While organizations are assessing where the ROI lies for mobile applications, here’s a thought: What’s the ROI of creating smarter mobile executives and employees without bringing them into traditional classroom settings? Let’s explore the simple task of making people smarter and also enabling them to make more decisions on their own.
Start with improving skills and professional development. Calculate the benefits of field technicians, salespeople and professional services staffs raising their skills a level or two. How much does this and the resulting career advancement increase employee retention? By how much do you increase productivity, problem resolution, sales and customer satisfaction? On the flipside, how much do you save by not bringing these mobile folks into one or two locations for this training?
Mobile devices and laptops are so powerful they can deliver a range of training and development materials, including those delivered as audio files. Most PDAs and smartphones are able to play MP3 files.
Now downtime, commute time and other gaps in the workday can be filled with self-improvement time. The trick is to be creative in formatting material to be effective when presented in short bursts (three- to five-minute segments) so people can blend it into travel time and the natural breaks in their work routine.
Likewise, look to video delivery of content that enhances executives’ and workers’ skills. Everyone is so fascinated with putting TV shows on mobile devices, for which there may or may not be a market, but what about more practical content such as e-learning? Here, too, you have to use the right form and format that meshes with the work styles and environments of your employees.
Do They Know Their Three C’s?
Another ROI driver is increasing employees’ knowledge of company, competitors and customers. How quickly does information about your company change or get updated? Stock price, product developments, regulations, media coverage, etc. In your industry, do competitors frequently rise and fall, release new products or launch new marketing campaigns every month? What about customers? Do their needs, interests and trends within their markets change as frequently as Madonna’s image?
There’s one constant with the three C’s—change. Keeping mobile workers current with these changes is a challenge, but when mastered has strong positive results. The more instant updates you deliver to mobile workers, the better they capitalize on sales opportunities, business deals or a competitor’s slip in the market. They’re also less likely to be caught by surprise in meetings and on service calls.
Strategize about how to turn those mobile devices you’ve deployed into intelligence outposts. Whether you use e-mail, data push, instant messaging, mobile blogs, news update services or other means, determine how to aggregate, assess, put into context and deliver information immediately to those who can use it.
Another part of your mobile ROI in this area comes from giving mobile workers the ability to make more decisions in the field. If you spend money and time pushing content out to make these workers more knowledgeable, let them use their knowledge to make more decisions since they can do so in the timeliest fashion. If a service rep at a customer site can see the entire purchase, repair and operations history of the equipment, have them schedule future service, do preventative maintenance, order parts, sell new products and prepare, print and present the invoice. Those who upgrade their management skills with distance learning should be using their wireless access to information to increase the application of those skills.
Bottom line—deploy applications that make your mobile workforce smarter, and allow them to make more decisions from the field.
Teaching the Moving Target
Mobile worker islands are in the stream of evolving e-learning technologies.
A little more than a year ago, a group of researchers at Rutgers University huddled together and wrote a scientific paper describing the concept of “digital fountains,” a technology approach that basically allows for the rapid distribution of large amounts of information to large numbers of people. Truth be told, however, years earlier, another group of researchers from a different university published a similar paper and talked about the same act of getting massive amounts of data out to a targeted audience. Since that time, we have seen the evolution of the Internet, the development of a whole galaxy of very capable wireless and mobile devices and the introduction and proliferation of Internet-based “Weblogs” and mobile-centric “mobilogs.” A company was also formed about five years ago, not coincidentally called Digital Fountain, which has transformed a lot of earlier academic concepts into product reality.
The fact is that as more mobile workers are pushed out into the field, or at least away from their desks for a while, there is a growing need for solutions that can channel a variety of content out to highly targeted audiences. In the business world, this content can be product information streamed out to customers on their mobile devices, or multimedia-rich e-learning and training programs directed at remote workers and tens of thousands of salespeople working in a global pharmaceutical company.
IBM has been dabbling in the area of e-learning technologies and virtual training for some time, investigating such related areas as games- and simulation-based learning environments. Included in this effort are projects that focus on traditional applications-based simulations and role-based simulations.
Some of the more interesting stuff, though, involves “enabled learning” projects that apply channel information and knowledge to where a person is at the time and what they may be doing. Suddenly, the information-casting effort becomes highly unique to each individual, allowing companies to use new mobile devices and intuitive learning environments as training or knowledge portals.
IBM’s director of e-learning, James Sharpe, points to a number of factors driving the demand for smart and mobile learning environments, which can be used for everything from corporate training to getting out the latest corporate memo. In healthcare, for example, the motivating factors might be a greater demand for compliance training and due diligence in light of increasing regulations and rules. In generic business, the driver might be the need for more certification and assessment training so that mobile workers are more accountable for their actions and activities.
Of course, to accomplish the task of rapidly dispensing potentially massive amounts of information, you need a great deal of specialized software pumping away in the background. This is where Digital Fountain comes in. The company develops and licenses the advanced forward error correction technology necessary to enhance the quality of communications over a data network and improve the multimedia delivery. Cellular handset maker Nokia is one of the first to license the company’s DF Raptor technology, says a spokesman for the California firm. First users and adopters include Hollywood production studios (using it, for example, to transfer video between Iceland and Los Angeles during “The Lord of the Rings” filming) and the U.S. military.
But, one of the real opportunities for the technology lies in e-learning and the business market, especially as a way to get content out to a widespread mobile audience. The challenge is to convince the world that the Digital Fountain technology approach is a lot better than the bandwidth-hungry “unicast” methods now used by a lot of mobile content channelers. Then, there is the task of convincing the hundreds of millions of cell phone and wireless device users in business that there are other uses for these devices than just voice and e-mail communications.
Founder and Chief Analyst