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Contributed Article 10/23/06

Mobile Applications: Simple Solutions Can Pay Off Big

By Diane Hong, Vice President of Marketing, mFoundry

These days, it seems you can’t turn a page in the business press without reading a headline about mobility. Whether its news about carriers, reviews of new devices or some other aspect of the industry, mobile is definitely front and center. Most readers of Mobile Enterprise are keenly aware of the mobile revolution underway in business, and many of you are at forward-thinking companies planning to build mobility into your processes and products. With all the attention now being paid to mobility, though, even businesses that may not generally be early-adopters of new technology are starting to think about how mobility can help them. Leaders at these enterprises have a sense that mobility is growing in importance, and they are open to the potential benefits. Unfortunately, incorporating it into a business can seem daunting, both technically and financially. The good news is it does not have to be either.

For businesses that are put off by the potential costs or complexity of increased mobility, there are some good options. One is to focus initial efforts on small changes that can repay the required investment fairly quickly. These kinds of cost-effective projects can work in areas that might not be obvious at first. For example, my company, mFoundry, recently developed a mobile application for one of the largest commercial cleaning companies in the U.S., Coverall. A commercial cleaner might not jump out as the kind of business you would expect to be on the cutting edge of mobile technology. But by focusing on generating cost-savings and making processes more efficient, it developed and implemented a remarkably successful mobile strategy. The Coverall case is a nice example of a simple solution producing great results, and it is well worth a look.

Coverall is an industry leader among commercial cleaners. It has over 8,000 franchisees serving more than 40,000 customers. With any franchisor, one of the keys to success is making sure franchisees are delivering quality and consistency up to company standards. To monitor franchisee performance, Coverall employs inspectors who go to jobsites and franchise locations to conduct inspections. The inspectors relied on a paper system to make their reports. They filled out forms that then had to be faxed or delivered back to headquarters, where staff would key in the results. Coverall thought there might be a better way, using mobile technology, and it was right.

The Coverall solution turned out to be remarkably straightforward. mFoundry developed a mobile application that simply replaced the paper system. The application contains all of the familiar inspection report fields, but instead of filling out a paper form, inspectors now just input the data directly into their mobile devices. That data is sent directly to headquarters in electronic form, bypassing the additional entry-keying step. The total investment required to implement the new system was well under six figures. So far, it has resulted in savings to Coverall of more than half a million dollars a year in worker-hours and materials. That’s the kind of ROI that will make any IT manager smile.

The Coverall example shows how even relatively modest moves to mobilize business processes can yield big results, especially if they are specifically targeted to gain efficiencies. Any business or organization that generates field reports using repetitive forms could probably follow Coverall’s lead and enjoy similar savings. Every enterprise should have people thinking about these and other ways that a small investment in mobile could work to produce quick, quantifiable results. Also, as with many changes that can make an enterprise run better, mobilizing can have unanticipated benefits as well. Coverall, for instance, found that having real-time data about customer issues allowed it to address these issues immediately, rather than in hours or days. This new quick response ability has boosted customer satisfaction and retention, a nice bonus.

Even if your enterprise is not quite ready to build out its own dedicated mobile systems, you could be looking at ways to leverage the systems that others have built for you. If you think about it, most enterprises are already on the road toward mobility. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and many of your personnel already have those devices in hand. Dozens of companies have developed applications for those devices, and they stand ready to help your efforts, while requiring little or no upfront investment. The usefulness of some of these applications is readily apparent. Mapping and direction apps, for example, may already be on the devices of your employees.

Your employees may also be using mobile applications in ways that you might not have thought about—ways that could really pay off if they were widely implemented. We came across an example like that recently. A manager for a major air cargo company needed to track his company’s daily flights in and out of his station. The company provided software and data access for doing this, but it required employees to be in their offices and signed onto a secure network. This manager discovered he could download a simple mobile application to his Palm Treo that would allow him to track real-time flight data provided by FlyteComm. FlyteSource Mobile is available through most carriers for a small monthly subscription fee. With the application, what used to take him nearly an hour a day to do now takes a few minutes, and he saves 165 hours a year. Imagine how much cargo and airline managers are in the same position, and you get a sense of how much savings a simple solution like this could generate for the industry.

No doubt there are many more examples of enterprising employees using mobility to do their jobs better. If your company is thinking about mobile, ask your front-line people what they already do with their devices and what else they think might work. You may find that mobility is already working for you in ways that could easily be more widely implemented. Or, you might figure out that a small and relatively inexpensive switch from paper to mobile could generate outsized returns. And that really is the bottom line here. Implementing a mobile strategy for your enterprise does not always require a big investment in expensive technology or require fundamental changes to the way you do business. Sometimes just adding a single mobile application to your existing devices is all you need to get things started. With mobility, simple solutions can pay off big.

Diane is currently vice president of marketing at mFoundry. She has worked in both client and agency positions for leading brands such as Toyota, Intel and Visa. Prior to mFoundry, she was advertising director for Mitsubishi Motors North America, where she was responsible for advertising, promotions, and direct and online marketing. At Mitsubishi, she managed a $270 million budget. Diane has also worked at top agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather and Euro RSCG.

*This is a contributed article and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of Mobile Enterprise magazine.

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