Creating an efficient enterprise through mobility

30 Oct 2003

A recent Forrester report opened with the bold statement “The mobile enterprise apps market has stalled.” Although the report, entitled Choosing the Right Mobile Enterprise Application, goes on to say that there is hope in the market it also makes the point that application vendors need a solutions-orientated approach to trigger demand.

With the decreasing cost of mobile technology such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones in the late Nineties, software vendors such as Oracle started to sell mobile application suites. These enabled employees to access customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems from mobile devices, be it a phone, PDA or kiosk with the data transmitted through voice, SMS or a browser-based interface.

But, according to the report, even when firms have invested in such enterprise applications they have failed to employ mobile applications.

Why? One reason the report cites is that mobile applications such as mobile asset management does not necessarily improve assets. Many groups with complex assets such as BT Group or Air France suffer from low return on assets. So, when mobile workers are able to look up and enter asset and maintenance information on the spot, the benefits will only be as good as the firm’s ability to act on the information.

This view is echoed by Paraic Kennedy, sales manager at Oracle: “People often think that when you bolt on technology it will be a panacea for all ills, they then become disillusioned when it doesn’t help them.”

Kennedy stresses that “a mobile enterprise solution needs to be integrated with what the rest of the organisation is doing. So, for example, on one of our clients — Scottish Water — we had to re-engineer the whole customer service side because the call centre was not linked to the agents in the field so the call centre didn’t know the schedule of the agents.”

Before choosing a mobile enterprise vendor there are a few considerations to make note of. The Forrester report stresses that firms need to consider how well integrated their ERP and CRM systems are, and that companies who use several vendors for these systems are best served by technology that is based on an open standard such as J2ME.

It’s also important to have wide-ranging device support as part of a mobile application solution because few companies use all the same type of PDAs. A mobile enterprise application should be able to display data in the optimal format for each mobile device.

Oracle has a strong history in the area of mobile enterprise applications. For example, it was the first vendor to produce a PDA version of mobile CRM in 1998. Kennedy also says that Oracle’s strength in mobile enterprise offerings lies in its ability to offer a holistic approach. “We have a strong suite of application and device management as well as workflow and database systems,” he adds.

Kennedy says that some of the most interesting solutions the company has put together have been with partners.

Oracle partnered with SX3 for a project with Glasgow city council to manage building maintenance work. SX3 developed the front end application and dealt with the integration into backend systems while Oracle provided the mobile enterprise technology.

“The results for Glasgow city council were quite dramatic,” says Kennedy. “Typically, inspection of the building to see what work needed doing was taking three days per week and two days were needed to fill in all the captured information on to paper-based forms. We supplied the inspectors with PDAs and integrated the information captured on them into a workflow system with the result that they were able to spend an extra day in the field.”

Similarly when Oracle enabled the Dutch police to enter information at the scene of a crime, rather than back at the office, it not only improved the quality of information that was being entered but enabled police to spend more time in the field.

But it’s important to match mobile applications to business contexts. If your company is manufacturing based and shop floor operatives need to enter timely work instructions then this should be integrated into the supply chain solution. But if your team consists of a mobile sale team then it needs simple, lightweight mobile apps running off laptops, PDAs or mobiles.

And at an even more fundamental level it’s worth asking what exactly a company needs. “Businesses should look very carefully at the kind of access to information people should have in their organisations and assess whether this can be improved for certain key categories of people, including customers and supplier, by deploying mobile devices,” says Kennedy. “The ultimate assessment criteria is that it should add value to the organisation through efficiency or productivity gains and ultimately it should lead to an improved level of customer service. It should really augment what you are doing and it should mobile enable what is already there rather than being a stand-alone piece of technology.”

As for the future, Kennedy sees a lot of consolidation in the mobile enterprise industry. “I believe that large vendors will get better and will be able to offer a more complete service, which will mean that niche vendors that only offer one element of mobile enterprise applications will find it more difficult,” he says.

Pictured: Paraic Kennedy, sales manager at Oracle