Discuss business intelligence, integration, compliance and a host of other SAP-related topics – implementation, best practices and resources to negotiate the world of SAP better!

« A Reset in Outsourcing | Main | MDM for end to end Product datamanagement and enrichment »

Importance of Functional Concept & Design in Mobile Solutions

Adoption of Mobile solutions is on the rise and if reports from market analyses are any indication, there is no slowdown in the growth in the foreseeable future. One study forecasts that roughly 35% of the global workforce will be embracing Mobile solutions by 2013. Enterprises and consumers alike are driving the adoption rates, which are further impelled by the fast evolution in the capabilities of Mobile devices and increasing speeds of Mobile networks. Whereas there is a burgeoning number of Mobile solutions becoming available to consumers (at present, there are more than 500,000 Mobile applications available at Apple's App Store for its iPhone or iPad devices), adoption in the enterprises is seeing a restrained growth and is not treaded without caution - for all valid reasons. In enterprises, while Mobile solutions of interest are restricted to a realm of relevant business processes with targeted benefits such as productivity increase, cost reductions, enhanced customer satisfaction, etc., implementing those solutions will need considerations such as drawing business case, aspects of security, governance mechanisms, choice of technology, roadmap for investment and expansion of user-base and more - most of which are usually not of much concern in the case of consumers. Enabling enterprises to address these considerations will help them ease up the restraint, in turn helping to drive up the adoption rates. Business Consultants and System Integrators, such as Infosys, have a crucial role to play in enabling enterprises through the entire lifecycle of Mobile solutions from Idea to Implement, including identifying the right & relevant business scenarios, developing business case, formulating platform & security strategies, designing and building the solutions or adopting pre-configured solutions, and finally deploying them. Particularly, the business & functional consultants have an indispensable part to play in this lifecycle for Mobile solutions and the ensuing sections of this paper aim to provide a view on why and how.

The Functional Context

About a couple of decades ago user interfaces (UI) were predominantly based on text-driven design and the business or enterprise applications exploiting it saw that as a significant departure from its ancestor - the command-driven design. So was the case at a later time with the advent of GUI (Graphical UI)-based design (icons & menus) and even later, of touch-sensitive design. In each case, what evolved for the better is the way a 'business functionality or a scenario' was brought out to the user giving a richer rendering of content, more efficient layouts, better ergonomics, smarter data handling, and so on, while the essence of the 'business functionality or scenario' itself, at its core, fairly remained, although how it was technically (i.e., programmatically as well as architecturally) achieved might have varied. In each case, the need and the level of involvement of the functional experts who identified the business scenarios, analyzed and 'converted' them to forms technically implementable, remained undiminished. So it did with the GUI extending to Web design and subsequently, in the recent past, to Mobile platforms. The key differences come perhaps in the way the functional experts are required to think of ways to convert the business requirements such that the prevailing (or the most recent) technology in its current form can be optimally exploited, as well as, conversely, what progressive opportunities and benefits this technology can bring to the business scenarios.
When we hear of 'Mobile Application' (also termed 'Mobile App' or sometimes just 'App'), what usually pops in the mind are its look & feel factor or the mobile device platform it is supported on or roughly what it is meant for or the like. When looked at closely, one might find that most of these tend rather being technical aspects (termed the non-functional requirements) of the App than what is less obvious: the core functional design that underlies the App's functionality (termed the functional requirement). Limiting this discussion to Enterprise Mobile Apps, more often than not, one finds the thoughts and discussions on mobile apps or mobile app projects often manifest themselves around aspects of technology options, selection of device platforms, aspects of deployment & device management and so on.

While technological aspects may continuously evolve to offer new forms and options, they eventually offer only a finite set of possibilities to choose from, at any time, to implement a Mobile solution. For instance, to build a Mobile App, one goes about choosing from the finite set of options of Mobile platform (SAP's SUP or the like) or options of device platform (iOS, RIM etc.) or the development technique (Web-based, Native, Hybrid, etc.) or from the various security & deployment options. While these aspects are in no way less significant, the functional aspects, in contrast, offer a relatively exhaustive and extensive spectrum of possibilities. Largely driven by business needs, the possibilities of business scenarios for Mobile Apps seems virtually limitless and constrained only by one's ability to spot the opportunities of such business scenarios or take a lateral view on business processes in the light of some of the key capabilities the Mobile technology brings along.

Typical Lifecycle

Lifecycle.PNG

In a typical lifecycle of Mobile Apps development (see Fig. 1), the significance of functional work cannot be overstated (irrespective of what the App's backends are (e.g. an ERP, BI, SCM, CRM, SRM, or even bespoke business systems)) and it is essential to understand the role of functional work and its importance to the "success" of the apps. It is easier to understand this in the context of some of the common pathways taken to narrow down on suitable business scenarios.

The Avenues

One of the foremost steps in the development of Mobile solutions is to identify appropriate business scenarios (also referred as Use Cases) for Mobile-enabling (also called Mobilizing). Here are some of the common avenues taken by enterprises, business consultants or functional experts (refer Figure 2).

Streams.PNGDirect demand
In many enterprises, the Business (or the IT) know upfront what they want to Mobilize and have a fair understanding on what kind of business scenarios will benefit from Mobile technology and who the target audience for those Mobile solutions is. This is a capability many enterprises are fast acquiring, thanks to the influx of relatively young professionals - the so-called 'digital natives' - in the organization in various capacities. In this case, the eventual demand for building Mobile solution comes directly from the enterprises, which is then also capable of clearly stating the requirement for the scenarios to be Mobilized, while seeking directions from external experts mainly on technology aspects.

Slipstream cases
Potential scenarios for Mobilization could arise out of a running project such as an implementation or a rollout or a version release or even during a steady-state. It is normal that such scenarios are less obvious to the Business or IT community of an enterprise, but analysts or consultants involved in those projects could spot and pick those and qualify them for potential scenarios for mobilization.

Domain expertise
This avenue is exterior to regular client-asks or project requirements. Ideas of business scenarios in this case are rather drawn laterally from the analysts' or consultants' experiences of domain (e.g., Production, Warehouse, Automotive, Field force, etc.) & package (e.g., ERP, SCM, CRM, etc.). Juxtaposing such ideas with the capabilities of Mobile technology for appropriate exploitation will help further qualify them. Ideas so qualified will then effectively lead to conceiving new concepts for Mobile Use Cases that could bring added value to enterprises, which otherwise would not have directly perceived it. Apps built from such Use Cases could potentially become candidates of IP Assets that can enjoy commoditized GTM through different marketing channels (e.g. direct, partner eco-system based, etc.)

Finding the Right Motives

It is important to identify and target the right communities in an enterprise relevant for Mobilization efforts and pursue them accordingly. In many an enterprise, the budget or funding and business scenarios for Mobilization initiatives and projects are owned by the Business, while the relevant IT group enables the build and deployment. Furthermore, the interests of Business and IT communities with respect to scenarios for Mobilization significantly vary. Enterprises will be keen to see the business case behind the Mobile solution in order to determine the impact on the business and to justify the related investments on the mobile infrastructure as well as on the overall solution.
Use Case ideas could even entail processes that are not currently systemized or processes that hitherto could not be performed due to lack of access to the right data at the right time. Sometimes, as-is process maps might come in handy to identify possible points of leverage in the flow or doing a 'day in the life' exercise of specific user communities could help spot Use Case candidates, which when Mobilized can offer better and more timely availability of data, saving time and money, drive up revenues, or enhance user/customer satisfaction. Mobile apps have the potential to considerably change the way enterprise users (or employees) work. In order to unleash such potential, it may be more apt in some cases to reengineer, enhance or streamline the underlying processes than getting too influenced by their existing form of implementation. Letting one's creative thinking run in the backdrop of the rich capabilities that Mobile technology has to offer often helps examine alternative ways to Mobilize processes and to eventually derive value from it.
It is also important to closely interact with the Business & user communities of enterprises to ensure that an app not only Mobilizes the business process but also meets the community's experience needs in terms of ergonomics, navigation, accessibility etc., keeping in mind the fact that Mobile environment offers limited screen dimensions and has constraints on the quantum of viewable data. This is an important aspect of functional work because the overall UI design - done at a later stage - must be based on the underlying function of the app. The ergonomics and ease of navigation in the app is based on the structuring of the content.

The various benefits Mobile apps can bring about to the Enterprise are an important dimension of the functionality of each App. In general, enterprises can enjoy a wide range of benefits such as (to name a few)
§  increased employee productivity
§  increased employee responsiveness
§  faster decision-making speed
§  faster resolution of customer issues
§  enhanced customer satisfaction
§  reduced inventory costs
§  reduced sales cycle time
§  lower personnel costs, and
§  improved brand perception

Market analyses indicate that saving time and increasing productivity are the top two of the most prominent benefits that drive the adoption of Mobile solution in enterprises. Productivity apps, for instance, have a significant positive impact on enterprises owing to their immediate potential to improve employee productivity that could lead to opportunities for a better realignment of responsibilities and faster responses in employee actions. A telecom equipment company had posted a video showing how one of their iPad apps could enable their employees do certain approvals in about one-thirds the time it takes on a tradition laptop/PC-based app for the same functions. Similarly, Mobile apps for business process execution and workflows - usually termed 'horizontal apps' - are very effective in lowering delays and costs of administration, when implemented with the right foot print across the Enterprise.

It is not always straightforward to perceive and articulate the benefits of an app detailed enough to draw out a business case; and this is where the lateral views & experience of functional and business domain consultants become a key.

Business Function

Mobile Solution

Key Benefits

Manufacturing

Integrated warehouse dashboard

- Immediacy of relevant data  from anywhere in the warehouse

- Quicker material locating & tracking

Sales

Point of Sales

- Interactive with customers

- Capture order anywhere & real-time

Human Resource

Business workflows

Shorter approval cycles

Services

Order processing

- Real-time issue notification

- Faster issue closure

Management

Business workflows

- Quicker approval cycles

- Better use of executive time

Management

Reporting / analytics dashboards

- Real-time access to key data/info

- Enables instant decision making

Financials

Reporting / analytics dashboards

- Real-time access to key data/info

- Enables instant decision making

Financials

Business workflows

- Quicker approval cycles

- Increased employee productivity

Sales

Salesmen dashboard

- Real-time access to key data/info

- Improves response time, increased sales.

Sales

Business workflows (e.g. discount approvals)

- Quicker approval cycles

- Increased employee productivity

Some prominent business scenarios for Mobilization

Targeting the right audience is another key consideration to effectively get apps across to the user community. At present, some of the prominent job functions that stand to benefit more from Mobile apps are CxOs / senior management / line management, sales managers and representatives, retail dealerships, warehouse supervisors, field service engineers, customer service representatives, to name a few. One way to ascertaining the user base is to answer the 5Ws - who, what, when, where, why - which usually provides a ring-side view of the usage domain.

The Potential

There is considerable potential to catalyze enterprises in embracing Mobile solutions and realize their benefits. Industry and functional consultants with their vast experience in the business domains and with their creative thinking hat, can help enterprises dive deeper into this still young world of Mobile solutions to unleash this potential.

 

 

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please key in the two words you see in the box to validate your identity as an authentic user and reduce spam.

Subscribe to this blog's feed

Follow us on

Blogger Profiles

Infosys on Twitter