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Mobile software solutions keep you on site and on the job

Feature, Industry News, Management, Markets | June 1, 2013 | By:

Enterprise mobility software is next generation, real-time supply chain integration.

The ongoing innovation and technology advancements of smartphones and tablets have given software solutions providers a natural opportunity to develop a new generation of Web-based enterprise mobility applications.

“Enterprise mobility” software can be categorized as offering solutions that provide the end user with real-time access via the Web to applications and the associated data anywhere, anytime, on personal communication devices such as a smartphone or tablet. It can be in the form of a simple application such as GPS mapping. However, enterprise mobility software can also, with the technology now available, be extended and fully integrated with back-end enterprise applications and become a significant part of the user’s day-to-day operations in work routines.

The opportunity to leverage enterprise mobility software to improve customer service and manage and control costs is readily available to specialty fabrics manufacturers and their staff, especially helpful for those who operate for the better part of the day in the field, meeting with customers, providing services and installing their company’s products.

Office time, on the move

Enterprise mobility software includes real-time applications such as mobile marketing, sales force tracking and analysis, job quoting and customer order processing, inventory availability, job tracking, shipping, dispatching and invoicing. Small business contractors that install awnings for residential or commercial buildings, roofing materials or geosynthetics for environmental protection, to provide just a few examples, can all utilize enterprise mobility applications to support day-to-day interaction with customers and stay in touch with workers at the job.

On the job, customers can be provided with a visual catalog of past projects, fabric choices and designs to consider for their specific requirements. As those customer requirements are refined, a quote—including pictures of the site, selected fabrics, structural designs and the associated costs—can be assembled and offered on the job site. Customer address information can also be entered and connected with the relevant mapping data for future use to optimize delivery and installation schedules.

Once the initial customer design and quote phase is converted into a firm order, mobility software can be fully integrated into the supply chain for ordering of the fabric and all required hardware. Smartphones and tablets can be used to place orders directly with the fabric and hardware manufacturers, checking inventory availability at the local warehouse and the lead time required for cutting material to meet the customer’s design specifications. The real-time integration of the awning contractor ordering process with the manufacturing and distribution supply chain can result in the ability to quickly confirm the date for delivery and installation to the customer.

When orders are complete, they can be displayed using standard mapping applications such as Google™ offers, giving fabricators an immediate picture of where sales are building, and providing suppliers and distributors with detailed insight into the logistics of supplying the growing pool of orders. The real-time integration of the contractor’s mobility software is also valuable in managing the seasonal nature of business demand that can rise quickly and peak in very short time frames in different geographic regions. This may require manufacturers to distribute production to different sites, for example by providing cutting facilities at various warehouses, to ensure that contractor delivery deadlines are met to complete customer installations on time.

Installations that are in process, as well as the orders for new customer projects, can be tracked and monitored across the supply chain. This includes the status of the manufacturing and distributor purchase orders, production, shipping and delivery schedules—providing contractors with up-to-the-minute information on orders they have placed while they’re in the field completing installations at customer sites, and helping to target marketing to new prospects. Job status information can be displayed using visual schedule boards or map analytics. Providing fabricators with information while they’re on the go will ultimately improve on-time delivery to the end customer, streamline the installation costs and improve the profitability of each job.

Integration and coordination

Enterprise mobility software solutions can also be deployed to support field project work that is not customer demand driven, such as with residential and commercial awnings that require installation in a relatively short seasonal cycle. Project field work in the form of a large project or routine ongoing maintenance can also benefit from mobile technology. In some cases it can also be used to support coordination with other field service units to ensure that costs are minimized and to maintain timely completion of remote projects.

For example, innovative geosynthetic manufacturing firms are supplying spill containment systems for a variety of applications to protect environmentally sensitive areas from contaminants. These companies may provide rapid recovery systems that can trap oil from transformers mounted on utility poles for feeder lines that run through shallow rivers and wetlands. For these projects, mobility software solutions can be integrated with the full project design, development and remote job installation. In addition, the software can be used to support needed coordination between the utility project and the design engineering teams, the field crews building the utility infrastructure and the manufacturing company contract service group supplying the containment systems.

Mobile software could provide access to project data that includes engineering diagrams and standards, purchase orders for subcontractor materials and project schedules outlining the construction phases for the project. Field service staff may also be responsible for providing quality and testing data to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. Critical GPS location data and pictures for each transformer, utility pole and containment system could also be recorded. This data would give the utility company the ability to quickly locate the transformer in the event the transformer leaks, causing a spill. The location data could also be used to support routine maintenance procedures. All of these procedures can be supported using mobile software integrated with the main enterprise application at both the utility company and the geosynthetic manufacturers to support field service personnel.

Future mobility

Enterprise mobility software is much broader in scope, functionality and technology than stand-alone apps that can be downloaded. Mobility software utilizes emerging smartphone and tablet technology to integrate and extend into the main application areas of the user organization. The main enterprise applications need to be able to process data in formats that can support the multitude of smartphones, tablet devices and their associated operating systems that are now available in the market. The software must also be flexible and capable of integrating with the various technologies that are used to implement and deploy enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications used by independent contractors, their suppliers and partner firms.

Next-generation enterprise mobility software can be developed to build on the foundation of mature ERP applications offered in SaaS (Software as a Service) and cloud computing environments, capitalizing on the power and infrastructure of the Web and the increasing functionality and ease of use available with smartphones and tablet devices. Such a coordinated system can provide a competitive advantage in an organization’s ongoing technology strategy, and also offers an important asset to attract and recruit the new generation of employees entering the workforce.

John A Blasman Jr. is president of Jomar Softcorp Intl.

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