Magazine Article | May 24, 2012

10 Steps To Successfully Creating A Mobile App For Field Services

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Tom Bullotta, managing director, Acumen Solutions,

Don’t overlook these important steps when navigating your mobile app rollout.

Field services management wants to automate processes away from antiquated paper work orders and invoices to save costs, drive revenue, gain new business insight, and improve the customer experience. Field service technicians need to reduce their administrative time and automate daily tasks. The explosion in mobile technology is unavoidable, especially for organizations with mobile teams. Before you start building your first business app, here are 10 steps to success you should consider:

Define your business goals and supporting mobile strategy up front. Rally stakeholders, and develop an overall mobile strategy for what you want to accomplish. Choose an experienced mobile solutions vendor to help you define your mobile strategy that can also help you through implementation. Define a quantifiable business case tied to business goals that address tangible benefits such as reducing costs via productivity enhancements, new revenue, or improving the customer experience.

Define a mobile use cases and solution road map. Focus initially on core functionality that will deliver a positive user experience and business value. Not all use cases are ideal for mobile app enablement. Make sure the business stakeholders are involved with your IT team and/or mobile solutions vendor to define the mobile use cases.

Perform device selection for your field services organization. Let business and technical requirements drive your device selection. Determine if your device approach is BYOD (bring your own device) or companyor service contractor-defined. BYOD reduces capital expenditures while company-provided generally offers device consistency and more control on device configuration/ support across the entire enterprise. Consider device form factor, OS platform, hardware performance, battery life, ruggedness, and required peripherals. Choose devices that will survive the “mobile platform wars.” Consider coverage, device support, contracts, performance, and service features such as the ability to talk and use data services at the same time on a smartphone.

Determine mobile app platform. Will your app be a native, Web app, or hybrid Web/native app? Consider the performance and usability trade-off. Do you have internal mobile IT standards for your field services organization or company at large? Engage with IT early in the process to see where they stand on mobile technology. The platform decision is also tightly aligned with device selection. Carefully consider new emerging standards like HTML5 when building a native app. Also consider a solution “buy” option. Cloud-based solutions can be customized and delivered fairly quickly while providing a range of mobile options from a laptop offline client to a variety of smartphones.

Focus on usability and user experience for your field services employees. Invest in the proper user interface design and information architecture to develop an app that is intuitive, leverages multitouch gestures for touch-enabled devices, is optimized for the device form factor, and considers platform design standards.

Address integration needs. What real-time integration is required for access to cloud-based SaaS solutions (e.g. CRM [customer relationship management], SCM [supply chain management], ERP[enterprise resource planning]) or legacy systems? Do you need offline capability?

Test, test, test. Thoroughly test the user interface and functionality as well as any integration points. Also be sure to test on actual devices versus simulators, and test in the field to mimic a “day in the life” to test performance and battery life.

Plan the field services deployment. Strongly consider deploying to a limited launch group first, and refine prior to the full deployment. Develop a deployment plan on how users will go live: e.g. regionally, by sales/service channel, etc. Communicate throughout the project.

Remember change management is crucial. Develop comprehensive launch plans with clear tasks and ownership for the go live. Provide training on both the device and application. Consider training first-level managers to train others in turn. Measure adoption and remediate as needed. Define the project success metrics (KPIs [key performance indicators]) well before launch. Gain user feedback postlive and measure performance using defined KPIs.

User help desk support and app maintenance. A tiered support team can assist with device setup questions from the field as well as functional and technical support. Also leverage the first-level management team to provide super-user type support directly to the end users.

Building mobile apps is very new to many field services organizations. With careful planning and execution, the upside is tremendous. The sea change is under way with an explosive growth in mobile computing bringing tremendous opportunity for field services organizations to ride the mobile wave to business success.