Throughout the many waves of technology hype and bubbles, LBS have taken a life of their own. At one point LBS were positioned to be the next big thing, and many technology vendors and would-be pioneers embraced the technology. However, they found out that LBS were not able to deliver in reality what was promised in theory. The availability and ubiquitous offering of LBS by wireless service providers is still in its infancy for businesses to fully leverage the benefits LBS is expected to deliver. However, many businesses and industries are finding that the LBS portion of mobile applications is only a small part of the value. LBS have spurred many mobile field force applications that deliver real business value and cost savings in their own right.
One such area is the automation of paper time sheets and the field personnel payroll process. Every company, large or small, must collect time sheets from mobile workers and process those paper documents to produce a paycheck for each worker. The idea of complete automation was not universal until mobile applications touting the benefits of LBS came along. While at the heart of the pitch was the sexiness of LBS - knowing where your field guys are at all times, catching them running personal errands during work hours, and making sure your guys are at the job site - the real value was in the simple automation of a business process that the LBS are wrapped around: time sheets.
The irony of LBS is that the features management likes best are usually the features that make field workers resistant to mobile automation. However, the things that bring true value and savings to companies, like the automation of paper time sheets, are the very things that field workers will embrace. Most field workers can't deny the benefits of not having to fill out their paper time sheets each week, get them signed and approved by the appropriate supervisor, and then make sure the office receives them. One worker I've spoken with said he spent at least an hour throughout the day calling the main office to make sure they got his time card. He would welcome any solution that solved this problem for him.
Many field-force-related products and tools have recently come to market designed to improve field worker productivity. However, each company that looks toward implementing these products must ask itself what the ultimate goal of the investment is regarding field personnel. Is the ultimate goal to reduce overtime? Overtime and payroll are the largest expenses for most companies. Other goals might be the reduction or elimination of manual data entry or increased productivity. Most companies seek to better manage overhead (e.g. reducing the percentage of time management spends tracking employees and related activities), which costs companies real dollars in the end.
Regardless of who or what compels a company or business to employ these new technologies and tools, the main point of all this is for the business to improve its financials - reduce costs and increase revenue. Mobile field force applications that incorporate LBS seem to be making good on that promise. Case studies and user testimonials have touted real impacts to the bottom line. Although you may not believe it, the cost of finding out is so low these days with hosted services using cell phones you probably already have, you would be foolish not to find out for yourself.