When smartphones first hit the market, they were primarily a consumer phenomenon. They allowed people to play games, watch videos, listen to their favorite music and browse the web – all in a device that fitted in the palm of their hand. Smartphones were cool – and they still are – but they are now moving beyond the realm of consumer technology to radically transform the way that companies do business.
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Of course, we all know that mobile advertising and social media have changed the way that companies market their products and services – that is no surprise, although it is still a relatively new phenomenon. However, smartphones are now penetrating much deeper into businesses – changing the way that companies work, delivering completely new operational capabilities, and transforming the way that employees communicate.
One good example of this is collaboration. When smartphone technology is combined with the cloud, it delivers completely new ways for employees to share information. Documents can be shared from the desktop or mobile using services such as Google Drive or Dropbox, and then instantly accessed by other mobile workers. In fact, thanks to the integration of Google Docs with Google Drive, mobile employees in different locations can now work on the same document at the same time, allowing information to be shared instantly. The result is a quantum leap in productivity, particularly when those users are consultants, outside sales forces and business executives.
Similar types of collaboration, however, are also making their way into a wide range of other field applications. For example, Walt Disney is using the latest smartphone technology to empower workers in its vast amusement parks. They use mobile videoconferencing to connect contractors, architects and engineers, accelerating the pace with which they can resolve issues. Disney also provides mobile access to construction documentation – including direct 3-D rendering directly on the mobile device.
Benetton are another example of how smartphone technology can be applied in innovative ways. With a presence in more than 120 countries, one of the key challenges they faced was distributing new garment samples and bulky paper catalogs to their global outside sales force – which is responsible for striking supply agreements with retailers. They replaced their cumbersome existing system with high-quality electronic catalogs on smartphones and tablets so that staff could show new garments to retailers – without having to wait for new samples to arrive. These electronic catalogs can be updated instantly from anywhere in the world – so that new designs get to potential customers more quickly and far more economically.
The work of field engineering forces has also been transformed by smartphone technology. Rather than maintaining inefficient paper records that need to be processed back in the office, they can now keep track of time and activities in the field using mobile devices, which then upload the data automatically to central servers – where it can be used for everything from keeping track of timesheets through to billing customers. Not only that, location-based services allow utilities, city maintenance departments and telecommunications companies to track exactly where their workers are at any given time, allowing them to optimize their schedules and even respond in real time to urgent situations – for example, flooding from a broken fire hydrant or reports of downed power cables. Workers also have instant access to site maps, schematics and technical documentation, allowing them to resolve issues more quickly once they do arrive.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact of this on business. For example, Ward Trucking – a US transportation and logistics company – implemented a mobile workforce management and route optimization system to replace their antiquated dispatch systems. This allowed them to keep track of vehicle locations in real time, and automatically readjust schedules and assignments to minimize the distance that their vehicles had to travel. As a result, the company reduced driver idle time and data entry effort – and saved $1.5 million in annual fuel costs. And, they’re not alone – for example, JS Logistics managed to double their business while reducing their dispatch staff by 50%. Another example is Roto-Rooter, which managed to lower the effort required to close out a plumbing job from 20 minutes to 90 seconds using mobile workforce technology.
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It’s important to remember that the smartphone revolution is only starting from a business perspective. Companies have the opportunity to take many of their processes and streamline them using these existing approaches and new ones not yet imagined. Areas such as approvals, inventory information for sales, and a multitude of healthcare applications all spring to mind as fertile ground for further innovation.