No matter the product, service or industry, mission or corporate philosophy, nearly every business is bottom-line driven. And there is no shortage of ingenuity as to how companies try to glean more profit out of existing processes. Every so often, a new technology emerges that radically changes the productivity landscape and industry’s related profitability potential in kind. Some notable advancements, of course, have included assembly lines, telephones, fax machines and the Internet. Today, there is a ubiquitous technology poised to revolutionize how business is done: the smartphone—but not for the reason you may think.
Although everyone concedes this versatile and portable device has forever changed social culture and that businesses already use smartphones for communication, companies are only now understanding the power of intra-company smartphone apps as a mission-critical mobile-process-improvement (MPI) asset that can actually drive productivity, enhance competitiveness and maximize revenue.
MPI is a burgeoning trend forecasted to have much upside potential. Research* revealed that MPI spending in the U.S. will grow 100% by 2015. By 2016, an additional 45 million employees in the U.S. are forecasted to use smartphones, priming them for MPI integration. By 2017 the MPI market in the U.S. is projected to reach a staggering $4 billion, fueled by cloud services and demand for connected-anywhere-anytime enterprises.** Despite what is clear and abundant opportunity, however, studies also show that only approximately 10% of all U.S. firms have invested in MPI and that by 2016, just over 30% of all U.S. firms will have made the investment. That said, some U.S. companies and organizations are currently investing in MPI, including UPS, Amazon and the U.S. Army, which have already collectively saved upwards of $15 billion per year.
So what exactly can a business do to save money with smartphone apps? Here are five surprising ways businesses are using MPI to promote profitability:
1. Field-Employee Management
Over 45% of all businesses in the U.S. use some kind of remote employee—someone who is not at a specific work site at all hours of the day. In fact, 24% of all businesses are primarily field based, from insurance-claims adjustors to inspectors, gardeners, builders, consultants, sales agents and many others. One primary problem with field employees is limited accountability, since their whereabouts cannot be monitored at all times. Tardiness, time theft and a general lack of information as to where employees are is an enormous and debilitating business issue, compounded by the fact that employees must frequently and proactively call in to get needed information from a home base to facilitate their field effort.
Today, forward-thinking companies are tying their field forces together into a huge mobile grid that is supported by the employee’s own smartphones. These apps can be programmed to only allow field workers to clock in when they are at the actual job site, reducing time theft. This MPI app allows employees to quickly access home-office data on the go, and if an employee is sick while afield, he doesn’t have to wait until the next day to call the home office, as the app automatically summons a replacement the second he requests a sick day. The total savings are immense.
2. Eliminating Inefficiencies
Companies seeking a paperless business or requiring speedy document access have been quick to adopt smartphones for high-speed scanning. Documents are scanned and deposited into online repositories for easy retrieval by voice- or text-powered search engines. In addition, having every bit of paper an employee could need inside of their smartphone empowers and enables professionals of all sorts, saving time, boosting efficiency and efficacy, and saving the environment in the process.
Altogether, the above-reference MPI-based smartphone applications have save the companies in question multiple billions of dollars, hugely affecting bottom lines. That same revenue potential exists for nearly every kind of business. Whether that be updating outdated processes or using mobile technology to enhance modern systems, a custom-designed smartphone app could very well provide a simple solution that has an enormous impact on the business—and possibly the industry at large. With MPI, “building a better mousetrap” is only limited by imagination and inclination.
3. Inspection Improvement
Using smartphone image recognition, many companies that inspect sites or security companies in charge of visual documentation can use smartphones to inspect automatically. If something seems out of place, the photo-recognition software is taught, or programmed, to report it.
For example, a security company in Boston found that too much of its resources were being wasted “busting” teenagers and troublemakers who were just skateboarding in front of one of their buildings. These people posed no real harm to the company, so they built an app that allowed the camera to differentiate between harmless intruders and malicious ones, saving the company the need to react with extreme force to relatively benign situations—in this case, a single guard needing to respond rather than the whole cavalry. Over the course of three years, the company saved over $20 million.
4. Inventory Management
Companies with inventory can now QR codes directly onto the boxes on their shelves and track inventory on employee smartphones. With MPI, employees can simply walk down the warehouse aisles and scan items. The related app directly links to an inventory-management system, resulting in faster inventory count, employee theft prevention and improved analytics. The back-end dashboard allows management to see exactly how much inventory is left and automatically compare it with predicted inventory in real time, improving visibility into the process. Backorders can also be created automatically as soon as an inventory count runs low, saving time and human labor. And best of all, miscounts are impossible, regardless of whether they are based on human error or a thieving employee trying to cover his tracks!
5. Becoming Leaner
Companies are using the power of mobile apps for automation, allowing them to focus employee attention elsewhere. For example, many companies with an assembly line still use employees to inspect the process and check off moving parts with a clipboard and a pen! Such jobs can be “leaned” with smartphone apps. QR codes can be printed directly onto each piece of assembly, and a small handheld smartphone can automatically scan each piece, syncing to a visual interface that managers can observe remotely. This process enhancement has already allowed entire divisions of human labor to be refocused to other projects, creating tremendous cost savings.
*Forrester’s Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey—2013
**Global Industry Analysts
Leading article image courtesy of iStockPhoto
About the Author
Profit-focused Internet marketing strategist Kirill Storch is CEO of Electric Web—a field leader in mobile-app and website development, programming, and online revenue generation through e-commerce, social media and marketing-communications initiatives. He can be reached online at www.ElectricWebMarketing.com.