Got Employees with Clipboards? You Can Probably Use Mobile BPM

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Learn first-hand how leading technology providers are developing midmarket technologies to solve key business and strategic challenges.

Not long ago I wrote about the seemingly rapid uptake of business intelligence applications accessed via mobile devices like tablets. Making the use case for it are folks like SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann, who described how sales folks toting iPads outfitted with the company's own Business Objects software connect to a CRM database to "analyze 650,000 opportunities in real time."


Howard Dresner, founder and president of Dresner Advisory Services, recently predicted mobile will become "fundamentally the new platform for business intelligence." But BI won't be the only business application on mobile devices. Within a few years, it may be hard to find an app without a mobile version.


Business process management is an obvious candidate, thanks to the numerous aspects of workflows that occur outside the confines of the office. So it's no surprise to see some companies adopting mobile BPM.


Two months ago, Malcolm Ross, Appian's director of product management, mentioned several interesting examples of Appian customers using mobile BPM. Property management company Archstone is using Appian's Tempo application to give its property managers, who don't spend much time behind desks, access to important event streams and forms via their mobile devices. The Tempo interface is more intuitive than the prior application used to manage leasing and property management forms, a bonus for a company that experiences a pretty high rate of turnover in its work force, Ross told me.


Earlier this week, while attending the IT Business Edge-sponsored Midmarket CIO Forum in Miami, I heard a similar story from John Vilim, the chief technology officer of Chicago-based real estate investment company Waterton Associates. The company uses BP Logix's Process Director software to streamline its due diligence process for properties it may want to acquire. Once a highly manual and paper-intensive process, BPM has made it far more efficient, Vilim said.


As Vilim described it, managers used to walk through properties and make notations on conditions of individual apartments, using a paper form for each apartment. They'd return all that paper to a central office where, said Vilim, "if we wanted to know how many refrigerators were bad, we'd manually review all those forms."


Using Process Director, the company converts the paper forms to digital ones and transmits them to managers on mobile devices. Once they've completed their notations, managers send them to a centralized database where forms are stored and can be manipulated with Microsoft Excel for reporting. Waterton Associates has seen a big boost in productivity, Vilim said.


Waterton Associates is in the final testing phase for using Process Director to improve its onboarding process. The key, said Vilim, is "notifying the right people at the right time," so, for instance, new hires cannot order business cards until they have a phone. Vilim said Process Director allows users to analyze where they are in a process, clicking through to identify the previous and subsequent steps, an especially valuable feature when onboarding multiple employees.


The software also facilitates the creation of reusable business rules. Waterton Associates will be able to reuse rules created for onboarding in the event of employee termination, Vilim said. Processes will simply be reversed, so instead of assigning a BlackBerry and granting access to systems, the app will be used to recover gear and block access to systems.


Joby O'Brien, BP Logix's VP of development, thinks mobile deployments will drive further interest in BPM. "Products like ours take advantage of newer technologies. With a Web browser and mobile, people are doing things that couldn't be done even five years ago," he said.


O'Brien said BP Logix is seeing increased interest in mobile BPM from sectors like health care. Visiting nurses, for example, would be logical candidates to use an app similar to the one created by Waterton Associates.


Mobile BI may be getting all of the buzz right now, but any company that regularly sends employees out into the field with clipboards probably has potential use cases for mobile BPM.