Monday, September 10, 2012

Mobile Workforce, Enterprise Mobility and Mobile Workflows

Figure1 - MADP
I work with and teach mobile strategies to a lot of large utility companies around the world.  Over the past few years I have been hearing a similar concern from these companies.  They have an aging workforce, and many of their most experienced experts are nearing retirement age.  They are very concerned with losing the institutional knowledge these workers have gained through their many years on the job.  This wisdom is in their heads but rarely documented.

It seems to me one solution would be to start developing "mobile workflows" junior technicians could access and use.  These "mobile workflows" could be developed by experienced experts for the use of more junior service technicians.  These "mobile workflows" could be integrated into mobile applications by way of dispatched service tickets/work orders.

Figure 2 - Mobile Workflow
What I am proposing is a layer in mobile applications that includes "mobile workflows."  These mobile workflows will clearly instruct the service technician as to the necessary "steps" involved in successfully and efficiently completing a job.

The MADP (mobile application development platform) would have a "mobile workflow" configurator in the RAD (rapid application development) component (see figure 1).  You would be able to associate specific tasks in your mobile workflow (see figure 2) with fields in your mobile client application.

What is the value?  The junior technician receives his/her next assigned work order and it comes attached with a configured mobile workflow.  They review it to understand exactly what needs to be done.  Let me provide an example.  A service technician receives a work order to maintain an escalator in a busy store during the Christmas shopping season.  The mobile workflow identifies the necessary tasks associated with this job.
  1. Schedule the escalator maintenance with the store.
  2. Make sure the store security is notified and aware of the time and date of the work.
  3. Make sure you have job site access instructions.
  4. Make sure you know where you should park your vehicle.
  5. Set-up the mandated type of safety barrier.
  6. Set-up the mandated type of warning signs.
  7. Turn-off the escalator and lock it.
  8. Bring the right tools -  identify the right tools.
  9. Bring the right specialized equipment.
  10. Bring the right equipment manuals.
  11. Photograph the job site and safety measures.
  12. etc.
These steps are made up from the accumulated knowledge of your most experienced company experts.  These mobile workflows can be integrated into a mobile workflow layer in your mobile application client.  Again, each step in the mobile workflow could be associated with a field in the mobile client application.

We all know these kinds of workflows exist in our ERPs.  I have found myself filling in numerous web based forms lately and can see there are obvious workflows built into the process.  So I asked myself, "Why haven't we done the same thing for mobile applications?"  

When I was the CEO of a mobile application company, we showed our clients how we could customize workflows in a mobile application.  In field A, if your answer is "YES", it jumps to form 17, if your answer is "NO", then it jumps to form 4.  This was a workflow configured into a mobile application.  I suggest a step beyond that.  I propose the "mobile workflow" be assigned to the work order/job, rather than the mobile application.  I propose that if a service technician receives six different work orders per day, each unique work order includes a unique mobile workflow specific to the particular tasks required.

I wrote an article earlier this year, and then discussed it with Israel Beniaminy (see this mobile expert video) on the topic of "mobility will ultimately go away."  What did we mean?  We suggested that mobility will soon become a commodity.  It will no longer be something novel.  All applications will be mobile.  So how would a mobile software vendor differentiate themselves?  I propose by developing additional layers of functionality in the mobile applications, including mobile workflows.

What do you think?  Is this a good idea?

Kevin Benedict, Mobile Industry Analyst and Mobile Strategy Consultant
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Join the Strategic Enterprise Mobility Linkedin Group
Full Disclosure: I am a mobility analyst, consultant and blogger. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.