As smartphones and tablet devices become more powerful and cost-effective, companies in the essential industries can no longer afford to dismiss mobile projects as “too expensive” or “too difficult”. The potential to boost the productivity of workers in the field is too important to ignore. However, that doesn’t mean that mobile deployments are easy. As many companies have discovered to their disadvantage, the risks can be very significant – and failed projects can be very costly.
A mobile deployment in many respects is no different than any other large-scale project with a need to balance time, quality and cost to meet the project’s goals. For example, if requirements are not clearly defined, there is a risk that the final system will fail to meet the stakeholders’ needs. If the right skilled resources are not available at the right stages of the project, there will be a risk of delaying delivery. And if the project’s scope is allowed to creep too far beyond the boundaries of what was approved and budgeted, there is a risk that costs and timelines may spiral out of control.
Mobile Projects – The Pitfalls
However, there are also very specific risks that relate to the use of mobile technology in an essential industries context. For example, since users may need to interact with data often covering aspects of critical national infrastructure, there will be valid concerns about security, privacy and accountability. What if an unauthorised user accesses the data? What if an authorised user uses the data inappropriately? What if a device is lost or stolen?
There are also many people-related risks that can jeopardise uptake and utilisation. The idea that an employee is always reachable or trackable if they have a mobile device often raises “Big Brother” fears in the workforce. The choice of devices themselves can also influence the success of a project – employees can have strong opinions on usability, form-factor, battery life and screen visibility; not to underestimate the highly emotive vendor-specific bias between well-known manufacturers, which can significantly affect user adoption.
Moreover, due to the complex nature of field work in essential industries, there is a risk that a “one size fits all” mobile solution designed for the whole field workforce may not be flexible enough to support every use case. This is especially the case when a shifting regulatory environment or new business need creates additional requirements after the original solution has been scoped.
And just when you think you’ve covered all the angles you find part-way through your project, if you’re lucky, that your chosen technology platform doesn’t do all that was expected because of its ‘version’ or ‘configuration’; if you’re unlucky, you find that your device/operating system platform has just been replaced by a fantastic new technology that’s not backwards-compatible.
Over the past 14 years I have encountered and overcome a variety of mobility project hazards and have come to the conclusion that to successfully implement and garner the benefits of mobile technology companies must:
1. Adopt An Open Technology
Openness mitigates the fast pace of technological change; in our experience, the most successful way to mitigate these type of risks is first to understand what causes them, and then to develop strategies accordingly.
Many of the risks are caused or aggravated by the fast pace of change in mobile technology. For example, the rapid rise and decline in market share experienced by large device/platform vendors has meant that technical experts with the skills to develop and maintain specific platforms can become less common – creating resourcing-related risks for companies who choose a particular native technology as their main platform.
To mitigate these kinds of risks, adopting open technologies is becoming increasingly important. A mobile platform that is flexible enough to support multiple device types allows you to hedge your bets, and ensure that you will always have access to skilled resources and new devices as the technology and business environments change.
2. Be Flexible
A second root cause of many risks is a lack of flexibility. As business and regulatory requirements continuously evolve, new use cases will naturally arise. A project manager would identify this as scope creep; however in mobile projects it is almost inevitable and should be planned for. Deploying multiple, ‘lightweight apps’ can reduce the impact of certain changes but can increase the effort required to update and manage apps.
Such changes are usually impossible to pre-empt and dangerous to ignore – so the only safe option is to build a solution that is agile enough to roll with them. This might mean creating an integration layer to sit between the devices themselves and the back-end systems, making it easier to update mobile capabilities without changing other systems. It might also mean adopting a solution such as intelligent scripting, which enables rapid development of new processes by business users to support unforeseen use cases.
3. Engage The Users
Ultimately, although the right technology choices can make a huge difference to successful risk mitigation, there are people- and process-related issues that cannot be resolved through technology alone. To minimise the impact of these types of risks, it’s vital to engage and communicate with stakeholders across the organisation, and to remember that users’ opinions are important to consider to smooth adoption.
Working with an experienced partner can be a key advantage. Partners can provide insights into lessons learned during previous mobile projects, which may help to find solutions that are acceptable to all stakeholders. In our experience we find that projects work best when users engage fully, early and often with the software and seek hands on experience.
De-risking mobile deployments is a complex business, involving a broad range of investment decisions – in technology, in partners, and in change management. Yet most issues can be avoided or mitigated with the right approaches – and the benefits that a flexible mobile solution can unlock are well worth the risk.