Incorporate mobility into BPM one step at a time

Adding mobile capability to business processes can improve both collaboration and productivity to BPM initiatives—but that doesn’t mean you can—or should--go mobile overnight.

For maximum impact, business and IT professionals should take a holistic look at incorporating mobile computing into their business processes, from setting clear initial goals to making mobility part of everyone’s daily routine.

When organizations decide to add mobility to existing processes, they should start by setting simple and easy-to-understand goals, says Paul Bailo, an adjunct professor of management at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. “Explain the ‘why’ and define what it is in the process you think you can add value to,” says Bailo, who is also a former digital-technology company executive.

Among the most important questions to consider, in Bailo’s view: “Do you have a process map that has been flowed out? Then, if you were to interject a mobile component, have you tested it and does it add value?”

Above all, he warns, don’t just roll out your mobility initiative—do one or more pilot projects first. Those test runs help reduce stress levels for all involved, and the move to mobility becomes an evolution rather than a revolution. “Plan and then communicate, communicate, communicate,” he adds. Pay special attention to emphasizing the benefits for individual users, which should help significantly with adoption rates.

Nailing down analytics is also a crucial step in implementing mobility, he says. That job, requires knowing what to track and how to track it for employees in various roles. For instance: “For people in a sales role, you might want to look at where they go, what routes they take and so on, so that you can optimize that through automating appointments and optimizing routes,” he says. Those steps, which can make selling much more efficient, are now possible using mobile technology.

Many organizations are starting to think about mobility in terms of data and content, says Suneela Vaidya, director of enterprise mobility for Acumen Solutions, a consulting firm based in McLean, Va.

As an example, she cites what she calls the “very progressive” efforts by National Public Radio (NPR), which is trying to manage all its content through a “create-once-publish-everywhere" (COPE) model. “They have created APIs through which they make content available across multiple devices and outlets,” Vaidya says.

"Devices are containers," Vaidya continues. "Think outside of those containers and think about the data you were trying to make accessible. What are you trying to mobilize? What are the business drivers? What should the end user experience be?”

There are, however, inherent organizational challenges. To start, says Vaidya, make sure you have the right people in the room to plan and propel the initiative. Team members might include the CIO and the sales director or similar higher-level individuals.

Next, make sure you have identified the business problems you wish to address. That’s the strategic start of the process. However, she emphasizes, it’s also important to plan how you’ll deliver the right end user experience. “You must get both right,” she warns. “If you don’t hit on both of them, then everything else won’t necessarily matter.”

From a technology standpoint, it’s important to understand the existing infrastructure, Vaidya says. For instance, if you are rolling out a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy, in which employees use their own mobile devices at work, do you know what technologies those employees are using? You need to understand the current state of the organization and its people and where you want them to go.

Paying for mobility may not be a substantial challenge, she notes, although mobile spending has been predicted to grow 100 percent by 2015, especially the portion spent on apps. “IT budgets are moving toward mobile to capture that opportunity,” she says. However,“if you look at the spend on ERP and CRM systems and analytics, there are already investments being made that can apply to mobility.”

Above all, don’t ignore your end users, Vaidya says. “Oftentimes, decisions that affect them are made at a high level and their experience may not be considered,” she says. Addressing their concerns about mobility beforehand can head off a lot of problem later.

Rohit Sharma, leader of the mobility practice at Virtusa, a consulting firm based in Westborough, Mass., agrees that the end user environment deserves focused attention. “I’m seeing it as something requiring a UI and UX [user interface and user experience] business-analyst mixture. You need someone who can design for user experience as well as delivering the functionality you need,” he says. “Never before have those attributes been so much hand-in-hand; you are really bringing the business structure into the mobile device,” he adds.

Finally, the inherent limits of mobile devices can imply that changes are needed elsewhere. For instance, notes Sharma, you may need to modify your document-creation process to make it more mobile-friendly. On the other hand, he warns against simply "dumbing-down processes" to meet the capabilities of today’s mobile devices. After all, those capabilities are bound to improve over time.

Bottom line: From a strategic standpoint, you’ll need to continually increase your readiness for incorporating mobility in process management—even as you actually bring that first generation of mobility into reality.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you incorporated mobility into your business processes? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at

About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

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