4 Ways to Prepare Your Distribution Organization for Mobile Ordering

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According to Thorn Technologies the number of mobile device users surpassed the number of desktop users in the workplace in 2015.  And IDC predicts that by 2020 105.4 million workers in the US will be mobile.  This accounts for over 72% of the total workforce(1).  Because of these statistics every organization must currently be or will be engaged in mobility projects to support this type of work force.  Mobility projects are those that improve the way their organizations work on mobile technology. Typically, these projects focus on how their businesses interact with customers and access valuable data. Implementing mobility across a company can be challenging as leadership evaluates how to deliver the hardware, applications, and data to users in a secure way.

I’ve spent more than a decade of my career at Apple and am now a leading app developer at Ai2.com. We help organizations build a solid mobility backbone, which includes everything from application and data delivery to mobile device management.

Control is essential to a successful integration of mobility into an organization. By utilizing these 4 principles for a strong mobility backbone, organizations can identify areas of improvement that will provide the best user experience.

I’ve conducted many in-depth interviews in my career with IT support leaders, business leadership, and end-users. I’ve established four primary areas for businesses that will ensure the successful implementation of policies, procedures, and ultimately end-user adoption.

First – Leadership and Organizational Readiness

The first pillar centers around the executive sponsorship and organizational acceptance of change.  The complete and total buy in required from the C-level will ensure that the resources needed for success are available.  This can only be accomplished if a comprehensive strategy for success is in place.  This strategy should draw from a number of players that will play into the organization’s actual use of the hardware and software.  I recommend leveraging the following teams to deliver this strategy and to have a comprehensive look at the timeline for success:

  • IT– Since IT is ultimately responsible for business drivers, policies, procedures, capabilities and end-user support they need to be the author of this strategy and be completely aware of the needed resources and timelines that will be followed to a successful long-term use of mobile hardware and software in the organization.
  • Security and Infosec – It’s true that introducing mobility does represent an update to most organization’s security policies so the teams responsible for how data is delivered in a secure way must play a role in determining what the threshold is for a mobile strategy.
  • Hardware Manufactures – Most hardware manufactures offer a “readiness review” to determine the most important places to focus when executing a mobility plan.Apple does a highly comprehensive review through its professional services division that is short money for big gains.  It’s a great investment to get the attention of the partners that will now be a long-term piece to the success of the organization.
  • Internal and Third-party development teams – Most development teams have an idea of what they will need to in order to make the mobile hardware relevant for the organization.Simply buying and deploying hardware isn’t enough.  The dev teams need to give timelines on application building, deployment and use.
  • End-users – By including the ultimate end users of the mobile hardware and software in the strategy you insure that the end users are ready to be guided through the process of change management that will ultimately impact the business in a positive way in the least amount of time.  For instance ask your suppliers how they want to handle mobile order management and mobile trade show ordering.

While mobility is part of every organization, few if any organizations have created a top down strategy that covers every part of the entire company’s needs.  If you are going to tie your mobile strategy to mobile trade show ordering or mobile order entry then you need to have a comprehensive strategy.  These needs include the devices owned by the organizations and those that are considered employee or customer owned devices.

When the plan doesn’t encompass every part of the enterprise’s need the overall solutions become fragmented and each individual department’s needs are addressed as one-offs.  This is a costly and ineffective way to deal with, what are usually, redundant mobility needs.

Second – Infrastructure

Many organizations that pilot or start using mobility management tools often only start with the basic infrastructure – email management, deploying an MDM agent for remote wipe, or using lightweight web-based apps that don’t really solve critical pain points and receive lukewarm response from employees.  These “toe dip” methods don’t instill confidence in the users and also don’t solve any problems, they just create new ones.  Often overlooked are the needed end-point enhancements and server upgrades that are not considered prior to the drag on the network that happens post deployment.  This damages the end user’s belief that the tools are ready to impact their daily work.  If the infrastructure isn’t in place prior to deployment the result is often implementations that seems spotty with many features, that work half well, but are of little utility for end users.

Mobility management, deployment programs and a solid network forms an important set of considerations via complementary investment that can provide a strong boost to the mobile initiative as a whole. In fact, they can be a much bigger needle mover than adding more and more features to the application sets or purchasing the latest and greatest hardware. They can mean the difference between a hugely successful implementation of mobile strategy that might be slightly limited in scope versus one that is extremely feature rich on paper, but less useful in reality.

The quick deployment of mobile devices and software in an organization extends the networking needs beyond what typical enterprise networks are designed to handle.  It’s important that the entire mobile landscape is understood by the teams responsible for the network’s performance and security so that they can create a stable network environment.  This is usually accomplished by migrating away from old 802.11a/b/g bandwidths to faster 802.11n or better so that the network will support higher volumes of devices and improve reliability when many signals are received.

In addition, adding a caching server as a dedicated service acting as a repository that saves critical data and other content locally significantly improves the functionality of mobile hardware in large enterprises. Caching servers place previously requested information in temporary storage on the LAN and it’s both speeds up access to often requested information and reduces demand on bandwidth that is needed for mission critical business functions.

Third – Engaged Partners

Organizations, their systems and their data don’t stay static.  If a mobile trade show ordering app or mobile order entry app stays put for too long they shrink, are minimized and die.  That’s why putting the proper support agreements in place ensures that as systems change, are updated and improve that the proper partners stand ready if things are working smoothly.  This means putting a TAM (technical account manager) in place no matter what the cost for the hardware of choice in the organization and signing agreements that allow for the need response time from the service provider when a break-fix is needed.

Typically, mobile devices are considered consumerized and so the service and support available is often mostly customer focused instead of organizationally focused.  This has changed in recent years with some manufactures offering support plans that for company owned devices.  Apple has Applecare for Enterpriseand the carriers now offer agreements like the Remote Infrastructure Management Agreementfrom ATT.  Providing end user support for consumerized product that isn’t working as expected is difficult for an organization’s help desk or IT department when it comes to mobile devices.

No matter what type of device or the reason for the use IT needs to enable those devices quickly and seamlessly to ensure that the apps and data on those mobile devices are protected against security leaks or device loss.  If there is mobile trade show ordering happing on these devices they are at risk.  There are many deployment programs offered by software companies that help organizations.  Device Enrollment by Appleand Microsoft’s Deployment ProgramThese deployment programs solve a majority of the streamlining needs that arise when pushing hardware and software to the end-user of an organization.   These programs are critical for the successful management of hardware, software and data.

Fourth – Applications

Development of a mobile trade show ordering app or other enterprise application is perhaps the most critical piece to long term success with mobile devices. Enterprise Applications are complex systems. They require delicate planning and expertise for the right type of development. Most organizations are considering a build or buy strategy.

In my experience buying an off the shelf product is far more effective.  Off the shelf software solutions are once that have been manufactured for the lowest common denominator and are available for purchase with the shortest ramp up time. Most well-built custom solutions are released iteratively over time and focus on the highest value features first, but they still take time to develop.

These existing solutions have been tested and re-tested with actual field use. Building custom software takes the organization’s attention away from its mission and can bog down the organization by building solutions that often fall short of existing off the shelf solutions.  In addition, an existing solution allows the software provider to amortize the costs of development over several organizations. Hands down a custom solution is more costly both hard and soft costs.

Successful out of the box solutions tend to have communities of users. These communities include expert users, easy access to commonly asked questions via forums, and ancillary companies that build supporting products for quick customization via API or other methods. 

Because most off the shelf products are the focus of the software developer a good existing solution is continually enhanced. The developer is spending the time to think about the core use of the software and device and thus is constantly improving the stability and features.

The other consideration is if a native application should be the focus or a universal application deployed.  Building native mobile apps offer much greater control over the end user’s experience. Most notably, apps that are built native can support local data storage for times when the device is in an area of low bandwidth.  Additionally, these apps can easily access data from multiple sources via APIs and consolidated databases. These apps have higher end-user satisfaction, are targeted for specific platform experience and takes advantage of everything the hardware can offer.


Written by Andrew Johnson

Vice President of Business Affairs for Ai2



Andrew Johnson leads a team of developers at Ai2 to create industry changing mobile eCommerce tools for Manufacturers and Distributors.  Prior to working at Ai2 Andrew lead a sales team at Apple focused on delivering services through mobile application developers.


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