If you think the mobile space is only beneficial to consumers, you’ve got it all wrong.
As marketers, we talk about mobile marketing, UI, and integration ad nauseam – trying to figure out the winning formula for improving conversions and the user experience on our mobile devices. We’re so focused on the direct bottom line benefits that we’re missing the opportunity for improvements in processes that indirectly affect the bottom line.
I’m talking about improvements in the internal workflow that help us become better marketers and get more done.
We’re search marketers. We’re on the web all day. We’re known internally and among our clients as being enveloped in the tech world and at the cutting edge of tech capabilities. Utilizing the mobile space to test run improvements in productivity and workflow can help us not only get better at our jobs but also consult with clients on improving their processes.
So how can we utilize mobile internally? Let’s take a look at what mobile can do, how some companies are using it, and how you can implement mobile integration into your company’s workflow.
What are we talking about here?
Before we dive in, I think it’d be wise to define how I’m using the term “mobile.” I’m thinking beyond the device itself to the idea of “working on the go.” This could mean anything from browsing recent company sales while dodging tourists in New York (“I’m walkin’ here”) to filing a report in the break room when your cubicle mate is smacking his gum obnoxiously. Anything that gets us untethered from our desks and all of the technology that goes with it.
I should also clarify that by mobile I am referring both to traditional apps downloaded onto mobile devices and to web apps that work from the cloud and allow for secure access anywhere through a VPN or SSL tunnel.
What does the mobile workspace look like right now?
According to a study from the eLearning Guild, more than 70 percent of Americans use their personal phones for work purposes. A recent study done by Citrix systems confirms this trend, finding that 44% of respondent companies already had BYOD policies, and 50% planned to implement such plans by 2013.
And, thanks to a less than stellar economy and a demand for more flexible work schedules, remote workers are on the rise. In a report by the IDC in 2008, up to 11.8% of the workforce operates remotely, and that’s increased rapidly each year.
But even employees who work in a dedicated branch office are turning in greater numbers to the mobile workspace. Many companies are developing apps and cloud CMS internally, either through their IT departments or with the help of services like OutSystems, which offers rapid application development, and Salesforce, which is a customer relationship management platform.
In theory, working on the mobile platform allows for greater agility in the workflow, enabling everyone from salespeople to management to track work progress, logistical details, and measurement data in real-time from anywhere in the world for better execution and collaboration.
What are the challenges of a mobile workspace?
Before we get too far into why the mobile workspace is fantabulous, we should be honest: mobile isn’t all easy peasy.
First, there’s the problem of security. Who owns the company data when it’s on a personal phone? What if that employee’s personal use endangers company data? How is that data removed when an employee leaves the company?
Then there’s the problem of data integration, especially for companies with BYOD policies. Sure, the mobile platform allows a workforce spread out across the world to quickly enter and access important data, but who takes the data from the app that only works on the iPhone and syncs it with the app that only works on Android? If companies aren’t strategic, all of that great new data will be lost to the cloud.
And what happens, exactly, when IT doesn’t have the final call in what apps each person works on? Sprawl, my friends, sprawl. With everyone working on whatever apps they choose, it’s more difficult to track what each person is doing in their own little corner, not less. In these ways, a poorly managed mobile workspace can actually lead to greater inefficiencies.
What are my options?
Search marketers know better than anyone just how many different strategies, clients, projects and tasks there are to manage both on and between teams. The challenges mobile presents should be seen not as a reason for abandonment but as an opportunity to develop better, more streamlined systems.
There are two approaches for doing just that. (1) Using what’s already out there. (2) Creating something customized. I’ll discuss both, but keep in mind that your decision should be based on the unique workflow and needs of your organization.
What’s already out there?
Well, that depends on what you’re looking to do. If, for instance, your company suffers from the scourge of long email chains that bury important details and tasks, both Trello and Screenr provide handy solutions.
Trello functions like a pin or task board, allowing users to create and talk about task lists in one, centralized location, while Screenr is a simple screen-sharing program in which users can capture tasks or create instructional videos right from their screen. Both, of course, run through the web and are easily shareable through email or social media sites.
If your concerns center more on customer feedback, there are a number of apps that can streamline that process online. UserVoice, a forum for submitting feedback, is one, as is the survey based Feedbackify.
For a more complete look into the tools that are already available, take a look through this infographic.
What if I need something custom?
To customize we need to break this into two further subsections (subsections within subsections…how meta): (1) Building something entirely new internally and (2) utilizing existing platforms to create something custom. We’ll focus on marketers because, well, that’s what we are.
For building something new, I’m going to use the company I work for, Distilled, as an example because I know how we work best. Distilled has offices in three time zones, so having systems in place for remote working and collaboration is essential. That’s probably why we’re always looking to dive into the next new trick if it promises to help us work better.
One of our biggest issues earlier on was tracking what in the world everyone out there was doing. Sure, we trusted that our capable colleagues were getting it all done, but it was hard to know just what that meant on any given day. We turned to a web-based app called Toggl, which allows users to track time and aggregate this data into comprehensive reports. Because it operates solely online, we can log in on our mobile devices and clock time, say, when we’re on the road or in transit to a client meeting.
But we needed Toggl to do more for us, tracking bigger tasks like sales, client projects and budgets and applying that data so we can determine how much we need to charge clients. So, we created a custom CMS to do just that, and now any of us can login to a secure server on any mobile device wherever we are.
Sure, it took time and money for us to develop this CMS, but it’s more than made up for itself in both, and it was completely worth it to build a system from the ground up.
You can also utilize existing CMSs to expedite the creation of a customized tool. After seeing the demands from smaller companies that don’t necessarily have the time, budget or IT staff to produce their own systems internally, a number of companies have emerged to fill the gap.
I mentioned OutSystems above, which enables in-house development teams to create custom web and mobile apps through their visual modeling software, which covers every stage of development and management.
Here’s an example of a company that used OutSystems to create a custom web app. TIO, an Australian insurance and finance company, needed a way to heighten the speed at which its customers received quotes on its services because it was experiencing a 50% drop rate. In just 12 weeks, it developed a new CRM that turned its quote speed time around and improved customer retention during its sales funnel – all through the creation of a new web-based module.
Remember, mobile isn’t just for traditional apps on our mobile devices. The mobile workflow is equally as important and can make us better as marketers if done correctly.
Sure, it can be a big headache, but only if it’s not managed correctly. To be a truly agile company, seek out the tools that will enable your company to take advantage of this accessible, flexible platform by centralizing, integrating, and streamlining data, hopefully in a pretty, easy to use interface. You’ll work better, and you’ll wow your clients when you show them how to work better, too.
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