Innovations in Smartphone Apps
Wireless technology is one of the fastest-changing phenomena in the world today. No single day passes without the telecommunication industry experiencing some new development that revolutionizes the way information is accessed and used. This technological evolution brings about improved security, increased coverage and greater throughput, and in so doing, impacts on information accessibility. Although this evolution has had an impact on almost all spheres of human life, the world of business stands out. The scale on which businesses can access corporate data today has never been experienced before. With mobile technology for instance, the retrieval of sale-closing or account-servicing information no longer depends on the proximity to the premises’ LAN. Companies are, therefore, in a position to conduct business from anywhere, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
It would be prudent to begin by outlining some of the significant mobile technology advancements realized in the recent past.
Machine to Machine (M2M Solutions): these enable two-way communication by connecting devices in diverse locations to a single network and enabling them to share real-time information through radio signal (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). The rationale behind M2M solutions is that not only does the wireless transmission of information from a business, house or instrument, and receipt of useful feedback automate the traditional (manual) processes, but it also “helps to streamline service provisioning and billing” (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Numerous innovations in the field of M2M solutions come up on a daily basis. The most recent development on this front is the MNC-favoring invention of an M2M solution pack capable of “ordering and provisioning in multiple countries” (AT&T, 2014). AT&T, which offers one some of the most comprehensive M2M solutions in the world, for instance, recently developed a software-based global SIM with the ability to manage connected M2M assets located in 200+ countries (AT&T, 2014).
Mobile Resource Management (MRM) Solutions: refer to “a portfolio of technologies, equipment, software and services that grant end-to-end visibility to any company with” mobile assets, including workers and vehicles (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). MRM solutions make use of wireless communications tied to GPS systems to monitor the movements and workings of mobile assets (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Almost all aspects of the business benefit in one way or another from MRM solutions;
i) Customer-service — timely arrival at customers’ premises during delivery, delivery of accurate shipments, and elimination of fraudulent delivery reporting and work time (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
ii) Cost-control — reduced losses resulting from theft, lower car maintenance and fuel expenses owing to a decline in unauthorized usage, and lower overtime expenditure and labor-related costs (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
iii) Productivity — optimization of mobile resources’ (such as drivers) time and vehicle safety-improvement (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
GPS Tracking: available on all GPS-enabled smart phones, data tracking software makes use of the Global Positioning System to establish the exact location of a mobile asset, a vehicle or a person. The data is then stored either within the unit or transmitted to a centralized database via modem, radio, or GPRS (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). GPS tracking software produces a map backdrop that displays the asset’s movement using the recorded data (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Tracking systems facilitate the identification of wasteful practices within the organization. Benefits include;
i) Customer-service — ensures time-saving and makes it easier to serve more customers in a day, and provides a basis for better response to emergencies as it ensures that “vehicles get to work sites more quickly” (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
ii) Cost-control — lets managers “know when drivers are wasting fuel by exceeding the speed limit, idling excessively, or not taking the shortest routes” (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Insurance companies more often than not offer discount on premiums to GPS-managed systems (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
iii) Productivity – helps managers to monitor the time employees spend on a particular job, eliminates unauthorized usage of company vehicles, forms (through its quantified data) an effective basis for employee evaluation and performance appraisal, enables the development of competitive bids as it allows for the accurate estimation of transport costs within a certain period, and helps to reduce unnecessary time-consuming phone calls made by employees (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.).
Of importance in this case is the fact that, despite its benefits, the use of GPS trackers in the U.S. is limited by the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment grants every citizen the right to a quiet life, free from unnecessary seizures and unwarranted searches and interference (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). GPS tracking effectively interferes with an individual’s quiet life, and is, therefore, subject to this constitutional provision (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). This implies that government authorities cannot use the tracking system to obtain evidence about a suspect – unless they have a court warrant permitting the same. A number of states, moreover, have laws that govern searches and seizures within their jurisdictions. California’s Penal Code Section 637.7 for instance bars the use of tracking devices without the consent of the ‘tracked’ (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010).
Mobile Devices: recent years have seen an array of devices with the ability “to connect mobile workers wirelessly to vital applications such as email” as well as “enable access” to real-time business information come up (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Such devices as mobile broadband, tablets and smart phones boost ‘on-the-road’ productivity and are crucial to the success of any business unit operating in today’s fast-paced global marketplace (Netwurx Technology Group, n.d.). Every sector in the economy has, in some way, embraced the use of mobile wireless devices in its operations. The most pronounced ones include m-banking in the banking sector, m-health in the health sector and m-commerce in trade and marketing.
M-health enables care providers to not only access their patients’ medical and health data through the Electronic Health Register in real time, but also share information with other care providers both within and without their systems using their tablets, smart phones and apps (Hampton, 2012). The influence of mobile solutions in the health sector is becoming so intense that the subject topped the agenda during the 2013 National Health IT week forum that took place between 16th and 20th September (Hampton, 2012). A 2012 study by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems (HIMMS) revealed that eighty percent of health care providers used mobile solutions in the provision of healthcare, with approximately 45% using mobile devices for the bedside collection of data, and 13% reporting their plans to (in 2013) offer their patients a mobile app (Hampton, 2012). M-health has, in itself, numerous other applications, including a mother-child infection transmission-messaging service and child malnutrition-treatment mobile app (Hampton, 2012).
M-commerce, a branch of e-commerce, refers to trade carried out through mobile interface that interface with e-data communication networks (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). Mobile devices’ applications software and operating systems have been revisited a number of times to assess their ability to handle the emerging concept of m-commerce. Although Palm’s PalmOS and Microsoft’s Pocket PC have in the past been in active usage, their functionality has been found to be limited. The creation of software with adequate functionality has therefore previously been viewed as a challenge (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is another important block of m-commerce (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). There has been debate as to whether or not the WAP will eventually become globally accepted, more so, with Japan’s I-mode’s increasing popularity (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010).
Apart from enabling m-facility services, mobile technology has, in itself, undergone numerous technology advances in the recent past. The most significant of these have been enumerated in the subsequent subsection.
Ultra-Wideband Technology (UWB), 3G, and 4G Mobile Networks: UWB “is a wireless technology intended to provide high speed, lower power wireless connections (100Mbps-2 GHz) over short distances” and involves pulsing short-burst signals across substantially wide bandwidth, such that any alteration on the pulses’ positions, phases or amplitudes causes data to be sent (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010, p. 157). Following disagreements between the WiMedia Alliance and the UWB forum – both of which are influential groups within the UWB industry, the UWB standard processes were stopped, and as a result, the 3G as well as the very recently-developed 4G mobile wireless networks currently dominate the industry (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010).
Bluetooth Technology: this “is a low-cost radio solution that can provide links between devices” (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010, p. 157). Embedded in such devices as video cameras, mobile phones, tablets, to mention but a few, bluetooth technology works to transfer data from one access point to another via radio waves (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010).
Natural User Interface: refers to any interface modes that rely on natural forms of data input (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). They include natural human voice recognition and normal handwriting recognition (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). Natural user interface paved way for the development of multi-input software solutions that allow for conversational and standard natural interface between companies and their customers (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). With this multi-input software, customers do not have to follow complicated menus and make adjustments to multiple interfaces; they only have to issue natural queries to the client systems which react by implementing the directions of customers after a series of mixed-initiative dialogs (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010).
Digital Pen, Paper and Ink for Mobile Data Applications: combines the capabilities of bluetooth technology, advanced image processing, and proprietary patterns to allow communication over the internet with no cables; only pen and paper (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). Contrary to traditional times, when consumers were restricted to email and SMS, and had to literally re-enter notes made on writing pads, this technology allows for the transfer of hand-written notes to a bluetooth-enabled PC, tablet or mobile phone (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2010). This technology has been widely used in the area of e-commerce, where the seller designs their function for a wide range of activities such as product ordering, in the form of an ad, and then transmits the function and the distinct identity of the pen to the service provider (Agbinya & Masihpour, 2012).
How do Mobile Devices Enable the Conduction of Business from Anywhere?
While just one year ago the Xoom, PlayBook, iPad, Android, and other smart mobile devices were hardly used in the business world, today, more than 80% of CEOs worldwide use social media and mobile devices in their business operations (Johnson, 2014). Take, for instance, the Executive Jet Management Carrier, one of the first iPad users in the airline industry. A pilot who wishes to review the plan for a certain flight no longer has to obtain the information only using a specialized laptop, and neither does he have to go through complex paper charts. ‘Tap’ is all they need to do (Johnson, 2014). With an iPad mounted in the cockpit, just adjacent to the pilot’s knee area, he is able to quickly zero in on the relevant information and then get the same bookmarked for purposes of later reference (Johnson, 2014).
In this way, the iPad not only eliminates the cumbersome laptop and paper chart review processes, but also “opens up a world of possibilities — both in the near-term to improve productivity and in the long-term to transform an organization” (Johnson, 2014). In summary, rather than wait until he gets to the airport, i.e. The particular airport in which the information he is seeking is manually stored, a pilot accesses such information regardless of his location. This is just one of the more significant examples because the airline industry is not the sole beneficiary of wireless mobile devices; managers across the board have embraced wireless mobile devices in their business operations and are currently making real value out of the transformation.
For purposes of simplicity, this text will analyze the opportunities presented by the ‘business anytime, anywhere’ advantage of smart mobile devices under the three-F domain; “in flight, in the field, and on the floor” (Johnson, 2014).
On the Floor
This subsection focuses on the internal processes of a business; those that occur within the locations and buildings (Johnson, 2014). The healthcare industry will largely form the basis of this particular subsection because of the large-scale transformational changes currently being undertaken therein. If for each patient a clinician examines, they have to “log on to a computer and use disparate systems to access test results, chart information, radiology images, and other relevant information,” then the process is deemed to be cumbersome, time-consuming, and generally, ineffective (Johnson, 2014). Enabling physicians to access patient information “from wherever they are in the hospital — or even outside it” (increasing physician mobility) is the best solution to this (Johnson, 2014). Different approaches have, in this regard, been adopted by different healthcare facilities. Through built-in portals capable of pulling data from core hospital systems, doctors are in a position to view secure patient information on their tablets or smart phones. To this end, although the data resides on the main system, physicians can still access real-time and integrated data of a patient during their rounds (Johnson, 2014).
Cloud-based EMR applications, accessible from a smart phone’s, tablet’s or computer’s web browser, enable doctors to access up-to-date patient information from the core hospital information systems from anywhere, i.e. both within and without the premises (Johnson, 2014).
A number of facilities have adopted strategies that make it possible for physicians to conduct consultations, communicate with and monitor their patients, initiate referrals, or even prescribe medication when away from the hospital “over a mobile video network” (Johnson, 2014). This way, work does not come to a standstill just because the physician concerned is not within the hospital premises.
In the Field
This focuses on the processes outside an organization’s premises; how mobile technology boosts the way a company relates with its customers, distributors, suppliers, partners and field teams (Johnson, 2014). Nationwide, the first company in the insurance industry to develop an iPad app for its policyholders, operates a world-class app that field “agents use for capturing photos and data at an accident side and uploading it to the claims management system” (Johnson, 2014). This instant access makes claims processing faster, facilitates the claims adjustor’s job, and makes his a more seamless interaction with the customer (Johnson, 2014). Optimized routing and applications such as the Wemo App enable retailers to “install remote diagnostic sensors in refrigerators, freezers, and rotisseries that feed to technicians’ certain hourly updates on equipment performance” (Johnson, 2014). This way, the technician is in a better position to organize for the fixing of the equipment before much damage has been done (Johnson, 2014).
Supply chain collaboration is only efficient if an enterprise exhibits a substantial degree of field mobility (Johnson, 2014). A number of companies have embraced strategies that enable their sales agents in the field to access, via their mobile devices, the company’s system of customer management (Johnson, 2014). This makes real-time data more accessible to field sales agents, who are, in turn, better-placed to “quickly enter their own data remotely so that everyone can get a clear picture of the sales pipeline” (Johnson, 2014). Moreover, companies are on the path towards enhancing the functionality of their field agents through mobile apps capable of automatically updating the device with the promotional mix and stock-keeping unit of any store the agent visits (Johnson, 2014).
Businesspeople spend most of their time ‘in flight,’ travelling either within or across national borders to meet clients, strike business deals, or to attend to other business engagements (Johnson, 2014). If these are still the same people expected to be present to guide their teams, or solve arising crises, then a decline in productivity would be the most likely outcome (Johnson, 2014). This, however, does not have to be the case – not with the invention of mobile business apps such as customer-relationship management, enterprise resource planning, to name but a few (Johnson, 2014).
A company’s employees are able to commingle company information with that from third-party sources, both of which are accessible through their mobile devices (Johnson, 2014). Traditionally, employees could only access corporate information because internal resources were all that was available in their networks online (Johnson, 2014). Smart mobile devices give employees the opportunity to access external resources at any time (Johnson, 2014).
Mobile devices promote context-aware computing (Johnson, 2014). Not only can a sales agent visiting a potential buyer “learn about a local customer’s team and connections before walking in the door,” but they can also, with the help of notifications from a sensing app installed on their mobile gadgets, instantly get in touch with alternative potential targets within a certain vicinity in case a deal gets cancelled (Johnson, 2014).
On the other hand, reducing the rates of travel could be the most influential aspect of mobility for workers ‘in flight’ (Johnson, 2014). Rather than travelling physically to showcase their company’s products, a worker could take advantage of a tablet or smart phone’s video capability, and have buyers inspect and make orders for products virtually (Johnson, 2014).
The Effect of Business Anywhere Anytime on the Business Model
The growing use of mobile wireless devices reduces customer search costs and gives sellers the opportunity to make sales in areas that are geographically inaccessible (Forlano, 2008). Traditionally, businesses sought to increase their efficiency by having their products offered in more than one location, increasing the convenience of sales promotional efforts, to mention but a few. However, these, in the end only added to the costs of operation, and ultimately, to the final price paid by consumers (Forlano, 2008).
Wireless mobile devices allow for value-creation, from the business’ as well as from the customer’s perspective (Forlano, 2008). Whereas the business creates value by taking advantage of the anytime anywhere benefit, the customer creates value for himself by accessing platforms such as augmented reality and review websites (Forlano, 2008). This partly implies that, customers, being co-creators of value, shape the design of a business’ interfaces, which has to do with the way a business relates with its customers on mobile devices (in-store or online) and how it structures its exchange processes (Forlano, 2008). For purposes of brevity, this text uses the example of the retail industry for this analysis. It analyzes the impact of wireless mobile devices on the business model of a high-cost and a low-cost retailer.
High negotiating power
Low per-customer profit
Low operational Costs
A chain store such as Wal-Mart is a perfect example of a low-cost retailer, characterized by large product volumes and low prices, which are also the crucial elements upon which the customer bases his/her individual values (Forlano, 2008). Customers, through online platforms and apps enabled by mobile devices, have access to information about the company’s prices and discount offers, as well as those of competitors, and would go for options that would enable hem realize savings (Forlano, 2008).
The business strives to meet the expectations of its customers by constantly negotiating quantity discounts and offering a wide range of rather low-quality products (Forlano, 2008). It sets up outlets in multiple locations, but still operates on a thin margin, with limited personnel and service options which combine to yield scale economies, and consequently, low operating costs (Forlano, 2008). Although the business experiences significantly high turnover, it enjoys very low levels of per-customer profits (Forlano, 2008).
A high-cost (premium) retailer, Burberry for instance, deals in expensive luxury products, and is widely-known for product uniqueness (Forlano, 2008). The high prices at which the products sell contribute to the brand’s prestige. The business stocks low volumes of high-quality products and mainly deals with brand-conscious customers who value exclusivity more than price (Forlano, 2008). With the increased levels of awareness brought about by the increased use of wireless mobile devices and consumer apps, the customer has access to valuable product information of the business, as well as that of competitors, and is in a better position to make comparisons, and select the supplier they feel has the most exclusive brands (Forlano, 2008). In order to meet the expectations of his customers, the supplier puts up few outlets in select locations, stocks very highly-priced high-quality brands, and employs highly-qualified personnel. These, in the end, add up to yield substantially high per-customer profit margins (Forlano, 2008).
In summary, with the advent of wireless mobile devices, consumers are highly connected and have easier access to apps and valuable online shopping facilities. This evolution has had an impact on businesses, which are now forced to up their game, maintain their reputations and be a step above their competitors, if they are to retain their market shares (Forlano, 2008). With constant access to the internet, customers, more or less, shop on their own terms, and to this end, force changes in the traditional business models (Forlano, 2008).
Gone are the days when businesses made their production and operational decisions without taking into account the expectations of customers, simply because they were the sole producer or supplier of a certain product in a certain locality. Today, thanks to useful apps and constant internet access brought about by the increased use of mobile devices, customer-expectations shape business decisions, including the quality of products, the prices at which they sell, the number of outlets a business establishes, the qualifications of its personnel, among others.
In today’s global marketplace, technology is the main driver of change; the preceding subsections of this text present a number of valuable lessons in which the business model is depicted as the springboard to sustainable competitive advantage. Both businesses and customers are reaping the benefits of wireless mobile devices. Both are now more connected and can conduct business anywhere, and at anytime. I can therefore confidently conclude that at this pace, businesses will in the near future base, not some, but all of their production and supply decisions on customer-expectations – as the marketplace will be so competitive that survival will depend solely on a business’ ability to please, and therefore retain its customers.
Agbinya, J.I. & Masihpour, M. (2010). Part III: WiMAX and LTE Link Budget. In J. Agbinya (Ed.), Planning and Optimization of 3G and 4G Wireless Networks (pp. 105-160). Aalborg: River Publishers.
AT&T. (2014). Machine to Machine Solutions. AT&T. Retrieved from http://www.business.att.com/enterprise/Family/mobility-services/machine-to-machine/
Forlano, L. (2008). Anytime? Anywhere?: Reframing Debates around Municipal Wireless Networking. The Journal of Community Informatics, 4(1), 401-438.
Hampton, T. (2012). Recent Advances in Mobile Technology Benefit Global Health, Research, and Care. JAMA, 307(19), 2013-4.
Johnson, T.R. (2014). The Anytime Anywhere Business Opportunity. PWC. Retrieved from http://www.pwc.com/us/en/view/issue-14/anytime-anywhere-business-opportunity.jhtml
Netwurx Technology Group. (n.d.). Wireless Communications. Netwurx Technology Group. Retrieved from https://www.netwurxgroup.com/wireless.html
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