Mobile Business Apps Still Need The Right Mobile Device Mobile Business App Usage In The Field

Mobile Business Apps Still Need The Right Mobile Device Mobile Business App Usage In The Field
By Bob Ashenbrenner, Xplore Technologies

“I love it when a plan comes together.” That famous quote from the A-Team’s character Hannibal Smith is how we feel after seeing this recent Canvas poll confirming that the most popular use cases for mobile business apps are:

-Conducting inspections
-Filling out work orders
-Compiling checklists
-Conducting surveys
We’ve been supporting these workflows with purpose-built mobile devices for years, focusing on making the work quicker, easier and more accurate. So these 1,600 decision makers across the construction and contracting, field services, retail and distribution, healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics industries, as well as government, did not necessarily give us “new” news. After all, Xplore’s core customer base for the past 15+ years has been engrained in these very industries, and one of our foremost goals has been to support these specific workflows in the mobile environment.

But what these survey findings did do, very clearly I might add, is validate our business and the greater purpose of rugged mobile devices – and specifically rugged tablet PCs – in these specific verticals.

Think about it? When was the last time you *comfortably* filled out a checklist of more than a few items on your mobile device using your finger alone? It’s doable, sure. But it’s not fast, nor efficient. The data input boxes are small; your fingers probably not so much. A digital pen would certainly help, making the experience more conducive to the pen and paper input methods that these apps replicate.

Or what about trying to manually input a barcode number without a scanner? Making sure you don’t miss a single digit to avoid having to start over. Sure, you could carry a separate scanner to address that issue. Many workers have done that in the past. But that only creates a new challenge: Requiring workers to occupy their hands with yet another device. Not very mobile-friendly in my opinion. And camera-based scanners are good, but not good enough for productive work. Large, clear and close barcodes can be read about 90% of the time, a far cry from dedicated scanners that regularly read barcodes that are not that close, are damaged, or small.

Now, think about how these two specific data input/use case challenges could hinder job speed and productivity for a utility field service worker or a police officer, for example. One can only imagine the potential consequences of not being able to complete an inspection report fast enough, access and update a patient’s data, or run a background check that could reduce not only operational efficiency, but more importantly public safety or customer satisfaction.

Of course, some argue that’s why a laptop or notebook is a more viable choice for mobile data input. Just mount one in the vehicle and you have a “mobile” office from which you can access your most critical workflows, right? Absolutely not. Have you ever tried to take a picture while standing with your laptop outside? Not happening. And adding a camera or a barcode scanner alone to a laptop or even smartphone just makes those devices even less accommodating in mobile environment – such as in a forklift or on top of a high-rise in the middle of downtown.

Not having an all-in-one mobile solution limits not only what workers can do when away from the vehicle, but how quickly they can do them.

Plus, in this same survey, Canvas found that one-third of enterprises used more than five mobile business applications last year. Want to guess which features these mobile business apps required most often ?

Image capture
Electronic signature
Workflow management
GPS location
Considering that these verticals are not just extending a single workflow from the office to the mobile environment, a slate tablet form factor is the only way an organization can create the entire mobile computing experience needed for them to achieve a fully functioning workforce, no matter where the job site may be.

I’m not being biased because of who I work for either. It is very difficult to argue a single counterpoint to tablets’ advantages for rugged mobile workflows. Rugged doesn’t have to mean off-road, “down in the dirt” rural job sites either. Doctors and nurses working in hospitals need the protection and stability of purpose-built mobile devices and they can’t afford to have downtime for any reason – especially when updating and accessing patient records could mean life or death. That’s why so many of these industries are finally understanding why they have to look beyond BYOD.

Even beyond the aforementioned data input advantages that tablet PCs present in the field, they are really the only computing solution that can seamlessly transition – without variance in processing power or workflow completion capabilities – from the office, into the vehicle and then the field. Rugged tablets are even better, giving users the exact same data input and access experience whether the tablet is in their hands while standing 20 feet underground, sitting in their truck’s dashboard mount or docked on their desk in the office. No slowing down to capture, share or access data. That, in my opinion, is the top benefit of having the right mobile device for the job – especially in a rugged enterprise environment.

Key takeaway: A mobile app (or workflow) is only as good as the device delivering it. Just as serving soup on a plate or trying to hammer in a nail with a screwdriver don’t make sense, trying to increase worker productivity by simply dropping a business app on any “mobile” smartphone or laptop does not make it the right mobile workflow solution. In fact, doing so would only defeat the purpose of the mobile investment (app or device) and send you back to square one soon enough. If you’re going to spend the money on an app, why not make sure it’s primed to reach its full potential from the start?