Are we on the tipping point of a new business era for mobile workflow solutions? Historically, we have seen how enterprises have used mobile capabilities to make their workforce more efficient. For example, it gives them great opportunities to send and receive information immediately when out in the field. But the general thinking has been quite traditional. The typical attitude has been: “Let’s keep the same process – but use mobile devices to improve communication”. Trimble smartdelivery now clearly sees how this is changing as the requirement becomes more and more focused on business innovation.
Mobile workflow solutions for the roles we call “real field workers” – for example, field engineers, security guards and drivers – has historically been a somewhat conservative industry. They often worked with bulky devices, based on Windows Mobile and legacy systems that were maintained but very difficult to upgrade. Upgrades often meant buying new devices, still Windows Mobile, which would work with the existing solution and provide the same functionality.
This historical view might seem gloomy; but we should remember that most companies and organizations that invested early in workforce digitalization have likely enjoyed a great ROI. The point is, this is history now. To provide robust solutions for existing business processes at a low cost was the right thing to do then. Innovation was not a key factor or differentiator. “Conservative” and “legacy” were positive attributes, not issues.
In some of the vertical segments where Trimble smartdelivery is supplying leading mobile workflow solutions (e.g. postal services, logistics service providers), a key driver is the conversion from their legacy mobile OS, such as Windows Mobile, to something new. Based on our dialogue with the market, we see that in the next two to three years, many organizations must replace their devices and systems. The end of service date for Windows Mobile 2020 means a hard stop for legacy mobility systems, but the key drivers for the change are now coming more and more from other factors, such as new market requirements and business models. Here are some considerations:
Operational efficiency will of course continue to be a key factor. Consolidation of, for example, delivery networks within the transport & logistics industry is a common trend. To be able to share a common mobility solution and optimize activities among different groups, organizations and subcontractors is a factor that puts new requirements on a mobility solution.
New services – “it’s about me”. Competing in the E-commerce area means living up to completely new expectations from end-customers and consumers. Convenience is king, and my ordered delivery should arrive just when I want it, at the place I want it and I should be able to track it all the way. And by the way, I want to be able to change my mind very late. Personalization and flexibility is expected.
New revenue streams and new competitors. Even though E-commerce is fueling volume growth for the transport and logistics vertical, the parcel delivery market is facing stiff competition. Existing service providers are competing for market share and new players are aiming at disrupting the market. “Über-like” services are emerging at a significantly lower cost compared to the incumbent service providers.To create more value from an existing delivery network, to remain competitive, and to generate new revenue streams, an enterprise must quickly test and introduce new services as well as tailor services to specific situations and customers.
Plan for what you don’t know. When you invest in a new mobile workflow solution the life cycle is by nature long; 5 years, 7 years, maybe even longer. When a market is transitioning it’s impossible to know your future requirements and to make detailed plans for this time horizon. What is possible, however, is to plan for change. If you know that new services, new processes, and new types of users will be needed, you can choose a solution and architecture that is future-proof and provides the flexibility needed.
Which leads us back to technology and legacy solutions
Combining the robustness and functionality needed for core operations with the flexibility needed for change and new services cannot be an afterthought when you develop a product or solution. It has to be built-in to the architecture and concept. In many cases, in all regions of the world, we see legacy solutions where this has not been done, and which makes change slow and prohibitively expensive. Discussing which Mobile OS to migrate to and how this should be done, is of course important. But if you don’t define and address your future business opportunities at the same time, you will end up having the same problems, deriving small comfort from looking at them through a better user interface on a bigger screen.