Going Mobile: Taking the Office to the Field
Remember the good ole’ days when you could just park the truck and be done? All you needed to manage your business was a quick and simple appointment book. That was before you realized that business software could help you protect your business and make it grow.
Remember the good ole’ days when you could just park the truck and be done? All you needed to manage your business was a quick and simple appointment book.
That was before you realized that business software could help you protect your business and make it grow. Once you start taking the time to track your data, you see how invaluable it is for making smart business decisions - but there’s still something alluring about the speed and simplicity of an appointment book.
If you’re running a medium- to large-sized company, then your technicians are usually out in the field, making the company money (hopefully). They scribble notes on work orders, make incorrect calculations and staple the checks to the orders. At the end of the day, somebody will have to correct these mistakes and enter all that data into your system. It’s a time-consuming and error-prone process.
There is a better way.
Recent improvements in mobile technology have made it possible to do more with less. By combining online access and GPS tracking with e-mail, text and phone communications, you can virtually eliminate the middleman.
Before you can take advantage of current mobile solutions, you’ll need to learn several key concepts. We can break mobile solutions down into three key components: the connection, the device and the software.
In order to access account information, live e-mail and GPS mapping, you need a mobile connection. Find a local service provider that supports your area. The two most common connections are 3rd generation (3G) and 4th generation (4G) mobile telecommunications.
Generally, 4G is faster, but based on several factors, your experience will be much slower than your connection on your home computer (even when hooked up on Wi-Fi). For this reason, software vendors often build mobile versions of their products to help improve performance and overall user experience.
When you examine the options, there are only three mobile device types that business owners should be looking at: iOS, Android, and Microsoft.
- The iPad and iPhone use iOS and Apple only produces one version of each device at a time. While this brings standardization to these devices, the flexibility of price and options keeps the iOS development community focused on consumers - not business owners.
- Android, produced by Google, has a more open platform. There is a wide range of Android-enabled tablets and phones on the market, and Android devices come at a very competitive price. Many users love their Androids, but for a business device, it’s a freshman effort.
- Microsoft, while late to the party, released Windows Phone 7 (WP7) in early 2011. Like Android, there are several competitively priced WP7-enabled phones on the market. WP7 phones are not flying off the shelves and into consumer hands, but it’s a solid business device. Microsoft will also be releasing Windows 8 in the latter part of 2012, which will be tablet-friendly.
For each of these systems, you can use smartphones or tablets. Tablets are easier to use, easier to see and look much more impressive than smartphones. In a perfect world, you would use a tablet in the field and your smartphone in a pinch.
- GPS: All modern mobile devices have GPS built in. You can even track the location of your devices remotely to make sure that your technician is on the job (not at his girlfriend’s house.)
- Communications: All modern mobile devices handle phone, text and POP3 e-mail. All of the major e-mail providers support POP3.
- Business Applications: Software vendors have two development options when developing for mobile devices: They can build their product as a native app or they can create a mobile web app.
- Native apps are built for specific systems. In order to support multiple devices, vendors have to build multiple versions of their native mobile product. While there are many good consumer-based native apps available, be cautious of native business apps. These applications are usually generic and not very feature-rich.
- Web apps, on the other hand, can be built so that all targeted devices can use them, and typically provide a larger set of features.
Don’t purchase software for its mobile features alone. There are tons of part-time developers building “mobile apps” from their living rooms.
In order to provide you with a proper mobile solution, your software vendor needs to host your data. Be sure you’re working with a company you can trust. While self-hosted options are out there, the cost to do it right is tremendous. Low cost self-hosted options are simply Band-Aids on very old technology and require a large amount of maintenance, internal servers, static IP addresses and, well, you get the idea.
If you’re using something besides QuickBooks already, call your software vendor and ask them if they have a mobile solution. If they don’t, or if you’re only using QuickBooks, then start shopping! Any creditable software vendor with a mobile product should be able to import your data from your current database into your new system (or straight from QuickBooks).
Be sure to ask your prospective vendors about the devices they support and how often they update their products. Mobile technology is changing almost daily. You want to be sure that you’re partnering with a software vendor that will keep up with changes and make your experience better.
At the end of the day, mobile solutions are all about convenience. When you can access your client’s history, complete orders, e-mail invoices and record payments - all from the comfort of your client’s living room - you not only impress the client, but you eliminate errors and additional work.
Finally, mobile technology can be used to mimic a more simple approach. Making it possible, once again, to park the truck and be done.