The digital pen looks and feels like a normal pen but, as the user writes, it takes thousands of pictures of their pen strokes and stores them as digital data, to be transmitted via Bluetooth back to the office, central depot or HQ.
Fleet of foot, and now smarter too
Specialist, brick-shaped handsets and ‘rugged’ laptops have never won much favour with mobile workers required to capture electronic data in the field, while end-of-day admin is the bane of busy executives’ lives. So it’s good news all round that routine business workflow has been extended to smartphones, closing the loop on critical business processes once and for all, Howard Frear, Director of sales and marketing at EASY Software explains.
The smaller intelligent devices become, and the more prevalent high-speed communications are, the more ludicrous it is that companies hang on to paper. This is as true in a mobile environment as it is across the floors of an office building, given how well mobile and wireless connections close the digital loop now.
Mobile application specialists have long promised the day when field engineers, delivery drivers and travelling sales people would be able to interact directly with head office software – downloading and uploading customer data on the fly, to save form-filling later.
Yet this has typically required specialist applications, cumbersome, purpose-built handheld gadgets (or not-quite-mobile-enough laptops), and a good deal of training.
Loose ends & liability
At the same time, these early mobile automation solutions have been limited in their scope, for example failing to cater for the transmission, viewing and treatment of bigger documents. .
The net result is that workflow has stalled, delaying progress and preventing managers from gaining an accurate, real-time status update on their operations – whether on verified deliveries, payments collected, critical decisions approved or legal documents signed.
Delays not only cost organisations time, they cost the business in terms of customer service, competitive differentiation, damage limitation and opportunity maximisation. Lost productivity costs real money, too.
A home delivery company reported costs of £100,000 each year, as customers denied having received and signed for goods. Although the firm had been using dedicated handheld data capture devices (the bane of most delivery drivers’ lives) to register recipients’ signatures as proof of delivery, the signatures were of such poor quality, they did not provide credible support when scrutinised.
More power to the iPhone
The arrival of Smartphones, particularly the latest iteration of devices like the iPhone, offers to transform this kind of experience, by allowing these everyday handsets – which so many employees already carry – to interact directly with office-based business applications and workflow systems,
Already used to processing emails on their mobiles, users are now being empowered to view and interact with whole documents in the same way, just as though they were at a PC or laptop.
The next natural step, then, is web-enabling and optimising more business applications so that their use can be extended to Smartphone users. No longer does the executive visiting a client have to call their PA to request a critical document; they can simply call it up on their mobile.
The magic pen
A new innovation – a digital pen, which works with Smartphones via Bluetooth – has taken this a step further still. This looks and feels like a normal pen but, as the user writes, it takes thousands of pictures of their pen strokes and stores them as digital data, to be transmitted via Bluetooth back to the office, central depot or HQ.
In the case of the home delivery company that was forking out £100,000 a year as redress for contested shipments, the simple process of switching to a digital pen, hooked up to users’ regular iPhones, was all it took to reverse this situation. The signatures now being captured are undisputable, being of high resolution and quality, and tamperproof, giving them full legal standing. At the same time, the company’s whole process of workflow automation has become much more seamless and immediate, enabling step changes in productivity back at head office.
Going with the grain
What has been critical to these companies’ success at transforming efficiency and productivity has been that their actions now are a natural extension of how they operated before.
For work to continue to flow and progress be made, regardless of where core managers or members of the workforce might be at any given time, organisations need to deliver an intuitive, familiar user experience to mobile users. Instead of a laptop or custom-built handheld data capture device, that means a Smartphone. Instead of a scanner or fax machine, it means a digital pen capable of accurately and legally capturing a signature or handwritten input into a form.
GPS & iPads
It is these additional capabilities that should really inspire companies, giving them new scope to innovate, and further drive up productivity. Document mobility isn’t necessarily about changing the way people work, but about making it easier, faster and cheaper.
The key difference is freeing roaming users from physical scanners, fax machines, hefty handheld gizmos or expensive ‘rugged’ laptops, allowing users to work in a way that feels more comfortable and seamless. Where larger screens are needed, the iPad provides an optimum medium for those who find full-blown laptops too unwieldy for use in the field.
The more user-friendly the experience, the higher the adoption rate will be and the sooner the benefits will flow through.