Connecting The Dots: Extending Business Automation to Mobile

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The Mobile Opportunity

Every enterprise today is eager to seize the opportunities offered by smartphones and tablets to maximize the productivity of an increasingly mobile and distributed workforce.

Consumer-focused mobile apps have shown the potential to use built-in features such as touch interfaces, cameras and voice recognition to collect and present information in novel and appealing ways. The dynamic and responsive design of such applications offers glimpses of the potential for innovative approaches to automation and collaboration.

But despite the inspiration they provide, such consumer apps are an inadequate template for enterprises hoping to unlock value from mobile platforms.

In an enterprise context, what really matters is being connected – to colleagues, processes and data. Any improvements in user experience gained through the device itself are of limited business impact if they remain isolated. Only by improving the timeliness of business response, through greater real-time access to information and outcomes, does the concept of mobility bring new benefits.

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Making mobile work for the enterprise

Organizations tend to greet each new wave of technology with a separate set of tools and techniques. Over time, many islands of automation have grown up, leading to disjointed processes with poor continuity and elevated risks. Every one of these gaps in automation is a source of delay, error and lack of oversight.

Mobile applications should not become yet another silo of unsynchronized activity. The rising proliferation of mobile devices adds new gaps in oversight as workers adopt unseen and unsanctioned workarounds when they’re out of the office.

Success with enterprise mobile apps begins by seeing mobility as an extension to the existing workflow and information infrastructure. Rather than simply creating applications that run on mobile devices, we can connect these outbound workers with all their usual information and processes wherever they are. We can then harness other features of the platform to reengineer unsatisfactory processes or create entirely new paths to business value.

In this paper, you will learn how enterprises have rapidly and easily deployed connected mobile apps to achieve these three distinct goals:

  • Extend existing processes to mobile so that individuals and teams can succeed in
    ‘working better, together’.
  • Re-engineer paper-based processes to create more efficient and timely digital
    alternatives that deliver ‘results here and now’.
  • Unlock previously unachievable business outcomes with processes that can ‘show,
    tell and grow’.

The examples that follow in this document provide a template for seizing the opportunity offered by mobility – even in the typical case where limited resources and skills are available for the creation and deployment of new applications.

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Working better, together

In the enterprise, nothing moves without generating or accessing data. It’s part of the fabric of how your organization executes. A ‘mobile first’ strategy that isn’t plugged into enterprise data and the processes that govern it won’t produce useful results.

Connecting into existing corporate applications gives mobile workers instant access to the information necessary to perform their roles – wherever they happen to be at that moment. This is much more than simply porting existing applications unchanged to a mobile platform, however. The presentation and interaction model has to adapt both to the device and to the context and location in which it is being used. The challenge is therefore to create apps that extend processes and data into the mobile environment in a contextually appropriate way.

At Modern Office Methods, an office copier sales and service provider based in Cincinnati, Ohio, rolling out a connected mobile app helped improve collaboration between field service and sales teams. Created in just a few weeks, the mobile app replaced a haphazard process using e-mails or paper forms to forward sales leads discovered by field technicians attending customer sites. Using the new app, the technicians simply enter the identity number of the unit they’re servicing and a description of the opportunity. The rest of the application runs instantly in the cloud. It uses the equipment ID to find the customer account number in the ERP system before automatically creating a to-do task and an alert in the relevant sales rep’s Salesforce.com account. Finally, it records the ‘tip’ in a Google spreadsheet for later tracking of progress and metrics. This joined-up process means that technicians can now follow what’s happening with any of their tip leads on their mobile phone – and this feedback mechanism has encouraged more frequent participation in the program. An unexpected benefit has been greater collaboration between sales and service teams, with technicians now acting as proactive ‘customer service ambassadors’ when on service calls and alerting their sales colleagues if they sense any dissatisfaction.

When people stay connected to the shared enterprise data and processes that link them with their colleagues, they can work productively as part of a team even when they’re out of the office or away from their desk. Ensuring mobile access to routine processes and data enhances productivity and teamwork within an organization.

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Results here and now

Many enterprise processes are slow or prone to interruptions because documents and messages don’t pass efficiently from one person or transaction to the next. Individual software applications automate parts of the process within a specific department or operation, but transferring the resulting data or action to the next step in the process often depends on manual stopgaps and workarounds.

Applying mobile and cloud technologies together provides a new way to bridge those gaps without the unwieldy disruption and cost of traditional integration and process management tools. Instead of leaving people waiting for long-winded paper-based processes to complete, mobile devices can simply capture and transmit information that instantly connects to the processes of the organization.

RATP Group, the state-owned public transport operator for Paris and its suburbs, slashed response times when it rolled out a mobile incident reporting app across 30 bus routes. Line managers used their Android smartphones to capture and file reports on anything from a vandalized bus stop or fresh graffiti to faulty passenger information displays or defective entry systems for staff restrooms. Previously, most reports were sent by filling out a paper form, which was submitted when the line manager returned to base. The paper forms were often delayed or went astray; more urgent reports were made by phone or email but the free form structure of such messages sometimes meant that essential information was inadvertently omitted. With the new connected mobile application, it takes inspectors less than a minute to file complete incident reports from their phones, including a photo of the problem. The control office allocates the job on receipt and maintenance teams can look up the photo and details online at any time to make sure they have the right parts when setting out for the incident. The result is faster repairs and improved service quality for passengers.

Moving from paper and other analog media to digital allows for much faster – and more contextualized – capture of information, increasing accuracy and efficiency while simultaneously simplifying and enhancing user experience.

The collected data is then easy to analyze for patterns and insights. After introducing new connected processes, many enterprises find it is the first time they have had such detailed oversight of how these business processes are performing, and can monitor and identify areas for improvement.

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Show, tell , grow

Today’s smart mobile devices incorporate a range of digital capabilities that can inspire fresh thinking about how to present and collect information and actions.

Mobile users aren’t usually in a position to type in large amounts of data so the application must use the features of the device to collect it in other ways. Often this results in a much richer dataset, using capabilities such as geo-location, photography, video, voice recognition, touch interface and the always-on connectivity to cloud services.

Developers must think about the user’s context when they’re in the application and use the built-in resources of the device and the data it connects to in order to present more targeted and relevant data and actions.

TruGreen LandCare – one of the top three commercial landscape and lawn services companies in the US – used Android tablets coupled with mobile app functionality to create new business value from reports filed by its audit field team. This team completes quality audits of work carried out by the company at customer sites. Following a daily schedule organized by the mobile app – with Google Maps integration for route planning – the auditors complete an extensive report for each visit, measuring the quality of key criteria. Photos taken with the tablet are uploaded to the cloud in combination with the report. The photos may include additional services and sales opportunities they find during their audit. The completed report is sent to the quality management and operations teams, as well as to the pertinent sales manager. Outlying audit results – both exceptionally high or low – automatically trigger an alert for action by operations and sale teams. Leads for additional work opportunities are followed up by sales managers. Use of the mobile application, which was developed and delivered in 8 weeks, has helped TruGreen increase both sales and customer satisfaction.

Imaginative use of connected mobile devices can open up entirely new opportunities to rethink processes and create previously unachievable new business value. Being able to easily communicate with pictures, video and audio emphasizes the break with outdated paper-based processes and truly brings mobile applications into the digital age.

By using rapid development capabilities, applications can be quickly deployed, tested and refined through an iterative series of revisions – helping to discover the most effective combination of functions and processes with minimal delay and expense.

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Going mobile

The common ingredient in each of the examples presented in this paper is the RunMyProcess platform. This platform delivers mobile apps that easily connect to the enterprise IT fabric via the cloud. Deploying from the cloud makes it possible to introduce automation in a rapid, non-intrusive way, ensuring that new capabilities work alongside existing routines and applications.

Extending data and processes to mobile helps outbound workers become more productive. By making use of all the rich functionality of today’s smart mobile devices, we open up new opportunities to extend and re-engineer processes in order to deliver a much simpler, more valuable and contextually sensitive user experience.

For developers, the RunMyProcess platform delivers these mobile capabilities in an application development environment that lets them focus on process enhancement:

  • A drag-and-drop visual designer gives developers a canvas for building the application workflow in exactly the same way they would design a conventional Web app. The platform automatically generates mobile-ready HTML5 code.
  • All the native features of the mobile device are available to HTML5 applications through the native RunMyApp shell, including rendering adjusted to each device and support for offline operation.
  • Using a single HTML5 version of the application on all clients eliminates the complexity of a heterogeneous mobile device environment and simplifies mobile device management for security and governance.
  • The RunMyProcess environment handles security and access rights, including the option of authentication to the mobile device – once users have unlocked the device with their passcode or other mechanism, they don’t then have to go through another login to launch the application.
  • The cloud-based RunMyProcess infrastructure takes care of connecting to mobile devices wherever they are and keeps pace with the ongoing evolution of new mobile clients.

The rapid, adaptable design and deployment model allows enterprises to roll out mobile applications without having to invest in expensive mobile technology development and infrastructure resources. Being able to create and deploy fully connected apps within a matter of days or weeks encourages users to attack the new business opportunities identified in this paper and to carry on refining and evolving the automation to ensure it provides the best fit for the delivery of their business goals.

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Connecting the dots

The world today is going mobile; the number of mobile devices in active use will soon exceed the world’s population. Wherever people meet to do business, they expect information and resources to be available in the palm of their hand. Automation has to extend to every location: at customer premises, on the production floor, in the retail showroom, at conventions or out on the road.

To equip their employees, partners and customers for this new, mobile-enabled way of doing business, enterprises are under pressure to rapidly introduce mobility to all their operations. But the consumer focus of the first wave of mobile developer tools leaves them ill-equipped to connect into enterprise data and processes. This creates a significant risk that all these mobile devices will become scattered, insular dots of unsynchronized data and management complexity.

Enterprises have often had to ‘make do’ with many gaps in operational automation because there’s never been an easy, cost-effective alternative to manual workarounds. Many frustrating last-mile gaps exist in the connections between individual teams, applications and systems, as discussed in our companion white paper, Bridging the Last Mile of Business Automation.

With the right approach to mobility, we not only get fresh impetus in fixing known ‘breakpoints’ between islands of automation but also find additional opportunities to unlock new business value by extending automation beyond the walls of the office and out to mobile.

Context-sensitive and fully connected mobile applications can simplify the tasks of outbound workers and ensure that they are collaborating on the same enterprise data and processes as their colleagues and other contacts – enhancing teamwork, promoting consistency and delivering better oversight.

While the benefits of connected mobility are immense, it is highly challenging to achieve them by reusing the capital, resource and skills intensive approaches of the past.

By harnessing a ready-built cloud platform to deliver rapid results, however, it’s possible to roll out a connected mobile strategy without wasting scarce resources wrestling with the underlying technologies required to enable mobility.

The enterprise can then focus on the true benefits that an appropriate and connected approach to mobility will deliver: building and connecting the automation required to streamline operations, enhance customer experience and optimize sales.

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