Implementing mobile apps alongside developing a good understanding of your customers can pave the way to harnessing the power of IoT, writes consultant Nick Frank.
The key to monetising the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data is not to focus on the technology itself, but the impact on customers’ business processes and business model. However, many companies do not find it easy to imagine how their business model might change. Many are lost in the technical jargon and the abstract nature of data and analytics.
Mobile apps present a pragmatic way forward for industrial companies to understand how connectivity technologies and data can make a difference to their business. By their very nature, mobile apps affect how people “do stuff” and so the business rationale is often easier to define and quantify. As managers and leaders become savvier about apps, their imagination starts to kick in and they see the possibilities new technologies can have on their customers’ business success.
But what exactly is a mobile app? A mobile app is a software programme designed to run on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. They can be relatively simple such as the weather app on your phone, or they can be tremendously complex such as running a VMI business with its own databases, analytics, integrating a number of legacy systems. Gartner a leading technology research and advisory company, expects that by 2017 mobile apps will be downloaded more than 268 billion times and mobile apps users will provide personalised data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day. Mobile apps have already become truly integrated into most people’s lives. Although the same is not yet true of business, perceptions are rapidly changing. Undoubtedly driven by their everyday life experiences, managers are starting to imagine the value apps can bring to their own business by linking people with processes and systems more effectively.
By 2017 mobile apps users will provide personalised data streams to more than 100 apps and services every day
One such app developer, Lextech, even coined ROA, or “Return on App,” as a tool for measuring the value of the mobile app versus the investment in it. To make sure app projects are worthwhile, Lextech helps their clients find apps that provide a 100% ROA within 12 months or less. It is this emphasis on understanding what the mobile app can do for the business that is critical to success. This success can be measured in terms of cost saving, new revenues, customer satisfaction or even employee satisfaction.
Mobile apps increase the flexibility and effectiveness of people while they are outside the normal company IT infrastructure
Often companies start with automating the workflow because clear time savings can be demonstrated and measured. For example, SKF, the leading worldwide manufacturer and supplier of precision bearings, spindles and seals, knew that their factory inspectors recorded huge quantities of information on paper forms and clipboards. They replaced their paper based inspection processes with an intuitive app that enabled data to be collected and automatically downloaded into the factories reporting systems, thus reducing the reporting time by 70%. But often there are many other benefits that are not anticipated. In this case, nearly real-time inspection enabled faster decision-making on quality issues, which in the end translated to better margins. Highly skilled employees were able to focus on adding value rather than administration. (Source: Lextech)
Mobile apps can also enable process redesign and cut out ageing IT infrastructure that may be limiting performance.
But if we step back from these examples, what do we see? Companies are learning how to effectively use data and technology to improve their internal business processes. This journey is more cultural than technological. It is about companies and people not getting overly excited by technology for technology’s sake, but keeping their focus on the users and the business outcomes. Switch this same emphasis to their customers’ business, and they will be much better positioned to monetize the new technologies entering our everyday work environment at an exponential rate.
At Rolls Royce the design of a fuel management app had a deeper impact on the business than first imagined.
For many businesses, the growth of digital services around mobile apps and IoT is a strategic imperative.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Filippo Zingariello, Director of Global Strategic Development at SKF described how their SKF Insight programme is critical to delivering value to customers in mission critical applications. This programme has a specific goal, “Bearing Health Management will make it simpler and more convenient for customers to conduct condition monitoring and increase reliability, simplify maintenance, extend bearing life and cut total life cycle costs.” SKF has developed 45 different iPad apps that enable customers to access the data and intelligence of their assets. With over a half million machines connected to the SKF cloud, mobile apps are one of the enabling technologies for a new SKF business models based on outcomes and intelligence.
Through these examples, we have seen how mobile apps are initially used by businesses to connect their employees to their business systems so they can deliver value more effectively. As that insight into the customer’s business model grows, so mobile apps become an important enabler for customers to connect with its products and services. In this way mobile apps are not just an interesting little icon on a screen. Rather, they are an important enabler for mind-set changes that will enable companies to harness the power of the IoT and analytics technologies.
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