Friday, October 02, 2009

Mobile Workflows and ERPs

As mobile applications become more complex and sophisticated and used by large enterprises there will be an increasing emphasis and requirement for automated mobile workflows and supported ERP business processes. I wrote about mobile application support for ERPs in this article, but today I want to focus on the automated workflow on the mobile handheld computer, Tablet PC or laptop that is used in the field. ERP business processes and automated workflows have been supported within the four walls of the enterprise for decades, but they often don't extend outside the four walls to the remote jobsite and/or mobile sales and service processes. That is a big problem that needs to be addressed by mobile application vendors.

Let's begin by recognizing that it is often the service technician that is face-to-face with your customers. They are the face and personality of the service company. The actions they take, the words they say, the professionalism they display and the quality of work they perform all impact the customer's perception of your company and their willingness to continue to do business with and refer your business to others. Since the activities that happen in these remote and mobile jobsite environments can have such a big impact on your business, wouldn't it be important that you ensure the best quality work and presentation of your company? This is where automated workflows on your mobile devices comes into effect.

Let me now outline a process that you may want to consider when designing a mobile application for use in the field.

  1. Outline the tasks and actions you want each service technician to perform at the customers location. Examples - Greet customer by name, give business card, thank them for their business, ask about animals or children that my be in the work area, interview the customer about the problem, understand the customer's schedule, understand how the customer will pay, is there a warranty or service plan, provide estimate, complete work, get customer's signature, etc.
  2. Once all of the "best practices" tasks are identified for a generic service call, complete the same process for the other kinds of service calls you may have. For example: a warranty process has 11 tasks, an annual maintenance call has 16 tasks, an emergency system repair for HVAC equipment has 19 tasks.

Once you have identified and documented these tasks, your mobile application developers can design and develop these workflows to become part of your mobile application. Once in production, these mobile applications can direct and guide each service technician through the specific best practices that the company wants completed in a standardized manner in the field. As a result, quality and professionalism can be standardized into the company's customer interactions.

What does this process look like on a mobile handheld computer?

  1. The workflow processes should be a layer in the mobile application that is tied to a specific set of screens that go with the workflow. If the mobile application has multiple workflows, then the first step is for the service technician, or the service ticket itself, to identify which automated workflow is most appropriate for the needed service. This then launches the appropriate process/workflow on the mobile device.
  2. If the automated workflow consists of 17 steps/tasks, then this workflow will dictate that mobile form fields including check boxes, radio buttons and data fields are completed in the right order and with valid data entries.
  3. If the service technician skips a step an alert sound or pop-up message should guide the service technician to finish the process and continue it in the appropriate manner.
  4. Automated scorecards can also be created to monitor the performance of service technicians to the standards and detail any exceptions to the process so they can be analyzed for process improvements over time.
  5. Brief customer surveys can also be provided for the mobile handheld computer to tie the customer's opinion of the service provided with the exact service order and service technician. It is great to reward the service technician for work well done.

The mobile workflow process is specific to the role of the user and service performed. A recent report I read said up to 40% of workers are mobile. That represents a lot of remote jobsites and customer interactions. If companies want to ensure a high level of professionalism and quality customer interactions, then means of standardizing those processes need to be employed. As more and more of these mobile workers are equipped with Smart Phones and mobile handheld computers, these processes become easier to deploy.

For a related article read - http://mobileenterprisestrategies.blogspot.com/2009/10/mobile-application-integration-platform.html

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please contact me. I am available for SAP and Mobile Solution related consulting and permanent hire opportunities. My Linkedin profile can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinbenedict.

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Author Kevin Benedict
Mobile Computing, SAP, EDI and B2B Evangelist, Marketing and Business Development Consultant
http://b2b-bpo.blogspot.com/
http://mobileenterprisestrategies.blogspot.com/
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