From The Editor | October 30, 2017

Taking A DIY Approach To Mobile Application Development

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
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Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Mobile Application Development

Titan Machinery owns and operates a network of full-service agriculture and construction equipment dealerships. The company has more than 2,500 employees working from nearly 120 locations across the United States and Europe. After a lengthy ERP upgrade initiative, Titan was looking for a simple way to extend mobile capabilities to its 335 field service technicians.

“After five years of working with consultants to complete our ERP project, we wanted to take a DIY approach for our mobile solution,” says Rick Keller, director of business applications at Titan. Here Rick shares with us his experience building out Titan’s mobile applications himself and offers some perspective on whether or not you should consider doing the same.

Field Technologies: Can you summarize the main reasons Titan decided to take a DIY approach versus utilizing your ERP’s mobile technology, or a stand-alone field service software solution?

Keller: After five years of building an ERP system, we were tired of paying consultants and wanted to find something we can handle internally and build and manage ourselves. We wanted to take a DIY approach because of not only the costs but the ability to quickly adapt to changes that may be identified during the pilot process and during the overall use of the app. Things often change and the ability to make these changes in a quick and cost effect manner was important.

Field Technologies: You chose a “micro app” platform from Capriza to build out the mobile functionality you needed. Can you explain what a micro app is, and why it was a good fit for Titan’s goals?

Keller: Micro apps are simple, mobilized workflows of our business applications’ functions. For instance, we have a time tracking function on our ERP system, so we leveraged Capriza’s platform to build a specific Tech Timeclock micro app. Because accurate tracking of technicians’ time impacts revenue, our Tech Timeclock app helped ensure real-time hours tracking and more accurate invoicing for service work.

To run our business more efficiently and effectively, we saw mobility as a key part of our digital transformation. Our goal was to enable speed and access to corporate information anywhere and anytime. We wanted to mobilize tasks for our expanding workforce of field technicians so that they could increase productivity and improve accuracy out in the field. We needed to make sure the mobile apps were simple and easy to use so that our field workers would actually utilize them, so micro apps were ideal because they are built for one specific function. I felt that if we didn’t roll out mobile apps that were simple, then we didn’t do our job.

Field Technologies: I think some people would be hesitant to take a DIY approach unless they have significant IT expertise and/or resources. How much IT expertise was needed from Titan to develop these apps?

Keller: We didn’t need any IT expertise to create micro apps on Capriza’s platform, which was ideal for us. My colleague and I were responsible for creating the micro apps and neither of us have a technical background, yet with Capriza’s platform we had the ability to build the apps entirely ourselves. Capriza’s platform isn’t geared towards IT users, it’s actually better for business users who have a solid understanding of how the existing business application works. 

Field Technologies: How many apps does Titan have in use, and how long did it take to develop them?

Keller: We have had as many as 27 apps in use at one time, but with one of their update features we were able to combine some apps and we now have 20 apps in production.  It took us about 4 months to develop them all.  Some apps were developed in as little as day.  Our micro apps range from our Parts Locator app, which allows field technicians to quickly determine whether needed parts for repairs are available and at what store they are located, to our Tech Timeclock app that lets our field technicians log their project hours and notes in real-time and in the field. We also built a Delivery and Pick-up Order (DPO) app, which captures signatures on equipment delivery for compliance on revenue recognition, giving us the ability to process the sales faster and therefore capture cash faster. Other apps include our Requisition Approval app to maintain necessary inventory levels and our Price Adjustment app for approvals for sales discounts. All of these apps have helped streamline field processes and purchasing approvals, ultimately enhancing operational efficiencies among our field technicians, delivery field teams, and sales and operational teams.

Field Technologies: What was the feedback from your workforce on the micro apps?

Keller: Our workforce is very happy with the micro apps.  Our field technicians can enter time for a project in real-time, instead of writing down their hours with pen and paper and having a supervisor enter their time into our ERP system.  In the first four months of the DPO app, we saw an 80 percent adoption rate; our goal with this app was to be a 60 percent within a year.

Field Technologies: What was the biggest challenge you faced in developing the applications yourself?

Keller: Determining what was the best tool within the Capriza designer to use to bring in the data or input from JDE over to the mobile interface.

Field Technologies: What advice can you provide a reader that is considering a more DIY approach to app development?

Keller: Remember to build mobile apps that are bite-sized. Your user should be able to interact with the app in a quick one-minute experience, so don’t try to add everything and the kitchen sink.