Guest Blogger: Greg Johnson, Team Leader for New Technology at Mincron Software Systems
Mobile applications that integrate with enterprise line-of-business applications may not dazzle your children like Angry Birds — but in the distribution world where margins are small and customer service is king, the benefits reaped from these less glamorous mobile applications may dazzle some pretty important folks all along your corporate ladder.
The introduction of LongRange into the IBM i developers’ toolkit has opened the door for enterprise application developers — those who know your system the best — to build truly integrated native mobile applications that support various groups and employees in ways never possible before.
Mincron Software Systems used LongRange to develop its first true native mobile application, providing crucial information and functionality to outside sales people needing access to the wealth of information stored in the backend ERP system (MSS/HD Enterprise Distribution software) running on the IBM i server.
No longer will a sales person walk out of a customer’s door with a to-do list requiring them to return to the office or make phone calls to check on an order’s status, find out about product availability, place a new order, or let the A/R department know the check is in the mail. Each sales person – armed with nothing but an iPad or iPhone – can now take care of each of these tasks in real-time as soon as the customer makes the request.
Below are the key features of our first mobile application, which may provide other IT and business professionals with some ideas for their own mobile apps. Our mobile app focuses on the following four areas:
- Sales Call Preparation
- Information Retrieval
- New Business
Sales Call Preparation
A customer lookup allows the sales person to find any customer defined in the backend ERP system by either searching the entire database, or a filtered list containing only those customers assigned to the sales person.
Selecting a customer from the results list gives the sales person real-time access to contact information, as well as the names of individual contacts within the company and their titles and phone numbers. Phone numbers may be selected for making a call if the mobile device supports calling out. A Google Map is displayed pinpointing the location of the customer’s office. The mobile device GPS is also used to pinpoint the current location of the sales person – providing all the information necessary for driving to the customer’s place of business.
Touching a tab on the screen takes the sales person to the customer’s website, allowing for a quick review of company news and product announcements. Never again will a sales person have to walk into a customer office, completely unaware of recent news that could possibly open the door to a whole new line of business.
Touching a second tab retrieves current, real-time sales analysis data for the customer from the backend ERP system and displays a snapshot of the data using graphs, charts and tables. The displayed information includes sales history, profit margins, previous years’ comparative numbers and ordering trends.
As customers ask questions, the answers are literally at the sales person’s finger tips because additional tabs provide the information they are after. For example:
- An overview of every transaction the customer currently has open in the ERP system, whether it’s the proposed price for a job or the expected delivery date for an order.
- Product information from the backend ERP – including access to linked electronic files, such as product diagrams, installation instructions and so on.
After providing so much information to the customer about available products, why not go ahead and take the order?
An additional option on the product page allows the sales person to add products to a shopping cart. If barcodes are available – for example, because the customer already purchased certain items in the past – the salesperson can switch to barcode scanning to re-order those products and add them to the shopping cart as well.
After reviewing the order – and possibly making changes – the sales person can touch the button to generate the order in the backend ERP system. The ERP system then sends out an email confirmation, which the customer may receive even before the sales person has the opportunity to say “thank you.” The new order is immediately available for viewing, just like any other in the backend ERP system.
In addition, a messaging option feature allows a sales person to communicate real-time with anyone working on the IBM i server in the office.
One option displays all messages sent to the sales person by any other user. Another option allows the sales person to create messages, select the message recipient from a list of all users on the IBM i and then send the message – which pops up almost immediately on the recipient’s display. The message recipient might be a user in the office, or another mobile sales person in the field running the same mobile application.
The New Mobile Office
Native mobile applications integrated with backend enterprise systems open the door to a whole new way of doing business. The mobile world of the recent past often required multiple applications to support the needs of your sales personnel – none of which worked together or with your backend system. Attempts to build in-house mobile applications may involve new developers with new technical expertise and no knowledge regarding your business or your systems. Mincron is solving these problems by building native applications that take full advantage of everything the mobile device has to offer – combined with all the data and functionality our backend MSS/HD Enterprise Distribution System provides – to equip our mobile users with those key features that allow them to support their customers at a level far superior to that of their competitors.
Where customer service and the ease of doing business help draw the lines of distinction between you and your competitors, this new native mobile application is a very powerful weapon for your sales people’s arsenal.