Posted on November 17, 2014
Companies with geographically distributed operations face some truly astounding logistical challenges.
These folks, including everyone from suppliers to retailers to shipping companies, usually have to figure out how to juggle a dizzying array of intricately interconnected factors. Employees with many different roles, customers with distinct buying profiles, physical spaces and company vehicles, shipping schedules and promotional calendars and loyalty programs…
It’s no wonder so many businesses turn to software solutions to coordinate their meticulous business processes and keep all of these variables straight. But not all software is created equal, and the right solution for your mobile field service apps can depend on your particular circumstances.
Let’s take a look at three of the most common approaches businesses take to mobile field service apps so we can better understand their advantages and drawbacks.
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1) Legacy software
You can think of this approach as “dancing with the one who brought you.” Many businesses continue to use old-fashioned, centralized database systems, some of which might be old enough to vote. The ostensible advantage here is inertia – you can simply keep going as you’ve gone.
Generally speaking, however, that’s not a solution for maintaining dynamic processes in a dynamic marketplace. As brick-and-mortar businesses face mounting pressure, the most competitive companies are looking for ways to be more efficient than ever. Just keeping up means businesses need to be highly adaptive, responding effectively to new opportunities, buyer trends, and fluctuations in the market. Getting ahead means you need to do all of that better than the competition.
The major weakness of legacy centralized database systems is that they require time-consuming manual transmission and entry of data. And once the data is entered, it’s very slow and often impractical to actually use the information to make decisions on the ground. In a world of real-time analysis and data-driven business strategy, these centralized systems can really slow you down.
2) Generic mobile apps
There are a number of generic solutions available today that are leaps and bounds beyond the centralized systems of yesteryear. Generally, these mobile field services apps will allow employees to leverage mobile devices like phones and tablets to gather information in the field and transmit it instantaneously to distant colleagues or to a database.
It’s a tremendous advantage over older systems that often predate the widespread use of mobile devices. These solutions are typically pretty affordable, too, even for smaller businesses. But there’s a notable downside. Since these apps are designed to accommodate everyone’s business processes, they’re generally not going to align optimally with anyone’s. Except, perhaps, for a very small business with a very simple, very generic process
For larger, more complicated organizations, the consequence here is that you’re not moving nearly as quickly as you could be, operationally speaking. If you’re a retailer, the software likely won’t “know” much about your products, so your folks in the field may have to spend a great deal of time manually entering relevant information into the system. Generic apps may make sense for very small and relatively simple businesses, but they don’t perform ideally for more complex operations.
3) A custom mobile app
A custom mobile app is developed with an innate “understanding” of your business, designed to align precisely with what you do and how you do it. So not only can it know all the relevant information about your products – or buildings, or shipping processes, or employee functions – up front, but how each element interacts.
What does that look like in practice? In a retail setting, a field rep might notice a potential problem with an endcap at one store location. Since a custom app can be designed to integrate rich media seamlessly, they can take a picture of the endcap, tag it with all the essential background information, and send this package of information to their regional manager. The manager can then compare notes instantaneously with other locations, make a decision and communicate it throughout the region, and automatically order new endcaps for the affected stores, with the appropriate shipping data all collected and ready to go.
While the cost of developing a custom app will vary according to the type of app you create, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the increasing efficiency of web technology is making custom development affordable for many medium and even smaller businesses.
While it is certainly an up-front cost, custom solutions for mobile field service apps represent an investment that can help make a company’s business processes more efficient for years to come – not only speeding up your current operations, but analyzing the data you produce over time to find faster and better ways of doing things. For many companies, custom software makes them not only faster, but also more adaptive.
This kind of real-time decision-making and response is what allows businesses to process and leverage information about right now, not days or weeks or hours ago. And this is the kind of responsiveness that characterizes today and tomorrow’s market leaders. Not every business is large or complex enough to compete at this level, but those that are increasingly find custom field service apps a significant value.