Over the past 5 years, the volume of data that businesses use to stay relevant and operational has exponentially increased, and shows no signs of slowing. Within this vast quantity of data, the answers to critical business questions lie dormant, waiting to be accessed. Who are the most valuable customers? What are they buying? How can I get them to purchase more from me, and how can I find more like them?
Businesses have turned to bigger and better integrations and BI applications to try to make sense of it all. That’s all well and good for employees behind desks, but does little for the world’s increasingly mobile workforce. In reality, today’s workforce is mobile and agile—IDC indicates it will surpass 105 million people in the U.S. by 2020—but integration strategies are not necessarily following suit. In an organization with a mobile workforce, having valuable information stuck within its four walls is not only counterintuitive, but counterproductive—a problem addressed in a recent IDG survey, in which 58% of IT decision makers said making data more accessible was their top concern.
A business can’t have a well-armed mobile workforce without a properly thought-out integration and mobile application strategy. For workers to have the information they crave at their fingertips, businesses need to make sure that the way they are integrating systems, (such as CRM or ERP) also supports the rapid expansion of worker demand for mobile access. Without considering the integration strategy in conjunction with a mobile application strategy, companies end up with a huge swathe of apps that are irrelevant, redundant, or in need of constant updates. With a proper integration strategy, businesses will be able to provide access to corporate assets remotely, ensuring their mobile workers can continue to be productive inside and outside the office.
Addressing Worker Needs
In order to meet the requirements of today’s mobile workforce, business, integration, and mobile application strategies must be interwoven. A lesson we learned through the growing pains of CRM adoption is that the application has to have the data that the users need and the data must be up-to-date and accurate or confidence will wain, adoption will suffer, and, ultimately, the project may completely fail. Giving your mobile workforce a single pane of glass to view your business through, and providing reliable data when and where they need it, will further adoption of these new applications and provide a foothold for them to see the benefits of mobile access to the enterprise. To do this, businesses must identify the information employees need and deploy mobile applications that provide access to that data.
A mobile strategy must be built on a solid data foundation and provide the ability to pull data from all the different systems that have relevant information. Likewise, mobile workers will often uncover information on competitors and customers that should be collected and pushed back to the systems of record to ensure that the business has the latest view of the world. A data foundation must also come with processes that can address this incoming information and sort out whether it should replace existing data.
Furthermore, a data strategy should be tuned for speed. Mobile applications are used by field, sales, and marketing folks, and those environments are constantly changing to address new customer trends, competitive threats, and sales channels. If the applications are changing quickly, so will their data needs. The data integration foundation, therefore, will also have to be able to adapt to those fast-changing business requirements. Cloud-based integration platforms as a service have emerged as a way to address the data demands of the digital era.
For example, field service reps installing phone or internet services may need to access the CRM system onsite to see what plans the customer has subscribed to. If they can do so, they are not only able to execute the task faster and more efficiently, but they can also upsell and give the customer a better experience. If you are a consultant for a systems integrator, you may have to check the performance of a customer that went live last week while you are on site with another client.
It is important to note that mobile adoption is not only for field service workers. By having mobile access to corporate assets, you enable individuals in sales, marketing, support, and leadership positions to be more effective in their day-to-day roles, without burdening IT with mundane tasks.
As such, part of your integration strategy should include the ability to make changes when you need them, without requiring a project plan to go with it. Using an agile, mobile-friendly tool allows the integration support staff to quickly map a new field, alter some of the logic to meet new business demands, and troubleshoot issues that come up without needing to get their laptops out. Having the ability to make changes rapidly and on an as-needed basis is critical for getting buy-in for integration. Static tools that take a long time to manage are not going to cut it for today’s more agile and dynamic integration solutions.
Businesses must look to eliminate barriers that prevent their workers from being productive in this mobile age. First and foremost, businesses need good data to work with. Then, the business must provide its workers with solid, user-friendly applications to display that data. Additionally, all mobile applications must be tied to information being shared between cloud applications.
Because of the rise in adoption of mobile technologies, it is also critical to come up with a strategy before your userbases define one for you. Figure out which systems should be accessible and which should not, and define access rules and paths to support. Most importantly, provide a list of approved apps or systems that your teams can manage, or you will run the risk of supporting 10 separate apps that perform the same service.
That said, simply providing access to apps for this roving workforce is not enough. They need to have a single point of contact with the business data in order to be effective. Having to jump between apps on a mobile device is far worse than having to do so on a laptop. To ensure adoption, you must have an integration strategy that goes hand in hand with your mobile strategy.
Integrating your front-office and back-office systems allows you to have the 360-degree view of your customers that’s been promised for years. You can track their progress through the sales cycle, pull reports on product productivity, and even begin to build profiles of your high-value customers to help identify the best prospects. But, it is no longer enough to merely merge CRM and ERP systems—mobile must be a key part of the picture.
You should take this a step further and plan to integrate your other customer-?related apps such as marketing automation tools and support systems. Your userbase can now not only see their high-value targets, but can track their progression through your marketing funnel and check if their best customers are starting to see product issues, allowing you to mediate the relationship. Without these valuable pieces of information, you are arming your sales and operations teams with only half the story, potentially allowing them to get blindsided due to the lack of visibility.
The Mobile-Enabled Future
With this varied information, a workforce can become “proactively reactive” to the changing needs of the business. It can react to changes in the field on-the-fly, as well as to specific data mappings to ensure the data gets across, and then take that knowledge and store it away for other team members to proactively use when similar use cases arise. This allows an entire IT workforce to be the trusted team members that internal teams require to make their day-to-day lives easier.
This new world of mobility is providing unprecedented opportunity in the enterprise market for those who adopt it properly. Your teams can outperform both their predecessors and the current competition with this increase in system availability. But, to achieve success, the key is having a data integration strategy before you start pushing out mobile apps and a data strategy built for speed. Otherwise, adoption will fail and mobile apps will become outdated quickly.
Integration should be a key part of the mobile plan from the start, with a focus on allowing teams to easily create flexible integrations between enterprise systems and to make small changes to the integration quickly, from anywhere and on any device. By making integration a key part of the mobility strategy, it is possible to ensure that teams will have access to the data they need, when they need it, from wherever they may be.