Mobile business: Data where you need it, when you need it

Mobility is becoming an essential part of modern business life. Rod Newing looks at how finance managers have incorporated it into their operations.

Business people have always been on the move and mobile applications predate both cellular networks and mass adoption of the internet. Mobile technology continues to develop rapidly and industry analyst IDC forecasts that by 2015 there will be 1.3bn mobile worker worldwide, 37% of the total workforce.

Mobility is closely linked with the equally rapid adoption of cloud technology, which removes many data handling and synchronisation problems.

Mobile working isn’t just accessing electronic mail on a smartphone, it is having secure, uninterrupted access to all the data you need, from any location at any time. This means being able to communicate using mobile; email; text; instant messaging; and audio-, video- and web-conferencing. It also means accessing calendars, files, news, knowledge resources, social networks and reports to support decision-making.

Most of all, mobile working means being able to access core business processes so employees can be more efficient, effective and productive on the move. It also allows them to be closer to customers; more responsive, able to make better decisions, saving travel costs and improving their work/life balance.

With just two staff in the office and five on the road seeing customers, Think Drinks found that poor communication was limiting its ambitions for growth and its desire to respond as quickly and effectively as possible to their customers. The company implemented a combined solution from Vodafone and Microsoft to give each employee easy, instant access to crucial client information through familiar desktop applications. All done via the cloud from any device as they went about their business.

The arrangement means customers get a more responsive service, with the right person and the right information just one call away. It is allowing everyone in Think Drinks to work together more effectively wherever they are and is encouraging a new collaborative atmosphere. “It is encouraging people to work differently and organise themselves better, making us a more productive business,” says John Collins, project manager at Think Drinks.

Market Intelligence Services, a subsidiary of the Processed Vegetable Growers Association, has historically recorded a twice weekly snapshots of retail prices at the major supermarkets, convenience stores and discounters around the country. This required compiling and posting questionnaires for field-based agents, faxing them back and typing them into a spreadsheet. The process was cumbersome and time consuming, and customers were asking for much more information than prices, and wanted it more quickly.

A mobile system from Anglia Business Solutions allows more data to be collected continuously and published for clients. The time and cost required to handle the data has been greatly reduced and accuracy increased by eliminating transcription errors. The Microsoft Dynamics solution has enabled personnel to focus on enhancing client service, improved staff morale and made the firm more environmentally friendly.

“This solution has provided us with a significant commercial advantage in our chosen market.,” says David Tebbutt, the company’s Business Development Manager. “It enables us to offer a much improved and more comprehensive service to both new and existing subscribers.”

The same principles can apply to management reports and wider business data.

Bridgestone Australia, a subsidiary of the global tyre manufacturer, adopted Nokia Lumia 800 handsets to improve its responsiveness. With smartphones replacing their previously diverse collection of handsets, the company’s 1,500 employees in Australia and New Zealand can now access Microsoft Office applications along with services via the internet. With this improved access to key business information in the cloud, productivity is rising, support costs are falling and staff are more responsive and in control of work matters.

“Staff already know how to use the core applications, so there is no relearning,” says Scott Baxter, Group IT Manager at Bridgestone Australia. “We are getting a much better response rate from staff after hours or between meetings. Staff are also saving a lot of time.”

Shinola, a US design and manufacturing company went even further by adopting tablets. With operations in Detroit and an office in Dallas, it had three desktop computers, a laptop and 10 thin-client terminals. It needed a solution that would give it mobility, a competitive edge and could demonstrate its product line to potential buyers. “We wanted to be able to connect to our business, our people and our customers at any time and from any location,” says Andy Olsen, Planning Manager at Shinola.

The company worked with eMazzanti Technologies to introduce tablets that connect to the production order database and inventory spreadsheets. Olivier De Boel, Plant Manager at Shinola, uses the built-in cameras to send photographs of product components to suppliers.

“I can connect to the plant cameras and view the business activity from anywhere,” he says. “I use that functionality from home all the time.”

De Boel uses his tablet for work about 60% of the time, giving him a 30% increase in productivity.

“Mobility is a great feature because we can access whatever we need from anywhere,” he says. “We can use the full functionality of our productivity tools anytime. It has the power and familiarity of a desktop and support for enterprise-level capabilities, which gives us a competitive advantage.”

 

To find out more visit the Microsoft Dynamics website.

Comments

Access to Office Applications on Smartphones & Tablets    1 thanks

gsgordon | | Permalink

Apps that claim to provide Office Applications on smartphones and tablets seem to be rather limited. This is especially true for Excel.

I've tried most Apps, especially those with the best reviews, plus Google Drive's Sheet and Excel on Skydrive. The functionality is very limited.

For example, I was trying to find a neat way to make a pricing spreadsheet available to resellers - nothing to do with accountancy, I know!

This was developed in Excel, and can be used in Skydrive and converted to Google Drive with little problem - provided I'm doing it on a Windows PC!

Things like drop-down lists work fine on my PC but fail miserably when I open the spreadsheet on an Android phone or a Nexus tablet, i.e. they have disappeared!

Other Android Office Apps fail in the same way.

There seems to be generally poor functionality on Android. I could find no admission of this from Google about its Drive applications. When you read about its capabilities, there is no warning that its very different on PC and Android. Surely they should tell you up front that what works on a PC is likely to fail on Android - and ditto for Microsoft.

I've thought about trying to embed a live spreadsheet on a web-page, but it would be a big learning task and I'm not sure it would work.

If anyone knows better, or can point me at a solution, please let me know.

I wonder if it's any better on an iThing, or a Windows phone or tablet?

Mobile technologies still emerging

Noel Moriarty | | Permalink

Both applications vendors and users need to recognise not only the trend towards mobile, but start to do much more to embrace it and the effects it will bring in work patterns, communications, business relationships and everything we do.  

As is noted in the comments above, many software products are ill suited to the mobile format in their current incarnations, and software vendors need to do much more to offer even the basics of functionality in a usable form, let alone address issues like security and data integration.

Whilst it is usually the case that the technology leads the way - it's the technological capability that leads to business leaders recognising the art of the possible - the technology needs to get itself into usable shape to enable the capability to become properly recognised.

That said, client companies also need to think through what the implications are for their staff and how they can be infinitely more productive.  Given that over 70% of SMEs don't even have a mobile optimised website, even if they do recognise that their website needs to be an awful lot more than an online brochure for their products and services, there is a long way to go to get mobile technology properly embedded into the business.

 

Update!

gsgordon | | Permalink

Drop-down lists now work with Excel on Onedrive (new name for Skydrive) - since November 2013 I think.

A great improvement!