Tens of thousands of mobile apps have been deployed by companies in the past three years. What we've learned from these deployments is that certain application scenarios are head and shoulders above others in terms of their usability and their ability to make a difference in the business. The industry a company is in also matters—because the same mobile app won' t work equally well in every business context. What we do know, though, is that certain mobile apps have worked exceptionally well and are beginning to provide us with some outstanding examples and mobile app best practices. Here are 10 of them.
1: Voice-based warehouse operations
Warehouse workers need both hands when they picking items off shelves and packing them in boxes for outgoing orders. They have been using RFID (radio frequency identification) devices for this, but they have to keep one hand free to operate the device. Now, new mobile apps enable workers to have telephone headsets with portable mobile units strapped to their belts so they can use voice commands to report when they move from one inventory station to another or when an order is complete. The voice-based commands are digitized into data that directly flows into their warehouse management systems.
2: Order configuration in the field
Salespersons for technology and equipment companies have struggled for years with correctly translating customer requirements into the right product configuration for the customer. Today, many companies have succeeded in developing software-based "configuration engines" that salespersons in the field can connect with through their mobile devices. The salesperson inputs the customer needs and the config software returns an equipment "recipe" that fits the customer.
3: Financial planning using tablets
Portfolio allocation, retirement planning, and applying for insurance products can be complicated and confusing. Now a financial planner can sit with a client at a table and work through what-if scenarios and portfolio management with the help of a tablet everyone can see.
4: GPS logistics tracking
Logistics companies use mobile devices and sensors to track the routes and locations of their trucks. The technology enables them to reroute vehicles in emergency situations and to optimize routes for better delivery results.
5: Project collaboration
More and more companies are working globally, with employees collaborating on projects located in different geographical areas. Some of these employees are field-based. Mobile technology is enableing employees to collaborate on projects in real time, keeping project data and timelines fresh. This real-time collaboration is contributing to more projects working "right" the first time.
6: Instant messaging and expert finding
In companies that are global or distributed across a wide band of locations, mobile technology is enabling instant messaging and "expert finding" through access to employee expertise databases. As a result, employees can solve difficult problems faster.
A new generation of talent management software enables employees to receive company training videos over their mobile devices in the field. The mobile training is a breakthrough for field technicians who must keep pace with new features and functions of the products they are responsible for servicing.
Airlines and tram systems now issue auto alerts and updates to passengers on their mobiles to let them know if their flights/routes are on time—or to suggest alternative if problems develop. These mobile apps have improved customer satisfaction ratings.
If you're involved in a fender bender, the claims adjuster from your insurance company can inspect the vehicle and input the claim form from his or her mobile device—and give you an immediate answer on how much of the claim will be covered and what your options are.
10: Contextual GPS
GPS is moving to the next level with contextual information for users—like finding the nearest restaurant in your locale and providing restaurant reviews, photos, and directions. More companies and industries are adding contextual information to GPS through downloadable mobile apps, so the field of GPS contexts will continue to expand for consumers.
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Other innovative mobile apps?
What new technologies are making a difference in your industry? Share your thoughts with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.