When global logistics company DHL was looking for an app developer to help their third-party subcontractors, they turned to UK-based Mubaloo. The resulting app led to a faster payment cycle for carriers, improved visibility for DHL, which increased its Latin American presence in 2013, and its customers, reduced administrative overhead for DHL, faster reaction to unforeseen circumstances and accurate CO2 emmissions(environmental accountability)reporting for subcontractor loads.
Mobile-apps-for-business are emerging as part of the back-end business environment in supply chain, logistics, human resources and other areas. According to Datamark, Burrus Research recently surveyed over 700 companies and found that just four percent had developed mobile apps to address these processes. The potential is there, however, with Datamark reporting that 100 percent of the respondents believed that in the next two years at least half of the businesses in their industry would have mobile apps for their business functions.
Dave Wolf, Advisory Managing Director: Technology Enablement at KPMG LLP, said that as digital experiences are becoming entrenched in our lives at home, the expectation that incredible mobile apps can change the way we live is becoming the norm at work as well. “We want our businesses to do for us at work what our apps do for us at home, which is to solve our greatest needs right at the moment we need them most,” he said. It is this increasing digital demand that is driving the mobile-apps-for-business trend.
“With continuous computing, if you are working on an email, or in an app, when you get to your tablet or PC, you’ll be able to continue exactly where you left off, without having to open a program and specific documents.”
Senior executives and decision-makers at companies see the potential of mobile and that it can be used to deliver efficiencies and competitive advantages within their organization, according to Matt Hunt, business development manager at mobile app developer, Apadmi. He pointed to business communication tools provider Mitel, which has offices in Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico, as an example of best practice in the business apps space.
“Here at Apadmi we’ve been developing enterprise apps for a number of years, yet we envisage 2014 as the tipping point of mainstream adoption due to a number of key enablers,” Hunt said, explaining that these include increased employee expectations, advanced adopted device management systems and enterprise-specific handsets such as the Samsung KNOX.
Mubaloo CEO Mark Mason added that employees have been key to driving the move to mobile-apps-for-business. “Savvy employees have been bringing their own devices into the workplace (BYOD), as they have experienced the benefits in their personal lives of using apps,” he said. “Increasingly, they don’t want to have to email colleagues to be sent documents or information, they want to be able to access it from their devices. If the tools to do this aren’t available from the company, they will find third party apps to fulfill the purpose.”
He cautioned, though, that without proper governance policies in place regarding which apps corporate data is stored on, employees are inadvertently putting corporate data at risk. Mason said: “Where once mobility was driven from the top down, now it is being driven from the top, bottom, middle and sideways from employees, customers, the channel and other areas.”
Within this context, purpose-built mobile apps make sense. There are a number of benefits to using them. Hunt said that one of the benefits is competitive advantage.
“Being the first to use mobile and so getting ahead of the competition is always going to be of interest in the business world,” he said.
The ability of mobile-for-business apps to deliver efficiencies is also important. “Why waste time to get a laptop out? Why go back to your desk? Why wait for someone to get into the office?” Hunt asked. Mobile apps solve those issues.
For Wolf the appeal lies in the ability of mobile apps to solve small problems extremely well. “This focus lets people get solutions fast, simply and exactly the way they expect them solved without needing to weed through a lot of things they don’t need,” he said.
The approach to app development is evolving as the technology changes. Hunt explained that in the past many organizations had the idea that mobile is easy, and went ahead with app development without real thought or planning. “Sometimes the end result turns out ok or simply gets thrown away, but at worst it can actually damage their reputation,” he said.
He added that traditionally, businesses attempted to replicate a ‘PC system’ on their mobile, creating a mobile system that tried to do everything the PC system should do. Hunt explained: “The view was that mobile was easy, solutions were defined by the company, requirements were signed off and then the app was built—with the organization only seeing the solution at the very end. Consequently, little effort was made to consider usability.”
That is changing as companies realize the need for specialist expertise to develop apps that truly meet their needs. “Organizations recognize that they need help from mobile experts to set their mobility strategy, support the requirements definition process, raise the priority of usability and the overall user experience, support flexibility in the project, effectively handle change requests and provide visibility on progress throughout,” Hunt said.
This kind of app development is about more than technology, though. Wolf noted that the businesses adopting mobile apps have spent decades working to optimize their supply chain, enhance their workforce productivity and empower their sales organizations to improve performance. “Over the last five to 10 years these organizations have invested in platforms, products and mobility to make these able to deliver on enterprise enablement to bring about major transformations to their business,” he said.
Wolf emphasized that these investments combined with new approaches to research, design and delivery learned in the consumer space are making a huge impact on how enterprises deliver.
“Lessons include understanding that your workforce is your customer, and that the best way to transform the way your workforce delivers is to treat them like a customer, with a focus on understanding their needs, their motivations and why they work the way they work,” he said. “This acceptance that people matter, and that by understanding your workforce’s behaviors you can motivate them to change the way they work and deliver to make serious business impacts.”
He cited the example of an industry-leading HVAC company, which recently worked with the KPMG Digital and Mobile Solutions team to create a guided selling tablet application for their distributer sales force to drive increased revenues and margins through that channel.
“Where once mobility was driven from the top down, now it is being driven from the top, bottom, middle and sideways…”
“Starting with riding along with the distributors, learning about their journey through the sales process, as well as how their customers experienced buying their products, the team created a mobile guided selling application to help transform the customer experience and help the distributors close more business,” he said.
Wolf explained that the application guides the distributor through learning about the family and their home, automatically selecting optimal configurations of product that are available and work together, and creating a rich and immersive sales presentation and proposal that the family could learn about right at their kitchen table. “The end result drove distributor close rates to double within the first year, delivering almost four times the margin increase expected—and in under a year,” he said.
One of the consequences of this app trend is that, in many industries, employees are able to spend less time in front of a traditional computer, according to Mason. He added that rather than having to input information on a computer, their devices can capture information while they are working, cutting down on the number of times they have to repeat data entry.
Going forward Mason said that wearables will be a big trend; in the majority of cases, matched to smartphones or tablets, helping to extend the usability. “This means that employees will be able to get the information they need and decide whether to take action,” he said.
Mason added that continuous computing will also play a role in how the mobile-apps-for-business trend evolves. “Over the past few years, the cloud has meant that if you go into a document or some software, the data will be updated across all devices,” he said. “With continuous computing, if you are working on an email, or in an app, when you get to your tablet or PC, you’ll be able to continue exactly where you left off, without having to open a program and specific documents