The Complete Guide to CUSTOM FIELD SERVICE APPLICATIONS

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1 The Complete Guide to CUSTOM FIELD SERVICE APPLICATIONS

2 Copyright 2014 Published by Art & Logic All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Design by Hinge. Visit our website at

3 INTRODUCTION Today, more and more businesses are building mobile applications to drive complicated business processes that touch every corner of their organizations. The type of highly efficient, customized applications that were once only available to the largest companies are now available to businesses of many different sizes and types and they re leading to innovations across a wide range of industries. How can a custom app support your business processes? How does the process of app development work, and what are the key benefits? We wrote this guide to answer those questions and more. In the following chapters, we ll cover: Chapter 1: Why Develop a Custom Field Solutions App? Chapter 2: How Custom Field Solutions Apps Improve Efficiency Chapter 4: How Custom Apps Connect Field Service Workforces Chapter 5: How Iteration Drives Innovation in Custom Field Apps Chapter 3: Why More Companies Are Building Software to Purpose Ready? Let s get started

4 Chapter 1 WHY DEVELOP A CUSTOM FIELD SOLUTIONS APP? Your average software developer has it easy, in some respects. When most of your work takes place in virtual space, your software doesn t have to deal with the physical world very much. But a department store is a different story. Every day, it needs software to coordinate an intricate dance of products, customers, employees, transportation, promotions, shipping, and more. Making matters even more complicated, a retail chain has to accomplish all of this while being geographically distributed, often across a great distance. The same challenges face most businesses dealing in a widespread physical marketplace: from manufacturers and shippers to farmers and mid-sized retailers. Often, they have to manage physical logistics while facing a rise in pressure from online competitors. Mobile Solutions for Distributed Challenges These companies require software to support their business processes, coordinating the distribution of physical objects in the physical world. In the past, an organization might have maintained a centralized database from a handful of terminals. Individuals would have to bring relevant information to the database and enter it manually in order to record or manipulate data. Many businesses still operate this way. But today, there s a better solution. The rise of inexpensive and readily available mobile - 4 -

5 devices is making custom-built field applications a viable solution for mid-sized and even smaller companies. And these apps are leading a wave of innovation in business processes. Custom-built field service management apps allow companies to directly input and process data in the field, driving real-time decisions and instantaneous responses. This means field representatives on-site in a store might capture data about the way a product is shelved and add it immediately to a central database, allowing a manager to access the data and respond right away and right from the app. Connectivity: With a custom app, your workforce can stay connected for easy communication and swift decision-making. Adaptability: Custom applications evolve with your business, so you can feel confident that your app will be responsive to your future needs. Taken together, these benefits make for a software solution that changes with your business and can even help you drive disruptive innovation in your marketplace. The Benefits of Building a Solution Generic field service solutions provide some of this functionality, but custom apps can deliver the greatest efficiency and the greatest competitive edge. In this guide, we ll explore some of the key benefits of custom apps, including: Efficiency: Custom apps help you capture, process, and respond to key data as seamlessly as possible. Specificity: A custom app is built to purpose. In your app, every feature is there for a reason, suited precisely to your company-specific processes

6 Chapter 2 HOW CUSTOM FIELD SOLUTIONS APPS IMPROVE EFFICIENCY Most companies that distribute products in the physical world need some sort of software solution to manage their business processes. Ideally, this solution should be more efficient than a centralized database with a handful of terminals yet this is what many businesses are still using. Most companies that distribute products in With an app on their mobile device, a field rep can the physical world need some sort of software gather all kinds of data anywhere they need to go, solution to manage their business processes. transmit it immediately to a centralized system, Ideally, this solution should be more efficient and receive real-time analysis and direction. than a centralized data repository with a handful Based on this data from the field, a regional of terminals yet this is what many businesses manager might decide to make a change to an are still using. endcap and seamlessly communicate the decision to staff throughout the region, without taking a week to write and send a memo. Even React to information about the present, not a better, this manager is able to week or day or hour ago. react to information about the present, not a week or day or hour ago

7 Customized Logic Custom software is most valuable when it is supporting and managing custom logic, like the processes of a complex, individual business. Generic, off-the-shelf software is going to treat this logic generically because it s not tailored to your precise purposes, your team will have to fill out often tedious, generic forms to capture specific data. A general purpose solution probably won t know what an endcap is. A representative might have to type out a message specifying an item to order and send it through the noncustom system to someone else, who will have to manually enter and order the endcap. A custom solution, on the other hand, delivers a user interface and backend logic that adhere exactly to your business practices. Field reps can efficiently capture exactly the right information in exactly the right way; your system will know what an endcap is. Moreover, your system will have a button for ordering the right endcap for the right time, right now, all automated. The rep presses the button, and because the custom system knows where they are and what they need, the endcap is instantaneously ordered to ship. This is one of the most powerful drivers of efficiency in custom software. Because it s built for a specific business process, custom software can automate that process optimally, making a business as decisive and responsive as it can possibly be. The benefits of customization aren t limited to efficiency, however. In the next chapter, we ll see how custom software helps many different types of businesses optimize their processes and be more effective by building software to purpose

8 Chapter 3 WHY COMPANIES ARE BUILDING SOFTWARE TO PURPOSE In many cases, your field service software should be among the most specialized software you use in part because it is driving efficiency for your specific processes. Consider point-of-sale (or POS) software for some useful contrast. POS software is fairly generic, because it supports a typically generic process: a customer has a stack of items, an employee scans the items, then the customer provides a payment method and walks out of the store. This process is the same at most retail operations, so capturing the right information the products purchased and the payment data is straightforward. But inventory management, sales management, processes for managing specials or monitoring performance across stores or divisions these processes tend to be much more specialized to an individual business. A sales rep for a manufacturer can walk into retail stores and capture information (including images and video) on how the store is presenting their product. This is specialized data, and with a custom app it can be quickly captured in a specialized way for the most efficient processing and storage. In the past, developing custom software was only an option for larger companies such as major retailers. But today, field services solutions are available for a much wider group of businesses and they re being used in innovative new ways. Data-Driven Processes The ubiquity of affordable mobile devices has made custom apps an affordable solution for mid

9 sized businesses. Today, large-scale farmers can use custom field service software to track data about their crop. Because mobile devices like phones and tablets are already designed to utilize technologies like WiFi, cameras, Bluetooth, and more, it s easier than ever to develop a custom sense for your systems, such as capturing data on soil chemistry and crop health. This data could help a farmer understand how to grow more effectively and use this information to frame how they manage their business. These custom senses allow Big Data to work for a broader variety of companies, providing the data necessary to mine for potentially transformative insights. There is now an opportunity for a growing number of businesses to create datadriven, real world processes to become more efficient and more profitable. buyer through a rich multimedia experience of the season s offerings, looking at pictures and video of different pieces of clothing, along with corresponding images of store displays. Now, the buyer can enter quantities, verify the details, and place the order right there. The system would then generate an invoice and deliver it to the customer automatically, with a complete picture of where the order is going and what the billing arrangement is -- all with no delay in fulfillment. These are just a few industry-specific, companyspecific innovations that are possible with custom software. In the next chapter, we ll explore how custom field services apps can go further to help keep your workforce connected. Simplifying Sales Say you re a mid-sized clothing manufacturer. This is a very field-driven business: reps go out to stores with samples and talk about what s being manufactured this year, discussing current styles and colors in a very hands-on way. If you put an app in that rep s hands, when they travel to a store to speak with a regional buyer, they can give the buyer an interactive catalog on an ipad. Instead of simply discussing prospective purchases for the spring, your rep can walk the - 9 -

10 Chapter 4 HOW CUSTOM APPS CONNECT FIELD SERVICE WORKFORCES If you re a transportation company, you may send drivers all across the country shipping goods to your clients. In this business, even the best drivers will get into accidents from time to time. In order to manage questions of liability, it s essential for your business to capture the best possible information on the scene of these accidents. What s more, you need to be able to store and access this data in a systematic, reliable way. This is a problem of distributed data and processes in the physical world. So it s a great match for a custom field solution app -- in this case, you might create a specialized application for accident reporting. Your drivers could immediately fill out the information you need, capture, send, and archive photos from the scene, allowing your company to respond immediately. More Data, More Options When you give your workforce a mobile device, they suddenly have access to (and the ability to create) both audio and video. Your team can immediately capture not only a description of some useful data-point, but a photo or video or audio file. Not only can the files go to their boss s attention, but also be archived in a database. Later, an analyst (or software process) can comb through images searching for actionable trends. Integrating communication between your central managerial workforce and peripheral workforce means you can mine that data for new insights

11 Ubiquitous Solutions Because field service apps can be built for common devices like smartphones or tablets, you have the option of making these solutions available on your employees personal devices. When you consider this option, you ll need to think about both company security and quality of life for your workforce, but this can be a powerful way to give workers easier access to the tools they need to do their job wherever they are. need when an accident occurs, and developing a deeper understanding of how those accidents happen. Ultimately, it could mean better protecting both your drivers and your company. In our last chapter, we ll take a closer look at how a custom field solutions app can evolve with your company and how they can drive your success in the future. When a company invests in connecting their workforce, they re going to see long-term benefits from the ability to constantly evaluate and improve that connection, capturing and better understanding the exact nuances of their business flows. For a transportation company, this could mean capturing the exact information you

12 Chapter 5 HOW ITERATION DRIVES INNO- VATION IN CUSTOM FIELD APPS In Chapter 3, we discussed how point-of-sale (or POS) software is usually pretty generic. But, not always. Apple s retail stores introduced an innovative new approach to point-of-sale, with employees checking customers out right from their phones or tablets. This transformative shift shapes everything from the layout of an Apple Store to the fundamentals of the customer experience. And it s supported by a creative approach to the software that drives the stores process. Today, there is tremendous opportunity for businesses across industries to take a similarly disruptive approach to their processes. In a retail setting, this will mean finding new ways to connect to customers in the physical world perhaps facilitating more direct payments through a phone. New approaches to business are often driven and supported by fine-grained insights about your processes, and the iterative, evolutionary nature of custom apps can do more than keep your software aligned with your needs it can act as an engine for innovation. Adaptive Solutions When a company decides to create a custom software solution, they often don t know exactly what to expect or exactly what they need to build. At the beginning of the process, you will typically sit down with a software vendor and discuss your current business practices: how they work now and how they could be made more efficient. What you think you need to build at the end of the conversation may look very different than the ideas you had in mind when you started

13 More importantly, this idea can and likely will continue to evolve. Software isn t like other products, so the idea of continuous evolution can seem strange to some people. When you business process, you and your development partner can continue to iterate as you identify opportunities for improvement, optimization, and innovation. Your software can give you the information you need to refine your processes. build a house, you start with the foundations and the walls, and once you ve built those you re not going to deviate from the basic layout you ve established. But software is a flexible medium. You can create the smallest chunk of code first, make sure it works correctly and look for opportunities to improve it; then make changes to the larger structure accordingly. You can iterate over your changes continuously for constant improvement, adapting the direction of the software to the evolving needs of your business. Better yet, custom field software can help drive this process by collecting and analyzing richer data on your processes. By identifying trends, points of weakness, areas of customer need, and other insights, your software can give you the information you need to refine your processes, develop new competitive edges, and transform your marketplace. More than a tool, custom software can be an ongoing engine for your business, helping to guide your business into the future. That means your software solution isn t going to be out of date as soon as you adopt it, reflecting months-old business realities. And the evolutionary capacities of your custom software don t end once you start using Version 1.0 in the field. Once you implement the software in your

14 ABOUT ART & LOGIC Since 1991, Art & Logic has been creating an amazing variety of custom software solutions for the world s most successful companies. Over time, we ve developed a reputation for delivering top-notch creativity along with the tenacity to solve the toughest software challenges. Today, we develop software solutions including: Mobile apps Cloud applications Desktop software Drivers And more Considering a custom field solutions app? Let s talk. Our developers can help explain the best way to get started. Contact us:

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