should all be adapted to the existing business processes or 'workflow' of field staff.
Since performing such an integration and customisation, private car hire firm Addison Lee can now allocate 98% of its jobs automatically, removing the risk of human error, and has reduced complaints and pick-up errors to less than 1% of all jobs, all of which is fully auditable in the case of customer query or complaint. Similarly, it is this scale of 'auditability' that has led courier company DX Group to implement a system designed with the express purpose of improving customer satisfaction.
Implementing mobility to improve business performance and accountability is all well and good. However, if you don't fully understand both the capabilities and limitations of the technology, dotting the Is, crossing the Ts and ticking the boxes becomes a painful task.