How To Make Better Field Service Communications Apps
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
If you’re looking for a fascinatingly complex and highly unique development challenge, you don’t have to look any further than connecting field service workforces for organizations with a regional, national, or global presence.
This wide and diverse group – which encompasses everything from big-box retailers to grocery chains to transportation companies – are often still exploring how contemporary apps can drive their businesses. They’re just as frequently using highly outdated (or simply suboptimal) software. But medium-sized and even smaller organizations are starting to find that custom software can make them more efficient and more responsive, much more affordably than they might have imagined.
Why does this software have to be so complex? Often, a company’s business processes are so particular to that specific business that they need custom software to capture and reflect the subtleties. Consider the variables such software must typically account for: physical spaces, employees with numerous distinct functions, sometimes highly diverse products and corresponding marketing material, customer relationships and loyalty programs, shipping logistics … the list goes on.
And for a given business, these disparate elements may connect in very particular ways that generic software may not facilitate optimally. A business might need their field service app to “understand” the relationship between various employee roles, specific promotional materials like endcaps, and particular products, for example, so a field rep can efficiently request the right materials for the right promotion from the right manager and ship immediately – to the right store – upon approval.
So how can you make better field service communications apps for these businesses? Here are three compelling ways to create better apps that drive better business processes:
1) Build a Communications Platform that Understands the Business
As I mentioned above, one of the chief opportunities of a custom mobile app for these geographically distributed businesses is the ability to tailor the software perfectly to their processes. Of course, this is going to mean gathering as much information as possible about the business, its processes, and the requirements for the app – then testing constantly to ensure that your understandings and assumptions are correct.
Once you’ve gathered the relevant data, you can look for opportunities to make communication more efficient. If field reps will need to share information about products with distant managers quickly and easily, perhaps you’ll want to use a smartphone’s camera as a barcode scanner. If there is a body of information that reps often must retrieve about products, this barcode scanning functionality can help them bring up that specific data quickly and easily.
2) Utilize Rich Media for Communication
Custom mobile apps open up all the audiovisual capabilities of the modern smartphone, including the ability to record and transmit images, audio, and video. Connecting field service workforces can mean that decision-makers have eyes on the ground in hundreds or thousands of locations.
So if, for example, drivers for a company find themselves in an accident, they’ll have the ability to record the facts on the ground with pictures and video, sending it immediately to the appropriate managers. The same might go for other forms of health and safety related incidents – organizations with major insurance-related considerations can ensure that they have the best possible data. Or managers who oversee retail locations spread over a wide area can get a good look at aspects of the stores for which they are responsible without extensive travel.
3) Archive and Analyze the Available Data
Connecting field service workforces isn’t just about solving problems in the present – the unexpected accident or the sudden decision about a particular promotion. It’s also about giving companies the resources to make better decisions in the future. It’s about memory, foresight, and iteration.
In short, the digital communications facilitated by a field services app can be archived – and this is a valuable tool. What can be archived can be analyzed, giving companies an ever-growing body of insight on the variables surrounding persistent problems, as well as trends that might point the way for new business or optimization opportunities. Why are sales rising or flagging? Why are drivers on a particular route more prone to slow-downs? The data from a field services app may provide the answers.
Those answers might mean iterating business processes themselves, and updating the app to reflect that evolution. This, perhaps, is the key opportunity that companies most need to understand if they wish to leverage custom software successfully, remaining both competitive and responsive to changes in the marketplace. With custom field service software, you can create more than a platform for communication – you can develop a tool to optimize and inform your business no matter what shape it takes in the future.
This content is made possible by a guest author, or sponsor; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of App Developer Magazine's editorial staff.
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