Business technology leaders in energy, shipping and student services discuss the benefits of a truly mobile enterprise.
The demands of modern business require frontline workers to be able to do more ‘in the field’, and as business technology leaders are discovering, this benefits the customer, the employee and the organization. Providing information, notifications, compliance and communications has, for years, been reliant on a visit back to the office or a central point. Mobile technology, and in particular mobile applications, no longer requires time-consuming trips back and forth to an office, to essentially use a PC.
“We have got to make business decisions quicker and to cut cycle times,” says Rachel Scully, Geoscience Technology Leader with global oil firm Shell. The geophysicist leads the development and deployment of specialist scientific technologies for field forces looking for new deposits of carbon to extract and turn into fuels. “We have gone from projects that take months and months to weeks,” she says of the demand to increase the pace of the business. Andy Ashwell, Group Information Director at Inchcape Shipping Services agrees with Scully. “Sixty percent of our employees have an element of remote working,” he says of the port agency business that operates in ports in 60 nations.
Field working has become an essential part of many businesses, and not just heavy industries like oil and shipping, Jeremy Ehlers, CIO with Unite Students provides housing services to students in the UK, and has a similar demand to provide technology that helps workers to do more on-site. “It was only six years ago that we were taking a student contract on paper, now that is a fully digitized service.”
All three technology leaders reveal that improving customer care is the core reason for greater staff mobility. “Technology's role is to make staff as efficient as possible, but that means they are then interacting with the students more,” Ehlers says, adding that mobile technology provides services for student wellbeing, through to maintenance.
Improving the customer experience through greater service in the field is benefiting the business too at both Inchcape and Unite. “The customer benefits from greater transparency and real-time updates,” says Ashwell at Inchcape Shipping Services. “This then aids the customer in their decision making, as that information is critical, so our field force is optimizing their business.” Inchcape is now able to offer its clients benchmarking services as a result of enhanced field services. Scully says a similar demand exists at Shell, especially as the business looks to transition to new cleaner forms of energy.
Ehlers adds that having staff spend more time with the students creates a great experience for the student tenant, and results in them booking with Unite for years two and three of their academic careers, benefiting the business. “They are young adults, and it is a scary time, especially at present, and we don’t want our staff feeling they are beholden to outdated back-office functions. So we need to ensure that the technology is complementary to making the difficult simple and the simple invisible,” he says.
A consistency in service benefits the customer and the organization too, and all three business technology leaders agree that field force technology is enabling uniformity and improvements. “The support services that we offer are vital in areas like the workflow,” says Scully at Shell, adding that her scientists are using complicated technology, so any consistency allows them to concentrate on “doing their job” and not the technology and tools. Ashwell at Inchcape adds that in his organization he is looking to create a consistency in the data collected. Inchcape deals with a diversity in clients and vessels, for example a cruise ship docking in Greece has different needs to an oil tanker in a US port, but some consistency exists, and his field force technologies are tracking this and benefiting the international organization.
“You need to form a technology user group so you have people that will push the technology and take risks which can then be quickly fed back into the organization,” says Scully at Shell. She and her team have formed these user groups and benefited from incisive feedback from the field.
“You cannot underestimate the benefit of tapping into the front line staff and really understanding what will make a difference to them,” adds Ehlers at Unite Students. In his organization they realized that team members were having to tick a myriad of checks when reviewing a room when it was vacated, and made the simple change to the mobile application of everything is pre-ticked and then the team member unticks the issues that need to be followed up on. “You really have to study the workflows of what your people do and build from that.”
Ashwell at Inchcape deployed a new estate of mobile technologies, in partnership with OutSystems, in a major modernization program. The CIO says a strong focus on prioritization is required. “There is always a lot of demand to eliminate old technologies and processes with new field force technology, but you cannot do it all at once; so focus on what can be done and what will deliver the biggest bang for buck, and be ruthless at seeing it through. OutSystems has been amazing, as it allowed us to deliver the local port system in just four months and to have a micro-services layer as part of that.”