If you manage a company, department or team with field-based personnel, you’ve no doubt considered how mobile technology might be employed to benefit your business. However if you’ve been involved in more than a few software implementations, you’ll also realise that the ROI envisaged at the outset isn’t always realised. Why is this?
Why Does Technology Fall Short?
One issue, particularly in bespoke implementations, is failure to deliver the project at all, often due to overly optimistic goals, which is something I discussed in a previous post. However where I really want to focus in this article is those projects which are implemented, but which don’t bring the anticipated benefits. Overselling is one possible culprit but, while the benefits of the product have no doubt been portrayed in the best possible light by the salesman, experienced business people take this into account.
For me the far more significant factor in sub-optimal software projects is a failure to fully appreciate inefficiency at the user-tech interface: that is to say, how the potential benefits of the solution are diluted because of imperfect adoption.
Many projects suffer from an (unacknowledged) assumption that users will get the most out of the new software however in practice this is never the case. This may be because users are averse to change, because they don’t fully understand the product or benefits, or because they just never quite get round to doing the things that will allow them to realise the full potential – they’re just people after all, and they have a job to do which, more often than not, is far broader than use of the new solution.
So how do you make sure the projects you’re involved in achieve their full potential? Is it just a question of factoring in a degree of inefficiency – setting the bar that much higher for which projects you initiate?
I don’t believe so. While gaining an awareness of potential inefficiency is a good first step, there is a lot that can be done to avoid the issues to which so many solutions fall prey, and the place to focus is the user-tech interface I described above.
Both when you’re selecting a product, and when you’re deciding how it should be configured, focus on automation and ease of use. If the user doesn’t have to do anything there is no room for inefficiency to creep in – where they do need to be actively involved, the easier it is for them the better. As well as looking at the way features are presented to the user, also think about how many features you’re presenting. If the product you select can do a broad range of things that’s fine, but ensure that functions which are non-critical to your needs can be turned off, at least while the users become familiar with the core functions.
Engaging your users (or at least some of them) during product selection is also valuable. While user requirements shouldn’t be the only criteria for product selection, this will provide an important perspective as well as making the users feel part of the process, and therefore more likely to positively engage with the solution.
Training and support are the next points to consider. If you’ve embraced the above points about automation and ease of use, this should minimize your training and support requirements – nevertheless with most solutions some degree of assistance will be required in understanding and using the chosen product(s).
Last but not least, the most successful projects benefit from a continual cycle of feedback and enhancements – learn what’s working and not working, make it better, then repeat.
Everything I’ve said above is applicable to more or less any software project, so where does mobile come into it?
A term that has been popular among software companies for some years now is mobile first, but what does this actually mean? I would argue that for companies with field-based personnel, mobile first increasingly equates to user first – if you’re to provide automation and ease of use, and in turn to maximise the ROI of your project, selecting a product which has been designed specifically to meet the needs of mobile users is a must.
I’d like to provide a couple of examples of products which really excel in terms of automation, ease of use, and mobile user experience:
LiiD is a solution which automatically logs calls and emails to CRM. While the solution incorporates a cloud-based service, the focus is very much the (native) mobile apps for iPhone and Android. LiiD automatically logs calls made to or from a salesperson’s mobile device to Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics CRM. It also supports recording of notes via voice recognition, business card scanning, and a Sales Assistant function which automatically suggests activities based, for example, on unanswered calls and emails. Find out more at www.liid.com.
Retriever Barking for Service is a solution which supports the workflow for field-based engineers. Unlike competitive products, Barking puts the mobile user experience at the heart of its offering, with mobile apps (for iOS, Android and Windows) which provide functionality to support site visits, for example asset management, parts management and custom forms. As with all the best mobile solutions, the Barking apps work whether or not there’s a network connection, and data is synchronised seamlessly in the background whenever a connection is available. Find out more at retrieverbarking.com/barking-for-service/.
Many technology projects fall short of expectations when it comes to ROI. While there may be several contributing factors to this shortfall, the key issue is a failure to properly understand, and appropriately cater for, the imperfect relationship between users and technology.
However this is not an insurmountable challenge and, once you’ve acknowledged the problem, there are a number of steps you can take to address it: think automation and ease of use when selecting and configuring a product; ensure you engage your users in the decision making process; make sure training and support is a focus; put in place mechanisms for feedback and continuous improvement.
Retriever, LiiD and companies like them are developing solutions that, with exceptional functionality and user experience, help minimise issues with user adoption. What’s more they do this not by replacing your existing systems but by integrating with them.
It’s no longer viable for the mobile user experience to be an afterthought – put it at the heart of your decision making process and you’ll reap the rewards.