Magazine Article | August 17, 2012

Expand Mobile Value Proposition With Customer Service Focus

By Brian Albright, Business Solutions Magazine

New mobile platforms, HTML5 will help VARs take mobility apps to the next level.

Line-of-business mobile applications in the enterprise have typically been internally focused. Field service, warehouse management, logistics, and other traditional mobility projects are aimed at improving efficiency and productivity while increasing accuracy and cutting costs. But that is starting to change, as companies look for ways to expand their solutions for more outward-facing benefits. “What we are seeing now is that companies want to use their workforce to mobilize customer loyalty and customer intimacy and to drive an interaction between mobile workers who come into contact with customers,” says Girish Rishi, corporate VP and general manager at Motorola Solutions.

In other words, when customers in a retail setting, for instance, encounter employees stocking shelves and ask them for help finding a product, the employees can use mobile technology to provide assistance rather than looking for a manager — or walking off to find the information. “We know anecdotally that customers in that situation often walk away,” Rishi says. “Shoppers have many options, and wherever they get the best, fastest response is where they are going to go.”

That extends to field service applications as well. Mobile technology that goes beyond handling the work order and actually allows technicians to check inventory, contact other technicians to drop off necessary parts, and even upsell warranties or service packages to customers will improve loyalty and drive new revenues. VARs should be ready to offer that type of wide-ranging functionality in their mobility offerings.

Device Proliferation Presents App Development Challenge

New operating systems (like Android) and new mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.) have helped enable these customer-facing applications, but have also complicated device selection. That has left some resellers struggling to keep up with all of the new platforms.

“For any channel partner, it’s like being on three or four different treadmills to maintain applications for Windows, Android, and iOS,” Rishi says. “You have to have software engineers writing apps for all of those modalities, and that is extremely difficult. It drives up the cost of operations.”

So Rishi sees significant promise in the adoption of HTML5, which will allow browser-based applications to run on any platform. Many of the major software vendors in the field service space are already moving in this direction. “If you use an application framework that is truly HTML5-based and has all of the extensions you want for bar code scanning, data capture, image capture, and Wi-Fi, then you can write once and run on a plethora of devices,” he says.

In some cases, end users have deployed consumer-style smartphones or tablets for field service or delivery applications. While this approach is appropriate in some environments, Rishi still sees enterprise customers focusing on durability. VARs should make the case that even though they are more expensive initially, rugged mobile devices can provide an overall lower total cost of ownership through less downtime and fewer replacement costs.

“Customers want to leverage their investment for as long as possible,” Rishi says. “They’re looking for at least three years of service, the right level of manageability and security, an accessory profile with that device, the ability to lock the application down when necessary — and those are all long-term sticking points and differentiators. Managers may use an iPad or iPhone, but the larger pool of mobile workers is best leveraged by mobility solutions that can be sustained for a period of time in the high throughput and repeatable environment that they operate in.”

Applications Go Global

Moving forward, Rishi says that the move to browserbased applications is expanding the market for resellers, particularly as online app marketplaces gain acceptance. “If your application is available in some kind of marketplace, then it is easily accessible globally. Someone in Venezuela can download it and run it,” Rishi says. “These platforms give you scaling opportunities like you never had before.”