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Workforce Automation with Mobile Devices

Posted by Balwant C Surti (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:18 AM

Automation is the key to effective selling, and sales force automation is prevalent in the retail industry. Workforce automation is an extension of sales force automation, where every employee works more efficiently using mobile devices such as tablets.

Automation previously involved using machines, equipments, tools, standardized processes and computers. The need for mobility in the workplace in turn created the need for portable devices. The recent crop of Smartphones and tablets are poised as the ideal "one device that fits all needs" for today's knowledge workers who primarily need computing at the workplace.

In the banking context, this covers a wide spectrum of the workforce, but for the purpose of this article we will restrict the definition to the customer-facing employee, i.e., those in "sales and service" and "operations". Typically, these employees:

1. Answer customer queries.
2. Service requests.
3. Handle customer complaints.
4. Work towards customer acquisition (checking, savings, time deposits, loans etc.).
5. Facilitate transactions.
6. Advise customers.
7. Help with payment services.
8. Monitor status of such work.

Almost all of these involve interaction with customers, other employees and at times, third parties, either in person or over an interactive real-time channel.

Devices such as tablets and the larger Smartphones (phablets) are better substitutes for a computer when on the move, as compared to laptops or notebook computers. Given their long battery life and easy portability and usage, they are ideal for automating the work of bank employees. Many of them can remain always connected to the internet and the bank's backend systems. This affords great flexibility to employees within the workplace, as they can interact with others in any comfortable setting and still have access to their systems.

Tablets and mobile phones today not only have the capability to accept text inputs but can also scan documents, capture photos, read barcodes, attach to devices such as 'Square' that can convert them into Point of Sale devices (POS) to scan cards, and support most printers. The various input and output devices and the add-on dongles such as 'Square' can convert a tablet or a mobile phone into a powerful Mobile Teller Workstation without the need for special peripheral devices like scanners. Back and front video cameras can record in real time, acting as surveillance cameras (albeit limited in scope) even in remote locations. Some of the latest models even support biometrics such as heartbeat monitoring and fingerprint scanning - all in a battery-run, handheld device that can support a full day's work! The promise these devices hold for the mobile workforce is indeed phenomenal, if used appropriately.

However, a dampener to this ideal scenario is that there are few, if any, apps for tablets today that enable employees to work with ease.

ICICI Bank's latest ad campaign on TV nicely captures the essence of how effortless banking can get with the use of portable devices. The ad shows the bank's representative helping the customer (played by thespian Amitabh Bachchan) open an account amidst festivities, fun and frolic. The much publicized "tab banking" enables all KYC documents to be scanned and facilitates account opening in a couple of minutes and as many swipes on the tablet! While other banks undoubtedly have similar systems in place, ICICI Bank has left no stone unturned in publicizing it in all forms of popular media.

Most Indian banks have been quick to tap this potential and are going all out to popularize "tab banking" among employees so as to ensure its optimal use, regardless of whether or not the employee is present at the office.

In my blog "Tablets for the Workforce," I have highlighted the features of the tablet that make it an efficacious device. While security has been of concern, vendors like Samsung have come up with software/hardware solutions like Knox to allay apprehension. Vendors like Newgen have gained a head start on solutions, with others fast catching up. This is a wide open market, and nobody has made significant impact as yet.
Mobile banking vendors have been so anxious to cater to bank customers that they have almost missed out on the next big opportunity - apps for their employees. With minor tweaks, existing customer apps can easily double as apps for the workforce. Also, there is no dearth of tablet-compatible sales force automation software for the retail industry. These can be modified to suit banking needs. BI and Reporting vendors have Tablet and Mobile Phone clients already available for Visual Reporting and Analysis. Most browser-enabled banking software can also be fine-tuned for use on tablets and other mobile device browsers to empower banks' mobile workforce with the full system at their fingertips.

Tablets and mobiles specifically designed for use by bank employees are likely to be more sophisticated and have better capabilities than the average device. Today's tech-savvy users are smart enough to find and install relevant apps based on their needs and preferences and switch business to another vendor if their needs are better met elsewhere. Clearly, tablet and mobile banking is here to stay. Vendors are only too cognizant of the clamor for banking workforce automation apps and it's only a matter of time before they step up to meet the demand in this segment of workforce automation.

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