Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is the iPad just a pretty face? Adding the iPad to your flooring business tool box

Mitchell Dancik
Barely a day goes by that I do not receive an email from a customer asking me about Apple’s iPad: Will my software run on it? What are Dancik International’s other customers doing with iPads? Will I fall behind if my salespeople don’t have iPads?   

The iPad has hit a jackpot with consumers and hit a nerve with IT staffs trying to make sense of it. Usually, new IT tools flow from the top down and thus, this holy tablet would typically be delivered to your business from the IT mountain top. But this time it’s different. Having already been accepted by the consumer, the demand for iPads in business is coming from the bottom up - from salespeople and others asking IT managers to incorporate the iPad into their mobile IT tool box.

Apple has had a string of hits that can be credited mostly to their unique combination of marketing and product savvy. But an iPad is different than an iPod or iPhone. Anyone that sees and iPad expects that it will run anything that runs on their computer. But that’s not quite true. The iPad was designed primarily as a consumer device that is the most portable way to fully surf the web and play videos. Apple may not have expected the immediate attention that the business community has given the iPad and current models are not very good for keying the type of data that most business applications require.

Still, those requests coming from within your company to use the iPad are not just noise from employees asking for a new perk. This is your work force saying “Hey we found something that’s really easy and fun to use, and it would be very cool if our computers at work were as good or could work with it.”  

We have found at Dancik that when you marry a motivated employee with a way to retrieve data easily, especially while in the field, job satisfaction goes up, training costs go down and customers get better service.  That’s why we have approached our foray into iPads (and other mobile devices) by focusing first on those users who have the most face time with customers – salespeople in showrooms and on the road. These salespeople may have been OK using desktop and laptop computers to get information, but they’d rather have it on an iPad or, if the data is concise enough, on their phone. 

Where do you start? All of the IT staffs and business software companies have their work cut out for them because mobile technology is a moving target. Therefore part of every effort that is made to support today’s devices will be become redundant when a new and better device appears. But that’s not an excuse to wait and see. It’s a reason to get started and try and get ahead of this things as best as you can.

While we all get enraptured by the concept of “user friendly,” businesses need to be aware of some significant pitfalls. The biggest danger to avoid is to ensure your software does not lose its primary purpose underneath all the new window dressing. Therefore, make sure that your software retains all of its essential business logic during its face-lift. If you are in the flooring business, managing rolls, cuts, containers, shades of tile, margins, and rebates is still more important than any cosmetic improvement. Also note, that making business applications run effectively on an iPad or other mobile devices is not just about the screen size. Applications must be disaggregated into tiny pieces, and then reassembled to suit a new user that is uncomfortable with strict preconceived work-flows.

You can tread lightly into the world of mobile business applications, but not treading at all will be dangerous in the long term. You can start with simple one or two click applications such as “price check.”  At the end of this journey, anything you can do on your desktop computer will have a mobile equivalent. The pretty face of technology is not just a pretty face. It’s the world your customers and employees live in.

I look forward to your comments. Thank you.

Mitchell Dancik

Mitchell Dancik is president of Dancik International and a consultant for the Floor Covering Institute.  

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