Industrial mobility projects: A marriage made in heaven?

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The executive sponsor looked at me and said, “We have known you a long time, Mary!”

How do you respond to that?

I had just walked into his company’s boardroom to make the final presentation as part of their selection process – and yes, I had first met the executive four years earlier when their need for a mobility solution was paramount. However, it had taken another three years for their internal processes to approve the project and allow them to go to market. Little did we know, but the selection of a vendor and board approval would be yet another nine months, making it nearly five years from first meeting to our starting the project.

The thought then occurred that the process of selecting a mobility vendor, implementing a solution and then delivering to the field a solution every day, correlates directly to the courtship, wedding and then daily grind of a long term marriage. These phases all have key success factors and we will consider each of them. However, our conclusion is that irrespective of the needs in the courtship and wedding phase, the most important, yet area of least focus, is the everyday delivery that follows.

Courtship

This is where everyone looks their best. And it is also where traits in the future bride or groom are hinted at: by example a domineering family, slovenly habits with dirty clothes or dishes, a quick temper. Similarly with vendors, poor responsiveness or putting their corporate product strategy before your actual needs, are similar signs of trouble to come.

What are the top three traits to seek?

  • Return on investment: A good business case is easy to find in mobility, you just need to go where your customers are impacted – so field service, logistics delivery, customer inquiry apps, quality inspections are all good examples where the mobile project delivers a better result to the customer. Administration apps, that tackle expenses or travel requests for internal staff, are nice to have but simply don’t hit the bottom line.
  • Domain experience: Both in mobility and your industry segment. Without such understanding the first project with your vendor will be a joint learning experience, longer in duration and sub optimal in design. Importantly, if you can find an off-the-shelf-product that reflects your internal processes, side stepping the whole creation phase, run to it with arms open as the project risk is dramatically lower and live references allow verification of product quality.
  • Supplier quality: This is more in the eye of the beholder, however I believe in an old fashion requirement – profitability. This underpins longevity of the company rather than being on a venture capitalist’s leash. Reference checking is also essential, however the questions need to be asked such as the length of the relationship and breadth of the deployment.

Wedding

This is when blood is spilt: high tension; accusations; tantrums as the big day looms. Implementations are similar in their planning, issues of effective partnering between the customer and vendor team, cost blow outs and gaining agreement on what is the end state desired.

But the greatest pressure today on implementations is speed. Demanded by sponsoring executives, their expectation is that an approval given this quarter will bear fruit next quarter. To achieve this, projects need off the shelf solutions or an agile approach of delivering the final solution via two, three or five phases – in both approaches you have end users benefiting within three or four months and management seeing fast return on investment.

It is worthwhile to note that the most common characteristic of successful implementations is executive involvement. This drives a focused response to the project’s demands within the organisation and allows hurdles to be jumped rather than barriers and delays to be erected.

Happily ever after

So the party is over, the dress donated to the Salvation Army and your advice to those who ask is that a small wedding would have been a better idea. The question soon becomes “what should we have for dinner tonight?” and so it is with enterprise mobility projects. The implementation is declared a success and the pressure moves to the daily quality support of your end users.

What are the three key determinants for long-term bliss?

  • A solution that reflects field workflow: Design that delivers productivity to your tech in the field rather than imposing an artificial work process is paramount. IT historically imposes new processes on administration functions, in field the opposite is true where end users rule.
     
  • Quality support: Don’t ask people to throw out their paper processes if you cannot deliver something at least as fast and as reliable as their current practice. Importantly, if something goes wrong the system must be able to recover in field and NOT ask the end user to document their day again from the start.
     
  • Hand held computing needs to reflect an end user’s environment: Bring your own device appeals to management as a cost reduction, and sometimes it is the right fit. However, for work in the field, there are certain application questions that need asking. Such as: can your tech still work in sunlight? Barcode scan with speed? Have access to battery life that reflects work day length? The most common frustration voiced in the field is poor equipment.

In our experience the mobility marriage is at least eight years, so quality and a robust vendor relationship is important. And just like marriage the ability to morph the solution to reflect emerging needs is paramount to long-term success.

The final complexity falls outside of our marriage paradigm, given the mobile requirements within an enterprise may demand multiple vendors. The span of mobility from consumer interaction, to simple ERP extension and then through to complex workflow environments of field workers drives a multi solution environment. However, the discussion of polygamy is perhaps for another day.

 

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