Going “mobile” has been a growing trend for a few years now. As the number of consumers using smart phones has grown, so has the demand for mobile-ready Web sites and applications. Most major consumer-facing companies are currently accessible on a smart phone.
Until recently all that businesses expected to accomplish with mobile phones was to provide “a quick and easy way for consumers to access their product,” says Patrick Emmons, co-founder of Adage Technologies (http://www.adagetechnologies.com/). “But as the smart phone industry continues to evolve, many business leaders are expanding their mobile operations beyond consumer purposes.”
Emmons adds: “We are now seeing a wave of businesses utilizing mobile programs within their own workplace. With many employees either provided with or owning a smart phone, ‘business mobile’ programs can save management both time and money. Just as consumers no longer have to be at a computer to complete their everyday tasks, neither do employees have to be at desks to get the job done.”
Communication With Field
These applications can be especially beneficial for businesses that require communication with field operations. A tanker-truck driver, for example, may be able to access a customized program to track the tank’s capacity, amount of product left and next drop-off points. In the office, another employee can access that same program to note the status of deliveries and let buyers know when to expect an arrival.
As the smart phone increasingly becomes their main tool for both communication and organization, businesses need to find a way to adapt beyond just accessing the company e-mail. Not only can a mobile application increase efficiencies, but it also can keep employees happy, allowing them to tap into work programs when it’s convenient for them, even when they’re out of the office.
Which Application Is Right?
So is a mobile application right for a particular company?
The first step to finding out is to determine exactly what the application would be needed to do. While smart phones are more advanced than ever, they aren’t meant to run full versions of common laptop or desktop applications. So the question business leaders must ask themselves is “What process are we trying to mobilize?”
The key to creating an efficient mobile application is making sure it does exactly what users need it to do, and not much else. An app shouldn't look like a mobile Web site. Too much functionality becomes slow and confusing.
If someone is creating a mobile app for a home assessor, for example, it might include a list of homes to visit for the day, contact information and a map or directions to the site. That would provide a quick, easy interface for field assessors to access while on the move. Keeping it simple allows for an enjoyable user experience, meaning employees are more likely to make use of the mobile program’s advantages.
Ease of Use Is Top Priority
A time in the future may come when more functions are possible, but ease of use should still be the main concern. Just as computer users once were impatient with dial-up or DSL Internet service, so will mobile users be when they are waiting for complex pages to load.
Once the company has finalized the application functions, the next challenge will be deciding which mobile platforms to develop for. The iPhone, Android and Blackberry smart phones all require separate programming, and developing for them all can become very costly. This has been a major challenge for businesses looking to reach a wide variety of consumers.
But with a “business mobile” application, a company has the advantage of controlling what devices employees use. For companies that already provide phones, a mobile application can become very cost-effective, as development is necessary for only one platform. For those who may need development for multiple devices, the decision comes down to the budget. Web-based applications offer a cheaper solution, since they are accessible through mobile browsers, but they may be slower and less efficient.
“Mobile applications,” Emmons says, “are still in their early stages, but figure to grow in both functionality and popularity over the next few years. Businesses looking for a better way to increase productivity in the field should discuss their options with a developer now.”