If you can visualise it, mobile can deliver it

There has been a monumental shift in the way people use mobile devices over the last two years. Harnessing that can deliver real business benefits across your operations, according to Karl Broom, Senior Business Development Manager of FSI, discussing with Tomorrow's FM magazine.

What do you do first each day: turn on your PC or catch-up on your phone? The research shows that people use their mobile devices now far more than their laptops or PCs. This mobile revolution has become self-fulfilling: the technology has enabled people to be on the move more, meaning that they need more effective solutions to enable them to be more productive on the go.

This in turn has meant the way software is developed has changed. It's no longer sufficient simply to offer scaled-down mobile versions of complex PC software. Rather, software is becoming increasingly mobile first, with the application developed initially for mobile - with the emphasis on making it simple and easy to read on a small screen - then scaled up to create more complex laptop interfaces taking advantage of the available real estate.

Mobile-first thinking is enabling us to deliver the processes that people need for their day-to-day activities where they need them: to their devices. But even within mobile-first technology, we have seen key developments over the last 12 months, which are shaping how they are applied and developed, and which provide valuable insights for organisations considering moving to mobile.

Mobile First in action
The evolution of FSI GO epitomises how quickly mobile first is developing and adapting, and the thought processes that organisations need to go through to make the most of mobile technology.

FSI GO was designed to enable staff in the field to work more productively, backed by an effective architecture (either FSI's Concept Evolution CAFM or third-party integrated systems) to support mobile working and facilitate interrogation of the data to inform strategic business decisions.

FSI GO includes a number of standard apps: task activity, including audits and surveys; asset management/collection; ad-hoc tasks; portering; stock; authorisations, including tasks, quotes, invoices, credits and projects; and supervisor activity. It's easy to see how an effective mobile app for any of these applications enables staff in the field to work more effectively, particularly when combined with over-the-air updates; the app eliminates the need to fill out paperwork on-site, return to base, input the details on the computer, manage the paper trail, and so on. But the efficiencies extend beyond those who are on the go; real-time updates from the field enable more responsive and effective management of assets and people.

Customised Solutions
We knew FSI GO was a powerful tool to facilitate more effective facilities management, and the out-of-the-box solutions (generic or branded) do just that. But the real power has come as we have worked with clients to customise the software to meet their bespoke needs. For example, one organisation wanted an activity that would allow engineers to scan a QR code against an asset, giving them the full service history, life cycle, supporting pictures, details of any complications and work done to date. From that they can interrogate the data history of the asset and log a fault against it from their device. This customised asset-management solution is being used by the client across Europe, supported by a centralised Concept Evolution back-end system.

Within FM applications, applying bespoke mobile solutions is delivering business benefits that extend beyond FM boundaries. Another client with 150 engineers had relied upon a paperbased system, requiring the engineers to write their reports manually and fax or post them back to the office; the slowness of the process meant the route to invoicing was delayed by two to three weeks. Adopting FSI GO not only improved the efficiency of the team in the field, but also significantly reduced the amount of time to invoicing, improving efficiency within the finance team and cash flow.

Beyond FM
But the ultimate power of mobile is seeing applications being developed beyond their original remit. Another client originally purchased FSI GO for an FM requirement. Their IT team saw the potential and examined how they could apply the technology to make wider paper-based processes mobile. Collaborating with them, we developed an expenses and mileage application, adapting our own FM solution software to create a bespoke process outside of FM.

This example shows that we can take any paper process and turn it into a mobile process. If you can visualise it, mobile can deliver it; mobile technology is a tool - with the vision and the right skill sets to interpret your vision, you can create any application you need to solve any business challenge.

No Limits
To create a really successful mobile app, you do need to understand what the capabilities are. Mobile devices have smaller screens than laptops or PCs, so the most effective apps are simple; that may mean breaking a complex process down into bite-sized chunks. The focus should be the end user; you need to be asking what their key requirements are? Where are the pain points in the way they work? How can we alleviate these?

While your business may need to perform 100% of the process, the people using the app on the go often only need regularly to access 25% of the process, so this needs to be the most accessible element within the app. The other 75% can be built into the functionality to be accessed as and when required, in some cases only sporadically when staff are back at base and able to work on their laptop.

It's also worthwhile thinking about whether the app will be read primarily on a phone or a tablet; tablets have more real estate (bigger screen size). Some mobile apps simply scale up when they are read on a tablet, but it may be more effective to have distinct versions for mobiles and tablets, with more functionality when accessed on a bigger screen.

But while understanding the capabilities will help you create an app that most effectively supports your staff as they work on the go, there are no limits to the applications that can be developed to enhance mobile working. All it needs is your vision, and the right partnership and skill sets to interpret and deliver it.