woman working on phone while marmot watches
While companies have been quick to deliver mobile experiences to their customers, many still lag in providing their employees the same PHOTO: Olympic National Park

Businesses have realized the benefits of providing customers with a mobile interface for products and services, but many still haven't extended those advantages to their employees.  

According to a survey conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (pdf), respondents who identified their organization as a “pioneer” in its use of mobile technology scored 16 percent higher for productivity than respondents who described their organization’s use of mobile technology as “bad.” 

Further, the pioneers also reported 23 percent higher employee satisfaction and 21 percent higher loyalty. 

By enabling a mobile workforce with mobile apps to improve workflow, businesses can increase employees’ productivity and help alleviate frustration. Those that miss the mobile opportunity for their workforce may find themselves left behind in the wave of digital transformation. Here’s why.

Mobile-First Benefits for Employees

Employees are becoming more accustomed to using their personal mobile devices for everyday tasks. As of October 2016, global internet usage on smartphones and tablets exceeded that of  desktop computers. 

Employees and businesses both benefit when companies adopt a mobile-first approach that allows employees to work with a device they are already familiar with. The value of mobile is especially clear with field employees. Mobile apps can streamline field operations by more easily communicating site locations, scheduling employees and the resources they need, and providing relevant and timely customer information, giving them the ability to resolve customer issues more efficiently.

Speeding the Time to Resolution

One particularly powerful example of the impact of today’s mobile-enabled workforce was evidenced during extreme storm conditions in Europe in 2015, which resulted in widespread infrastructure damage and disruption of rail services. Field engineers needed a way to more quickly and accurately report incidences so that repairs could be prioritized and the correct maintenance teams dispatched to the right location with the necessary equipment. 

A simple forms-based mobile app was created and deployed to field maintenance workers within two days. The app allowed them to capture images and information regarding the status of damage and to prioritize the most urgent incidences that needed quick resolution. Integration of the mobile app with back-end workforce management systems meant teams could be scheduled and dispatched immediately, helping to get rail services operational and people on the move again.

Not All Apps are Created Equal

Simply handing an employee a mobile phone with publicly-available apps won't necessarily make their job easier. If the device does not provide useful information, is not able to connect to back-end systems efficiently or help make digital reporting easier, it will likely cause frustration and prove less helpful than pen and paper.

An ideal mobile app should enable employees to do their job more efficiently, and with greater security. To do so, the mobile app should integrate with back-end systems as efficiently as possible, bringing relevant information to the device in a timely, secure and user-friendly manner. There should be a simple user interface and easier connection to update data. 

An ideal first step in delivering such an app is to start small and identify a clear task that can benefit from mobile, such as eliminating a paper-based process. This can help employees become familiar with the mobile app and provide feedback to work out any kinks before moving on to more advanced app projects. 

Some of the most helpful mobile apps are low on complexity but deliver high impact, more easily integrating into an employee’s workflow.

Success at the Hands of a Cross-Functional Team 

IT departments traditionally "own" mobile app strategies, but this is expected to change in the coming years. To get more from mobile apps, a team effort is required across IT and lines of business (LOB) to help ensure proper communications of business objectives. 

A Mobile Center of Excellence (MCoE) — a collaborative team spanning lines of business, IT and end users — can ensure IT understands the users' needs and the business's goals. MCoEs can help cut down on redundant processes and drive greater development efficiencies across multiple mobile projects. Having a central team who understands the business strategy, the mobile objectives and can set guidelines for mobile policy, security and development technologies produces clear benefits.

In the digital era, competitive advantage can rely on speed and agility. Mobility can help employees get more work done faster and lead to greater employee satisfaction — as long as employees are provided an app that can truly benefit their work.