Appy days

LinkedIn +

Is BYOD just an excuse for boardroom jewellery? Or could the new generation of smart devices and the apps that empower them be unlocking massive new potential? Johanna Parsons investigates.

Apple’s App Store had its fifth Birthday in July, and with more than 850,000 apps, 50bn downloads and $10bn paid out to iOS developers in that time, it’s safe to say that apps are everywhere. And with the rise of smart devices, they are increasingly powering important business functions.

The functionality of consumer kit means it is now viable and attractive to get workers to “Bring Your Own Device” to use at work, with the tantalising prospects of reduced hardware costs, enhanced staff mobility and connectivity, and increased device familiarity that results in lower training costs.

As recently as 2011, the technology was simply not good enough. A report by Cranfield School of Management and GS1 UK questioned the ability of Britain’s data infrastructure to support the apps that would be practical for business use.

Tests of mobile phone scanning apps for example highlighted major problems. When scanning the bar code of a leading brand of cornflakes, one app  provided information about dog bowls. Cranfield’s professor Richard Wilding said: “Third-party, generic smart phone apps used to scan and source data did not perform well.”

And there is a legacy of late adapters, loath to take the plunge despite the potential benefits. The Barclays Online Business Outlook 2013 found that whilst 63 per cent of Britain’s online transport and logistics businesses believe that a mobile strategy is an important factor to their success this year, close to 61 per cent admitted they are yet to implement such a strategy, and only 12 per cent have a mobile app or mobile website.

But consumers have been a lot faster to get on board. “Within 24 months everyone in the UK will own a smartphone,” claims Steve Reynolds, president of the Mobile Data Association and managing director of TBS Enterprise Mobility at the recent inaugural BI Horizons event.

And he explains how this mobile device ubiquity is propelling business analytics forward, due to the huge volumes of real-time data which they capture. “The unique immediacy and accuracy of mobile data can be harnessed to troubleshoot at a pace never before possible – essentially, businesses can analyse impact and respond almost instantly. By mobilising business intelligence, GPS and location data can also be analysed to optimise route planning and scheduling.”

From monitoring warehouse operations remotely, or keeping tabs on activities and staff across a network, new devices and apps are revolutionising the ways we work, whether that means utilising workers’ own devices in the literal sense of BYOD, or making industrial equipment more app friendly.

Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quorica refers to the decline of the desk, saying there is strong evidence of a shift towards greater reliance on mobile devices for working.

Intermec’s Jeff Sibio cautions against being seduced by availability when  suitability should be the priority. “I believe this is especially true for managers that are new to a business model and trying to bring fresh ideas into the business. A valiant goal but potentially misguided in the cases where the consumer intended device does not fit the long term needs of the enterprise user.”

BYO problems

Of course the idea of eradicating expenditure on handheld equipment and training has an obvious appeal.  But it raises a myriad of questions about how to service, maintain and insure an inventory of kit that belongs to private individuals.

“Having users bring in their own devices, which are then centrally supported, makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to predict and control costs,” says Andrew Southgate of Zetes.

“Typically when an organisation invests in data capture devices, it will agree a support contract over a set period which guarantees a set level of device availability at all times for a fixed price, this cannot be offered when users are working with their own smart phones.”

And Sibio points out that having to design to the lowest common denominator could have serious ramifications: “In a BYOD environment your development roadmap is limited to the capabilities of the least capable device you allow in your environment.

“This inconsistency in capability and capacity between employee supplied devices can be daunting to keep up with not to mention extremely time consuming and limiting to your solution and work flow development efforts.”

And Robert Rutherford of QuoStar makes the point that it is somewhat unreasonable, and pretty unrealistic to imagine workers will put work functionality at the forefront of their purchasing decision. “From a productivity standpoint, BYOD devices are not usually chosen for their industry suitability based on a comprehensive review of the technologies available.”

One way of addressing this is the emerging concept of Buy Your Own Device.  This is an alternative policy, which allows employees to choose and buy their own device from a range pre-selected by the employer.

This gives a degree of control over the hardware inventory, but there is still the question of managing data, and whether consumer devices are appropriate or even capable for the job at hand.
While the use of personal devices has caught on fast for roaming distribution and delivery networks, it is more complicated for warehouse and materials handling roles.  Consumer devices are often not up to the task, compared to specialised and rugged equipment.

“Consumer devices aren’t generally robust enough. A consumer device that falls from a forklift isn’t going to last long,” says Mike Lanciloti of Spectralink. He also raises the issue of variable battery life, and cellular coverage that can effectively grind work via a smartphone to a halt.

Equally, from a software point of view, devices designed for leisurely use may not have the capacity for working environments. “Consumer devices, even the most complex are generally designed for single threaded work flows such as taking a picture or making a phone call or searching the web,” explains Sibio.

“The moment these functions start to merge into a work flow and require the need for many functions – such as data capture and data base lookups over the internet along with user interaction – to converge, a more robust platform is needed. This is especially true when you start to consider that this convergence of activities for some work flows may happen 30 to 300 times a day.”

But Oliver Sturrock of SCHAD disputes the idea that BYOD is unsuitable for industrial environments. “Our direct experience as mobile application specialists for the industrial sector suggests this is a false perception, especially with the recent arrival of HTML5. In fact, key features within HTML5 make mobile working – and mobile enterprise asset management in particular – very attractive, due to the frequently remote nature of maintenance engineering work and the huge scale of many automated environments.”

And the fact is that even in heavy duty industrial working environments, and for specified tasks that do give specialised equipment the advantage, the power of the app is still shaping innovations.

“What smart phones have really influenced is that people want access to more apps,” says Lanciloti.

And Willem Beets, EMEA director of Wavelink says the lines between consumer and industrial devices are blurring, so that even some of the toughest devices are now becoming more “consumerised”.

He says that often this is driven by the pace of technological renewal, and reiterates the idea that business developments are being led by the attitudes of new generations of employees.
Many workers who are accountable for proving they’ve done the job, be it making a repair or a delivery, will whip out their smartphone to capture a POD without a second thought.

Equally workers who have gown up with computer interfaces as the first point of call for any and all queries are instinctively using industrial equipment for tangential work use, such as using picking equipment to access office data and check time sheets, according to Beets.

Wavelink is focussed on these trends, and offers a mobile enablement platform. It is “hardware agnostic” allowing any range of devices across a company to mesh and work off one system. Spectralink has a similar offering, which Lanciloti says gives clients complete ownership and control over their network.

This control is hugely important when talking about BYOD, because one of the major downsides is the security risks of allowing alien devices access to business sensitive data.

Data leakage

“The task of securing data has always been a challenge for logistics managers as workers are often working across multiple locations. There is now, however, a heterogeneous mix of endpoint devices which in turn are harder to manage because they’re geographically distributed. So businesses not only face the growing threat from mobile malware, but also the risk of data leakage,” explains David Emm of Kaspersky Labs.

Stephen Szikora, IT director at NFT points out that the more senior the user then the more sensitive the data that they are accessing may be.

“There is still the likely risk of users avoiding company control through use of upgrades, factory resets etc, which can further threaten security,” he says.

And data going into a business is an issue too. “While consumers use BYOD cameras and Apps for personal use as well as work, there is always a risk of a potentially embarrassing crossover of data or images” 

Although Szikora suggests that apps may have the solution to setting security limits, it will take a serious shift in attitudes to see past these problems. And it will involve time and money, too. Christian Toon, at Iron Mountain Explains “If a business gives employees the freedom to use their own devices… comprehensive training needs to be given to ensure that sensitive data is stored and transferred securely.

“This drive for a culture of responsibility and secure information management needs to come from the very top of the business. It is time for all organisations to make Corporate Information Responsibility part of their operational DNA in the same way that many have done with Corporate Social Responsibility.”

Dave Anderson, at Voltage Security is more specific: “It’s critical that organisations think beyond just protecting the mobile device, and focus on a data-centric strategy which can secure the actual data levels that are accessed through the mobile device, and get moved across multiple devices. 

“The problem is that traditional security approaches, such as firewalls and smart screen filters, attempt to lock down the infrastructure.”

He maintains that an effective data protection strategy for mobile technology in the workplace must include the ability to protect data as it’s created across its entire lifecycle, so that it can remain protected as it’s stored, as it’s accessed from a mobile device, and as it’s communicated across mobile devices.

For many it’ll be a tough proposition to get right, but its difficult to ignore the rewards. “At a time of economic stagnation, businesses must adapt quickly to the new normal, and adopting low-cost technologies including cloud-based services and smart phones can be a central part of this,” says Reynolds.

It seems conclusive that switching to smart phones is not something that should be considered lightly. And David Upton of DA Systems is scathing of senior managers that are seduced by their own enjoyment of fancy devices which he dubs “boardroom jewellery.”

“When justifying BYOD, one area that people consistently highlight is ‘user experience’. But what many don’t appreciate is that the user experience is completely based on the applications people use, which comes down to the software supplier.

“So not only is the device not key to this, but neither is the operating system.

So the smart-ness of the device is essentially irrelevant. “It’s the app that’s king. Apps can be designed to mimic the user experience of an iPhone or an Android phone. Using ‘iPhone-like’ components, users get the same touch screen experience for instance, but on a (rugged) device that is fit for purpose.”

So BYOD is no panacea. Using consumer devices for industrial processes will require a lot of consideration, and there is massive potential in the consumerisation of industrial kit.

But more and more businesses think working around the dilemmas is worth it. And there’s no arguing that the age of the app has unleashed untold opportunities.

Case study- Delaware states the BYOD case

In the USA, the State of Delaware ran a BYOD programme to save some  $2.5 million – approximately half of its current wireless expenditure.

The State’s Blackberry infrastructure was reaching end of life, and some departments wanted to use non-standard devices.

So it set a two year transition plan to migrate government employees off existing infrastructure and onto personal devices or devices that run directly through the state’s wireless carrier.
Employees would hand in their state owned devices to be reimbursed with a flat fee.

Challenges included whether reimbursements were taxable, and whether personal devices could be secured by the State for Freedom of Information Act requests.

But savings included some $75,000 in lifecycle costs and $120,000 in ongoing support.

The process made specific savings and device reductions. The State is set to grow the programme, encouraging the use of personal devices into the future.

The Logistics app A-Z

– Air Partner reckons it was the first aircraft charter broker to launch a freight industry fit application. The free multi-lingual interactive app enables users to obtain information on the most suitable charter aircraft for their cargo. It can be accessed via the Apple app store for iPhones and iPads.

– BigChange has introduced an all-in-one 4G mobile app for transport and logistics service operators. The system connects drivers and fleets to the office via mobile internet. The BigChange JobWatch Office app connects to the JobWatch multi-functional mobile app that runs on a rugged touch screen mobile computer that can be used as a fixed or portable device. 

– CH Robinson has developed a mobile app for Apple and Android which enables users to access visibility of shipments in the Navisphere IT system. Navisphere app users can search for shipments by pickup or drop off dates, container, customer reference, or CH Robinson load numbers. Users can view events of a shipment, imaged documents, and can email their account representative with questions on a particular move.

– CitySprint offers credit card users and account customers MyCourier, to manage their same day deliveries in real time. It is available for iPhone and shortly on Android and Blackberry allowing both account and non-account holders access to CitySprint’s services including quotes, booking and live GPS tracking of deliveries, all from a smartphone or tablet.

– Swedish software supplier ConsafeMobility, part of Consafe Logistics which provides WMS for clients such as Nestle, Carlsberg and Unilever, is using Antenna’s mobility platform to create, deploy and manage mobile apps for its customers.

– Imaging firm Dallmeier has used an app to make its products accessible via smartphone. The app gives mobile access to live images and recordings. A transcoding process prepares the images for ideal display on the iPhone and ensures a high frame rate at the same time.

– DB Schenker’s Tracking App allows tracking via specific search criteria, including all references entered at booking, such as the delivery note number and invoice number, as well as the air waybill and bill of lading. It is available via the Android market in English, Spanish, Finnish, Polish, Chinese, Dutch, Czech and German. The app also is available for iPhone, iPad, and BlackBerry mobile devices.

– Deltion has launched an app for Android-based phones to deliver telematics to users of its CarrierNet transport management system. CarrierNetMobile is free and can be downloaded free from the Google App store. Features include fleet tracking, and electronic POD.

– DHL Supply Chain has created a SmartPOD app in conjunction with Microlise, which provides its drivers and third party hauliers with real time tracking and POD. A dashboard allows drivers to report their mileage and carbon impact. It can be downloaded from Google Play and is currently available on the Android platform for Smart phones.

– DHL Freight has launched a free mobile app to enable customers to book road freight shipments. The app, DHL Activebooking, is available for iOS and Android smart phones.

– Online fashion retailer ASOS, in partnership with delivery firm DPD is giving customers a countdown to delivery as well as enabling them to track deliveries in real time using live mapping. The service, called Follow My Parcel, will allow customers to live-track their delivery via web and mobile interfaces, and amend delivery details simply using their smartphone.

– Fargo Systems has released a smartphone application called “TOPS…on the go.” It uses Google’s Android platform to provide vehicle tracking, ePoDs and various driver administration features such as defect reporting and timesheets. 

– Farrall Transport has introduced electronic POD technology. Accessed via an iPhone app, customers also get a “proof of location” service, pinpointing where their goods have been delivered, as well as the time and signature of the recipient.

– Cross-Channel freight exchange Freightex’s mobile app enables drivers to identify loads for their return journey, direct from their smart phone. Drivers or allocators need to enter their location, preferred final destination, and when they need the load; and the mobile app details the best matching work available.

– IAG Cargo has introduced a free iPhone and Android phone app, which allows customers to track and trace air freight documented on Iberia and British Airways World Cargo Air waybills. The app also provides full access to information on both brands’ global schedules and networks.

– Iveco has launched an iPhone app showing truck stops around the country. Hi-Stop has a map function which shows truck stops within a 50 mile radius of the users’ location, and lists the amenities available at each stop. An Android version of the app is due to appear on the Google Play store within the next few weeks.

– KoamTac has released the KTSync keyboard wedge and app generation software for its KDC line of barcode scanners which are designed to work with smart phones. The scanners are compact and now support Bluetooth barcode data collection directly to stock and custom applications on major smart phones including: Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile.

– Students at Kühne Logistics University have developed a new logistics quiz iPhone App as part of their Supply Chain Management course.

– Masternaut’s app provides the core functions of its service on a mobile device. Users can track individual vehicles and fleets via smart phones and tablet PCs from manufactures such as HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson, Apple and soon Panasonic. 

– Menzies, the newspaper distribution specialist, has produced an app designed to allow retail staff to manage stock claims from the shop floor. The i-Menzies app, which is available on iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices, was downloaded by more than 500 retailers during a three- month trial, and is now being offered to all 12,000 independent customers.

– MiX Telematics launched an iPhone app in 2010 that enables users to track their vehicles using mobile phones. Routes, vehicle speed and location can be reported via text message.

– Vehicle tracking company Navman Wireless offers an app which allows customers to manage their entire vehicle fleet from a smartphone. The app is based on the company’s OnlineAVL2 desktop tracking software, and enables users to locate drivers on maps before routeing them to their next destination.

– One Network has unveiled a new Android mobile app that enables carriers and drivers to monitor all shipments managed by the company’s cloud-based Real Time Value Network.

– During the Olympics last year, Optrak hosted an app to help companies plan for the impact of the changes to local traffic regulations before and during the 2012 games, by showing which customers would be affected by changes to the road network and specific events.

– Oracle has designed the PeopleSoft Mobile Inventory Management app to run on Microsoft Windows-enabled mobile devices and handheld scanners. It enables users to enter and access information on inventory availability, process receipts and issues and do physical inventory counts without having to change station or work location.

– Panther, the two-man delivery specialist, has invested £250,000 in technology including a mobile app, geo-tagging for drivers, a track and trace system, and a new-look web site. The app downloads details of daily deliveries for the drivers. It also allows customers to sign for their goods, removing the need for paperwork or a POD device.

– Mobile computer supplier Psion is launching IngenuityLive!, an online application store for industrial mobile computing to follow up its social network set up earlier this year.

– RS Components, the trading brand of Electrocomponents, has come up with an app, the eTech for the iPad. It provides a new way to display product and technology information. It adds to magazine content with further detail, images, animation and video, providing an interactive customer experience.

– Renault Trucks has a range of apps, including Renault NavTruck, a custom-developed turn-by-turn GPS navigation iPhone app. The app is based on ALK Technologies’ CoPilot Truck software platform and provides truck-specific routes, guidance and maps throughout Europe. It factors in vehicle dimensions and load type, to avoid blockages.

– The Renault Trucks Racing app was ranked among the four best Serious Games at the international Serious Game Expo in 2011.

– Scandit says its Barcode Scanner SDK delivers the speed and accuracy required to bring true enterprise-grade barcode scanning to smart phones and tablets. It can be integrated into bespoke apps, and works with all major mobile platforms—even phones without autofocus.

– shipntrak, a subscription free online freight exchange which uses smart phones to track shipments, launched at the Logistics Link Live exhibition in Birmingham in June. The system connects shippers and hauliers on a subscription-free auction style platform and enables users to match cargo with available space. It allows live tracking of the cargo from pick up to delivery, which the company reckons is a first for online freight exchange systems.

– Skillweb has launched a parcel tracking app called SmartTask POD offering tracking capability without the cost, management time and hardware required for a specific tracking system. It says the app is suitable for rugged, semi-rugged and smart phone devices.

– Also launched at Logistics link Live in June, was Snapfulfil WMS’ new Mobile Manager App. It is designed to be deployed via an iPad and allows the data from the warehouse management system to be inspected by management while on the move around the warehouse, or even remotely.

– Spirit Data Capture has launched a device to alert for lost or stolen equipment, in partnership with Mi-Zone Technology. The mobile app device can be attached to items such as keyrings, mobile printers or POD devices.

– The TaskMaster enterprise mobility platform from TBS automates fieldworker processes on smart phones, specialist PDAs, tablet and laptop computers using role-specific apps. It also has an app studio for planning, designing, developing and deploying mobile applications.

– TomTom has produced a smartphone app to provide managers with information about their vehicle fleet. Webfleet Mobile is available for iPhone and Android devices, and provides a map showing the current traffic situation using TomTom HD Traffic.  Users can view text, status or order messages and also send text messages straight to the driver’s TomTom navigation device.

– Toyota Material Handling has created a Forklift Challenge game to raise awareness about the capabilities of the Toyota System of Active Stability. Players have to use SAS special features to reduce the risk of accidents and optimise productivity. The game is available as a free app from iTunes and the Android market.

– UPN’s first mobile app, provides visibility of each palletised freight consignment and enables users to follow their progress live, from collection to delivery. The app runs on a range of devices, such as iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows mobile devices.

– Yusen Logistics has developed a mobile application to give full visibility of the supply chain. It uses the company’s supply chain management system, Griffin to provide information for all modes of transport, at every stage of the supply chain process.

Share this story: