Chris Kenny is always busy. In his role as vice president of operations at Chambers Gasket & Manufacturing, he has little downtime. In three hours or so before speaking with CFO, he had returned from a West Coast business trip and subsequently proposed to his girlfriend, all while staying in touch with the office.
But like other executives, Kenny says it’s easier to do his job because he can track work-related business through his smartphone’s mobile applications. Mobile devices and apps are ideal for growing businesses, says Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal at customer-relationship management firm Beagle Research Group. “Even if you aren’t flying around the country, just having access to your information untethered by wires is huge,” he says.
For one thing, being mobile can ensure salespeople and executives more face time with customers, Pombriant continues. Or, in the case of the CFO, more face time with potential financing partners, says Mike O’Brien, general manager of accounting and software applications at FinancialForce.com. Traditionally, finance chiefs have been confined to the office, he says. But mobile apps allow them to venture into the field and meet with investors. “It’s about personal freedom for the individual as much as it is about the benefit to the business,” O’Brien says.
At Chambers Gasket, a custom manufacturer, using back-office and accounting mobile apps makes it easier for executives and other employees to work from anywhere. If a client wants a design change to a gasket while meeting with Kenny, for example, he can pull the original gasket design up on his tablet, change it and re-quote the new invoice “on the fly,” sending out a prototype to the client in two days. That speed comes in handy; a traditional production schedule without mobile apps takes two weeks or more. “I can be on vacation, refreshing a dashboard. I can be out with a client and I can answer their questions in real time about things happening in my office that can affect them,” he says. Basically, with the company’s mobile applications, “we know exactly what’s happening with everything,” Kenny says.
Mobile apps can also make businesses processes less vulnerable to mistakes. For nearly 60 years, Chambers Gasket used carbon copy paper for invoices and other paperwork, distributing copies to different production people. That process made it harder to follow up on orders. Now, employees access those orders on mobile applications and don’t have to spend time hunting down carbon copies.
Although mobile capabilities are ultimately good for business, they do come with some downsides. “Certainly it can complicate the work-life balance if you aren’t careful,” Pombriant warns. Another downside for mobile apps is security. Like any device using the cloud, companies need to be wary of breaches in security, lost devices and ensuring data being transferred is encrypted, says Pombriant.
Stacy Crook, research director of mobile enterprise research at International Data Corp., says there are challenges to adopting mobile apps, including deciding whether to build an app in house or outsource to a third party.
Technology is moving much faster, so companies “need a super-agile development process around mobile,” she says. “But back-end integration is not simple.” First, companies have to figure out what to do with legacy systems that weren’t built to support mobile applications on the front end. Second, integrating these platforms slows down projects.
Companies that haven’t yet updated their back-end systems face a large monetary and human capital investment. Employees will need to be trained on the new system and adopt new processes, and it can take time for them to learn and adapt.
That is true with any mobile app, on the front- or back-end. At Chambers Gasket, for example, the new customer-relationship-management system caused some difficulty. Everything was automated, but for the first few months, employees were still using calculators to make sure the new software was adding up items correctly.
Ultimately, the benefits of mobile apps in the workplace outweigh the drawbacks, explains Crook. If done correctly, says Pombriant, mobile apps can lower the cost of doing business, expose a company to more business opportunities, enable deals to close faster and help employees serve customers better.
Image courtesy of Education Plus via Creative Commons.