Admit it. We all loved getting emails on our Blackberries when mobility first burst on the scene. And back in the day (maybe four years ago), most of us thought of our smartphones as portable computer Mini Me's, giving us things like mobile banking, mCommerce and a means to book a reservation or check for flight delays while we sat in pre-airport traffic.
With the convergence of cloud and mobility, coupled with the new functionality of smartphones and tablets, everything has changed.
Today, nearly every type of business or organization is looking at mobility from a different angle – finding new ways to gain efficiency, improve processes or connect with their customers more intimately. These solutions take advantage of the breadth of imbedded mobile device technology – like Bluetooth®, GPS and camera – to transform "business as usual" into a more agile, efficient, engaged environment with the potential for big benefits.
Augmented Reality Apps Get Down to Business
One emerging trend is the use of augmented reality applications.
If you don't know what augmented reality apps are (or don't have a teenager to ask), they're a means of gaining a virtual view of the real world that can be extended with graphics, video, text, gyroscopes and GPS data. Basically, it's technology that builds a virtual world on top of the real one to provide a little clearer view.
Let's say you're on vacation and see a structure or statue and want to know more about it. If your smartphone has an augmented reality application, you can enable the app and point the smartphone's camera, as if you were taking a picture, at the structure itself. The application retrieves a whole plethora of information on what your smartphone (and you) are "seeing."
This same technology is used in golf apps, where users can point their phone down a fairway and identify where hazards are located, distances, and various obstacles on the way to the green.
Augmented reality is also bridging the gap between past and present at a Canadian museum's dinosaur exhibit. Visitors point their smartphone cameras at markers strategically placed throughout the museum, and the dinosaurs come to life on the phone screens. iPads are also mounted throughout the facility to give a clearer picture of how these dinosaurs moved or would have behaved when they roamed the earth.
Cool, right? But, does this technology really have a place in business?
"Augmented reality has huge business potential," explained Erik McMillan, president and CEO of BestFit Mobile. "Although most people think of these applications as 'fun,' I think the success will be in real business cases."
Think store planograms, for instance.
"You work in a nationwide retailer and you're putting together the window display. With augmented reality, you can hold your tablet up to the window, see the layout of products from corporate, as well as instructions for exact set up," McMillan said. "It makes life easy for employees, while adding a level of consistency you can't get with instructions alone."
McMillan also sees great potential in warehouse environments.
"Imagine an iPad secured to the front of a forklift in a warehouse. Using low-energy Bluetooth® on the iPad, in conjunction with RFID (radio-frequency identifiers) throughout the warehouse structure, this technology can tell forklift operators where to place and retrieve inventory," McMillan explained. "There's a huge business potential with this technology that we're just beginning to explore."
Every Industry Has a Mobile Story
Nearly every industry is getting creative with mobile – and gaining big results. The retail industry was the mobility front-runner, engaging this technology early on to drive customer loyalty and to better connect the shopper with the store employee. The service industry added tablet computers to technician's toolboxes, enabling them to do everything from accessing repair manuals to closing out a ticket electronically.
But, that's just the starting point.
"Mobility is a natural for realtors," explained Craig Johnston, senior manager, mobile strategist and evangelist of NTT DATA's mobile practice. "Realtors can take pictures of properties with their iPads, schedule their lives in real time, and integrate social media. A new house comes on the market; the realtor sends a Tweet to prospective buyers. A realtor goes to meet a new client and finds out more about him or her on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In for faster relationship building."
The hospitality industry is also seeing the light at the end of the iPad – transitioning many employees from a clipboard to a tablet that's practically as easy to use.
"In the hospitality industry, the iPad is beginning to replace the clipboard and the walkie-talkie," said Danny Nguyen of Xerox's ITO group. "These verticals are engaging mobility to track how fast rooms are being cleaned, how long customers are waiting in the registration lines, then pushing back real-time, dashboard analytics so the managers can take action to get productivity back up to the benchmarks."
According to Nguyen, hotels, resorts and entertainment venues are also using technology to enhance the customer experience, from pushing out offers based on preferences or where they are in the facility to identifying ways to make their stays more memorable.
Car dealerships are exploring the use of tablets to improve close rates and alleviate the dreaded back-and-forth with the sales manager. With the tablet as the conduit, salespeople and customers no longer move to the back office, instead staying in close proximity to the "dream car" during price negotiation, purchase and loan application.
Even hospitals are engaging mobility in new and unusual ways. Think iPad mounted on the wall of the operating room.
"The operating room is the most profitable room in the hospital, so starting surgery on time is critical. Mobility can be used for asset checking – ensuring the doctors, nurses and equipment are all there, ready to go," explained McMillan of BestFit Mobile.
In this application, the nurses, anesthesiologists and doctors all sign in on the mobile device. When everyone and everything is there, the device sends a message that the procedure can begin.
"If everything but the doctor is there, which isn't unusual, this triggers a push notification to the doctor's cell phone, so he or she can let everyone know the estimated time of arrival," McMillan said.
This technology can also be used to communicate information out to the waiting room, including when the surgery is completed and when the patient is moved to recovery.
Mobility Breeds Creativity – and Business is Benefiting
While mobility is key for connecting with customers and driving sales, companies are quickly discovering that mobility has the potential to positively impact productivity in a whole new way. As manufacturers enhance smartphones and tablets with increased battery power, more robust processors and greater functionality, developers are designing business applications that solve the real needs of near every industry in operation today.
Expect more innovation to come.