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Real-world ways mobile apps boost employee productivity

More and more IT departments are deploying, managing and even creating mobile applications. Using the right strategy, mobile apps can be a boon to employee productivity.

There are some great real-world examples of how organizations achieve immediate value and increased employee productivity from mobile applications.

As mobile technology professionals, we are constantly looking for that secret formula to increase the productivity of our workforce. In many cases, we are challenged by our IT and business leaders about the real value of mobile applications, and that can lead to delays in moving forward with projects. In response, we turn to analysts and subject matter experts, looking for a turnkey mobile solution and roadmap that we can immediately adopt. But when it comes to mobile, unfortunately there really is no silver bullet. We can, however, learn from other organizations' positive steps to give us the best chance of success.

Our first example comes from a global leader in the area of finance and leasing for businesses. The company's dealers and salespeople would meet with various businesses, discuss their leasing needs and then kick off what was usually a 30-day process from application to funding. The process would include providing quotes, approving applications and workflows, and many other steps. This company discovered that by accepting applications, delivering quotes and allowing digital signatures on a tablet, those 30 days were cut to two. With a salesforce of over 10,000 people, that 28-day increase in employee productivity proved to be very significant.

The next example is a large retail chain that used to rely heavily on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for auditing, planning and sales tracking. This approach required store and district managers to spend a lot of time manually entering information into multiple systems, and it involved a long auditing process. By providing the district managers a means to audit the stores on their mobile devices, the company immediately saw faster remediation times and completion of follow-up items. The district and store managers then had more time to focus on driving dollars to the bottom line.

In some cases, the value of mobile is not always represented in real dollars and cents. Mobile applications are a great way to provide your employees with what we call soft value, as seen in this final example.

In large enterprises, there is never a shortage of people walking around, looking lost, in search of a particular conference room. I have talked to many employees, and when they find out I am the "mobile guy," they proceed to tell me how nice it would be to have a conference room finder application. It's a wonderful idea, but organizations usually hit a snag when it comes to who pays for building the application and how to recover that investment. In other words, "What is the real value?"

It would be very difficult to determine the potential cost savings this application could bring about (although it would be an interesting exercise to analyze how many people are late to meetings because they can't find the room, how much time they lose and the corresponding costs). But from a soft-value perspective, employees are asking for this application, and it can help them immediately be productive and effective in meetings.

These three examples show how organizations have achieved or could achieve real value and productivity with their mobile applications. Now, let's discuss some takeaways, to give our mobile endeavors the best chance for success. The first step: We need to truly understand the use case. What are we trying to accomplish and why?

We should be doing mobile, not for mobile's sake but because there is opportunity to create real value. A quick win with the proverbial low-hanging fruit is a great way to get started. Build a use case around an existing process that could see immediate benefits from being mobilized. Examples include approval processes, sales force automation, training manuals and incident reporting.

A great way to choose a use case is to pick a person, possibly a field service worker, and walk a day in his shoes. Observe what that employee does on a day-to-day basis. Is there a daily task that could be made much more effective by completing it on a mobile device, therefore making that employee more productive? Once you've selected the use case, clearly define the requirements, goals that will be the success criteria for this application.

Always remember that user experience (UX) is key. Just mobilizing a use case is not enough to increase employee productivity. Truly understanding the expected UX and developing an intuitive, engaging workflow is of critical importance. A mobile application with a bad UX could actually make a user less productive and more frustrated, creating a situation in which all of the time, effort and cost your organization put into mobilizing the process did more harm than good.

Another key item, and arguably the most important, is metrics. How is the organization going to measure the success of the application? The key performance indicators must be clearly defined, and a means for measuring those indicators needs to be built into the application. Many tools out there offer in-app analytics, and these should be a key part of any mobile application deployment. Use these tools to see how users interact with the application and how much time they spend in the application to get their required processes completed, then determine if there is truly an increase in productivity.

If it is not already, mobility is going to be firmly ingrained into the culture of the enterprise. The goal is to discover ways it can provide real value and transform our organizations. By focusing on lessons learned from other organizations and by following a few simple guidelines, enterprises will be well on their way.

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How has your company used mobile apps to increase employee productivity?
Mobile-based email apps have been one simple way to increase employee productivity, but that's just the beginning. 
Expense/travel management apps have been helpful in keeping track of charges while on the road.