Most of us now have a mobile or smartphone in our pockets and take it for granted that we can use it to communicate or use mobile applications for our business and social lives. It’s easy to think that these mobile devices can now do everything and anything and that the trend has already been and gone. However, according to many business commentators, the mobile revolution for business is only just beginning.
Vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Craig le Clair, anticipates that over the next four years, companies will collectively invest more than $55 billion in redesigning their core processes to include mobility. He sees mobile capture and mobile workflows among the main areas for development.
In other words, many businesses are now recognising that they have only scratched the surface of the mobile opportunity. It is now time to enable their mobile workforce to drill deeper into the enterprise information pool to enable even greater time savings, productivity and customer service gains.
Data captured in the field is usually more reliable and accurate than that recalled some time afterwards. If it can be processed and acted upon almost immediately, then huge time lapses can be eliminated, rapidly accelerating workflow.
Today’s devices enable richer content including voice recordings and images via a smartphone or tablet’s in-built camera, even including GPS coordinates for where the data originated. Even written documentation itself completed on the scene or just after a meeting can be more reliable than that compiled by notes days after the event.
Also, although accessing email, documents and other corporate information using smartphones or tablets has become the norm, workers on the move are still often unable to work as they would in the office, with the same workflow and processes – and then synchronise their remote work with office systems. Those that can already do this rely on highly-customised apps or separate software implementations.
Yet as remote working becomes increasingly popular, the more off-site employees still need to share the same documents, folders and workflows as office-based staff. Building a separate system for them seems a backward step. In other words, suddenly applications such as enterprise content management (ECM), previously regarded as back-office systems, now need to emerge into the open, mobile world.
In fact, ECM with built-in mobile support has been available for a while now. However, the release of Windows 8 has added the final piece of the jigsaw, addressing some previous stability and security issues experienced when downloading onto tablets.
This system enables users to work remotely with the same folder hierarchies, configured workflows, roles-based access and security as they would in the office. A device database holding specifications of different smartphone and tablet models prompts the system to adapt to screen size to ensure readability and ease of use.
Of course, one of the pitfalls of relying too heavily on mobile technology is forgetting that there are areas where connectivity is unreliable or non-existent and Forrester’s Craig le Clair points out the need for contingency for offline use when internet, 3G or 4G access is unavailable.
Any mobile ECM system needs to take account of this, providing a method of working offline while still ensuring that any changes made to local documents are sent back to the server once the connection is restored.
But according to IDC’s report: Mobility and ECM: Extending document-intensive processes beyond the back office: “It’s important that this is more than simply file sync and share. The offline “briefcase” should essentially replicate the users’ ECM environment, enabling users to work the same way whether they are connected or disconnected.”
One of the most obvious uses for mobile-enabled ECM is in the insurance industry where the multi-functionality of smartphones and tablets can be used by claims adjusters to gather images, interviews and other information at the scene of a car accident.
A Windows-8 enabled ECM app is available to give the insurance adjuster real-time access to customer information using a tablet. The app notifies the user of a new damage claim and provides driving directions. They can capture witness statements and upload photographs, annotating them to highlight key details and then submit an estimate, making it available for approval back at their office.
The system’s e-signature capability means they can meet the customer and complete the process on the spot. In this way the process takes only minutes, rather than the days or weeks needed before. Healthcare workers are also exploring the potential of mobile ECM.
For example, a system is used to manage, track and record data for mothers2mothers (m2m), a non-governmental charitable organisation which is helping to eliminate the mother to child transmission of HIV. The organisation was tracking increasingly large volumes of records and had much duplication. Now data and forms are electronically captured, managed and made accessible from one central repository.
The mobile solution enables access to electronic forms via smartphones or tablets from anywhere and m2m employees can update and review documentation from the field, saving time, reducing the chance of content duplication and accurately measuring the effectiveness of their prevention programmes. As a result, the organisation can provide faster care and guidance.
There are opportunities here for any organisation with field workers to eliminate efficiencies, reduce cycle times and improve their customer experience. It’s the next step in mobility – and one with significant rewards.