I can’t be happier than I that mobile has become not only a part of corporate ECM conversations but also part of many IT manager’s ECM objectives. I’ve been watching the mobile space since 1996, when I got to play with the Nokia 9000. From the once giant Finnish mobile phone company. Mobility is in my heritage. From the first Coke machines that allowed mobile payments in 1997 to Angry Birds, Finland was part of the mobile conversation and therefore part of every Finns conversation. My hands on history started when I wrote my first working mobile ECM extention and using it back in Thursday, October 5th 2000.
t was a marketing content distribution application. I had loaded every piece of current marketing collateral, especially our WCM messaging on a site designed for the 9000. I remember that day specifically because it was when Documentum announced its move to support Web Content Management. That day I was working the booth at a major internet conference in New York. In my jacket pocket I carried one of the first US Nokia 9000 Communicators connected to my ECM extension. As people asked me for information about our products, I would chose the collateral they wanted, enter their email address, and automatically send them their collateral. Behind the scenes the system recorded their email and the collateral they ask for so our sales organization could follow up.
Marketing content management didn’t become “the” mobile demo application for ECM. Its scope was to narrow. Today, every ECM company demos the mobile insurance application. Insurance agent comes out to your accident scene, collects your data, takes a picture, and sends in the claim. Now, “there’s an app for that” from every insurance company. Except the customer fills out the form and takes the picture.
Mobile ECM may be ready for prime time, but is the enterprise? Not so fast. There’re lots of things to consider.
To Vendors, “Mobile ECM is a Platform not a Solution”
Vendors need to recognize that ECM on a mobile device is a platform for building solutions, not a business solution. Use the demo to show what’s possible to build. Not a shrink wrapped solution, especially if you’re not ready to talk about how to remove your branding. You never know what the customer may have in mind and they might not tell you either.
When you think of mobile movie entertainment apps, you think Netflix, Hulu, Xfinity, and Delta Airlines, right. Yes Delta Airlines now has its own mobile application that allows you to stream movies on a Delta flight. I sure didn’t expect my Delta Airline app to stream movies.
Focus on building out mobile components that allow an organization to integrate the mobile platform to their business processes. Don’t focus on finding a solution that fits the mobile device. Odds are you will not keep up. Build the platform and they will come.
The game will no longer be just about file access, running queries of repositories, or working with tasks. Those have quickly become an entry point to mobile ECM. Support those on the bleeding edge trying to make mobile ECM work. Sure I can upload my pictures to your repository. But why can’t I upload my documents created in Pages into my repository or open a file from the repository with Keynote? There’s just so much people can do on a mobile device that makes store and retrieve look like your grandmother’s app.
Supporting the mobile operating system’s key functionality, the next point release needs to include things like notifications and location services. Also use the camera for more than pictures, what about OCR and barcode recognition. Sure you may need to put more processing on the server, but a mobile server should not be a dumbed down cut and paste of your webserver. Grocery Gadget has been able to read a barcode and populate my grocery list with data from a server for over three years. Mobile apps need to use the features of the device.
To Users “Mobile is not Every Thing you Think it is”
Mobile devices are not the universal replacement for laptops for all business processes. They are in some case. I personally don’t understand why a sales rep, that spends their time checking email, showing presentations, and writing proposals, use laptops when all they need is a tablet. They will be some day but today it’s only a few that get it that are starting to do it on their own.
The common Finnish term for a mobile phone is “kännykkä” which translates to “the extension of one’s hand.” Inside today’s organization, the application of mobile technology should be an extension of the organizations business application, not a replacement. Here’re two reasons why:
- In Mobile size matters. The screen size difference between an iPhone and iPad. We know that when we explain to our spouse why we need that second device. “That iPhone screen is so small I can’t get anything done, so I need an iPad.” But once we start talking enterprise mobile, we often think we’ll just build this one mobile app and not care about the platform. It may seem obvious but let me show “Moby Dick” on the same app on the iPhone and iPad.
We can’t even read the first paragraph on the iPhone screen. That’s the white whale I see when people talk about approving contracts. Not saying it can’t be done. There’s the hard way, treat the iPhone as a document browser and force the reader to scroll through page after page. Or the smart way, build intelligence into the app and the document to allow for the reader to just to specific terms and conditions in the document are different.
- Mobile platforms are limit in inter-apps communications, by design. Applications today are staying in silos not only because most are just getting started but because the mobile platforms are also limiting this to protect the platform. Inter-App communications is supported in iOS by AirDrop and on Android by IPC (Interprocess Communications). The apps on both sides of the transaction, transporter and receiver, must support the protocol. I believe that most enterprise apps are hesitant to support inter-app communication because they don’t know where it might lead specifically as it relates to data security.
Concur – A Great Example of ECM on Mobile Today
I use a mobile ECM extension app on my phone several times a month. We use Concur for our travel and expense system. Now many of you are familiar with Concurs travel system, but it’s their expense reporting that of interest here. It’s the expense application which is my use of mobile ECM. I complete and submit my overall expenses, through my laptop (or my iPad) with a browser. On the server, Concur matches my expense items with credit card billings and manages the workflow approval process. But Concur also allows me two options of interacting with the on-line expense solution. The first simply uses the camera to capture expense images that I can attach later through the website. The second allows me to add additional expense information from the receipt, date, location, amount and type. Today I add this detail manually. But I hope not too many release in the future, the app will use location services as a minimum to enter city and state but maybe even offer the vendor details based on a database query. Or it could add OCR to extract the amount from the receipt.
If you’re going mobile, your first project should be an extension of an existing enterprise solution and not a solution of its own. Once you have it working, then it’s time to experiment with other ideas. Mobility is not about building an app alone, it’s also about user adoption. Mobile is a new strategy and the solution that evolved will not be ports of those from the web.