By Declan Grogan, Managing Director, NDL Software
Mobile ‘line of business’ applications offer huge organisational benefits through cost savings, cleaner data and service efficiencies. In the public sector, there is now widespread acceptance that mobile working supports the dual aims of better service delivery and reduced costs. But adoption is not happening as quickly as it might.
Some early projects failed because of over-ambition. There was also – and still remains – cultural resistance as staff and managers alike grapple with the new paradigm. But these failures have delivered useful lessons about why projects fail and why organisational cultures resist.
Based on our experience with public sector clients and research into their use of mobile technology, here are what we believe are the 10 essentials for successful mobile working projects. These will ensure buy in from staff, but more importantly enable the real power of mobile technology to be harnessed in order to radically improve working practices:
1: Work offline. Today’s networks are simply not robust enough to support constant sophisticated data communication. Delivering a web portal or view of a remote desktop to the device will simply not work at scale due to signal blackouts. Instead, mobile solutions should support offline working with occasional synchronisation. N.B. Manufacturers mail and calendar apps are all native code and work offline.
2: Security is not a problem. Our research shows that perceived security concerns prevent adoption of mobile working – but security doesn’t cause projects to fail. It should always be a key concern but there are robust proven security and encryption products available which protect data stored on the device and in-transit. Ultimately, even the weakest of these options is preferable to paper.
3: It’s a mixed estate world. Significant shifts are happening. In particular, who’d have thought that there would be such a dramatic rise in the use of Windows tablet devices rather than iPads? And what has happened to BlackBerry, king of the corporate device hill just a few years ago? These changes coupled with increasing demand for BYOD will inevitably lead to a mix of devices and who knows where we will be in another three years, so make sure you build a very flexible approach to device support.
4: Engage your users. Otherwise a mobile project is far more likely to fail. Involve users from day one of the planning stage: explore what they do in each area of activity, and use their ideas on interfaces and devices. This will give them some ownership of the project; and you are more likely to develop usable and appropriate processes and interfaces which they will be happy with.
5: Set realistic expectations. Mobile working will not suddenly create a utopia. Remind users about the frustrations of current working patterns and the real difference mobile working will make. Explain it’s an iterative process: the first small app may not provide all the benefits but it will deliver some and the others will come through wider mobile working. Deliver what is simplest and quickest to get some fast returns, and to demonstrate just what can be achieved.
6: Handle exceptions. Get a real understanding from staff about how often processes take place. If something happens rarely then – certainly in the early stages – don’t include it. This results in over-heavy apps which may discourage adoption or take longer to develop. Build for core processes and come back to exceptions later. Remember to ask “what do you do now?” – Will they really be any worse off in that exceptional circumstance and is it worth adding cost and delay for?
7: Sell the idea. Mobile working significantly changes working patterns, so go further to explain the wider benefits. Highlight how it will:
8: Break down the processes. Understand the exact steps taken to perform tasks. Be ruthless in deciding what information should be captured. Use an Agile approach, designing processes in small chunks to make them usable, reusable and manageable. Get an app working, then refine it, and then apply the lessons learnt to the next app, building a series of small interworking and flexible apps.
This will also keep tighter control on costs and avoid over-investment in large projects which are doomed to failure – and thus generate a quicker ROI.
9: Plan for change. It’s inevitable: whether it’s legislation, organisational structures, data submission requirements, back-office systems, or devices and networks. Be in a position to respond by using an abstracted mobile model which separates the process of the field worker from the back office systems. And choose a mobile solution which can be adapted in-house, which will avoid being locked into a vendor.
10: And finally: Don’t forget integration. To support this, select a mobile solution which can interact with different back-office systems rather than being exclusively tied to one siloed system. Otherwise all the efficiencies and productivity gains which can be delivered by mobile working will be completely negated by the need to enter data into back-office systems or into a data warehouse.
Want to learn more about effective mobile applications for the healthcare space? Come join Microsoft, NDL and Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust for a free one-hour webinar on Tuesday 13 May from 11 a.m. until midday. You’ll learn about the importance of putting clinicians at the heart of the community through Pennine Care’s story, hear practical next steps for getting started and get a chance to ask questions. Sign up to attend this free webinar today. Confirm your place now by registering here and enter the event invitation code 1320D8.
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Microsoft should allow existing VB6 applications to be transferred to mobiles. We don't want to have to acquire further programming skills to re-wrire working applications.