Mobile App vs. Paper: No Contest
Many enterprises still use pen and paper for mobile processes, because paper is so cheap. But not using mobile applications can cost more than they realize.
By Steve Brykman, Propelics
Many organizations still use pen and paper as the preferred platform for many, if not all, of their mobile processes. Budget-focused clients reticent to adopt a digital format for their most oft-used processes frequently tell us: "Paper is cheap." Well, not really -- not when you consider all that you don’t get with paper and all that you do get with a mobile application.
Namely the following:
Process Automation and Customization
A digital app can be built to automate a series of processes or even be customizable to best accommodate each employee's own approach for an even greater increase in overall efficiency. Studies have shown increased happiness when employees are able to interact with a well-designed mobile app. How much is worth to satisfy employees?
Sure, you can shuffle paper around all day, but it won't make it easier to deal with, particularly when you're trying to consolidate paperwork across your entire team. Also, unless you’re going to tear up each page into little pieces, you’re still stuck with everything that was written on that page. Digital data can be manipulated however you see fit; sort and filter to your heart’s content. How much is it worth to make data your bitch?
A no-brainer. Paper is fragile. It tears, it crinkles, and it burns. A hard day’s work is easily lost in a strong wind. Ink runs and handwriting can be illegible, even to the writer. To back it up, you're either going to have to convert it to a digital form, anyway -- by copying, scanning or taking a picture of the document. How much is it worth to own the data?
Data Entry Speed
Clients often fail to consider the fact that many processes (that previously required manual recording) don't require any interaction at all once they’re in a smartphone app. So much can be gathered simply by taking a picture of a tag or a bar/QR code, at which point the phone itself can do the work of deciphering the data and posting it to a cloud database. Further, any data can be tagged with time, date and location information without the user even being aware this is happening. How much is worth to save employees time?
Let's face it: With pen and paper, it's not a question of whether an error will occur, but how frequently will you be burdened with them? And how difficult and costly will they be to correct once the mistakes are made? A mobile application can eliminate errors by validating data -- juxtaposing it with past results or with a pre-established range of figures – and instantly alerting the user in the event an erroneous, or even unlikely, entry has been recorded. How much is it worth to eliminate duplication of X number of processes each day/week/month/year?
A well-defined user interface will give you complete control over the way your employees gather data. One client, who previously let employees create their own data sheets, assuming they would be happiest figuring out things for themselves, instead wound up with an unmanageable library of cryptic forms, worthless to anyone but the author. An intuitive mobile interface will speed interaction and will respond to how it’s being used. How much is it worth to understand what your employees are doing?
New Hire Support
A smartphone app provides on-the-job training, literally (i.e. figuratively) guiding a recent hire through each step of an unfamiliar process on an as-needed basis, with prompts and examples. This significantly decreases training time and flattens the learning curve. Your employees will be more productive from day one. How much is it worth to eliminate the employee training period?
Historic Trends/Future Predictions
A digital interface can provide information about past results and make predictions about the future -- something a piece of paper won't ever be able to do. Digital data can be instantly converted into a myriad of chart and graph formats, making visualization of past trends and predictions of future results effortless. That’s just not going to happen with notes scrawled on paper. How much is it worth to know what lies ahead?
Equipping an enterprise app with behind-the-scenes analytics allows the company to gather information on the efficiency of the entire process. Which processes take longer for employees to complete, which ones do they skip altogether, and why? The GPS alone can automatically record stop lengths and locations. How much is it worth to constantly improve your company’s efficiency?
Up-sell, Cross-sell, Program Promotion
An enterprise mobile app can provide custom reminders and recommendations for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities during the data entry process itself. What better opportunity to push new promotions to the client than at the exact time your employee is interacting with them -- recording which products they’re running out of or which need to be upgraded? How much is it worth to increase sales?
The true value of information lies not in its being recorded. For information to be truly valuable, it needs to be dissected and reexamined. Errors must be minimized; trends must be identified and anticipated. Daily data gathering processes need to be streamlined or customized, and continuously analyzed for efficiency. To be truly productive, a company may now incorporate inline-training and relevant sell opportunities into these formerly menial, single-minded tasks.
So ask yourself, how much is all this worth to your business? Oh, and lastly, think of all the trees you’ll save!
But don't take my word for it. Check out some thoughts from Josh Jewett, the CIO of Family Dollar. Josh and his team deployed resources to build two mobile apps (with a third on the way) for Family Dollar’s district managers, who are typically responsible for managing 20-25 stores.
Now, for example, these managers can quickly assess the status of a given store (including appearance, merchandise organization and a number of other factors) using the app, which is far more efficient and transparent than the old pen-and-paper method.
Feedback on the apps that Josh and his team built has been positive across executives, employees and IT, while relative cost has been low and the impact immediate (in the form of increased employee productivity). Now that’s a mobile success story.
Steven Brykman is a digital strategist and UX architect focusing on mobile products, with a diverse background in writing and literature. Currently with Propelics, a leader in enterprise mobility, he helps a wide range of enterprises determine the direction of their mobile apps. He spent much of the last decade as creative technologist/lead strategist for his own design company, Got Your Nose, improving user experiences for such companies as Scholastic and Bell Canada and leading the mobile strategy direction for companies including Rabbit Bandini, Guinness and Nintendo. He also co-founded Apperian, a Boston-based technology startup focused on mobile application development, and served as lead UI architect and strategist for all iPhone, iPad and Android applications, including Apperian's flagship product, EASE.