Tablet applications are becoming increasingly normal in office environments. A recent survey, conducted by FileMaker, revealed that an increasing number of businesses are using custom database solutions to automate a range of business processes across all departments.
Businesses are using tablet applications to ‘mobilise’ workers inside the building or across the company campus as often as they are mobilising field sales forces and technicians.
Early adopters of tablet applications are achieving tremendous productivity advantages, including streamlined processes that save steps for employees, cutting process costs, reducing paper and improving customer service.
With the push to get tablet applications to market as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, many smaller businesses and entrepreneurs are opting for a DIY route, as are workgroups within larger businesses. They’re taking advantage of low-cost or no-cost software and DIY application development tools that help them build professional-quality, highly customised business solutions for tablets and have their solutions ready to go in a matter of weeks, not months.
Andrew McLean is the owner of small business Triple C Mobile Mechanix, offering car repairs and services in Queensland. Operatingon mobile tablet applications has streamlined his business, lowered overheads and enabled him to offer huge discounts when compared to his local competitors.
Triple C Mobile Mechanix has developed a range of database solutions, to help with customer relations, jobs and invoicing, and to store and organise data critical to the business – including vehicle details, service schedules and part numbers. When a client is due for a service, Andrew can now send a text message straight from the solution!
Based on what we learned from our customer survey, here are five tips to keep in mind when taking on a DIY tablet application project.
It’s all about the data: For the most part, solutions for tablets mobilise data for businesses. Be sure you pick a tool that enables you to create your mobile database quickly and to connect easily to all your data sources – ideally without programming. In addition, you shouldn’t require a dedicated database administrator to manage your application once it’s up and running.
Think good design first: Plan to take full advantage of tablets and their operating systems, particularly iPads and iOS, when designing applications for the devices. Don’t just duplicate desktop solutions and assume they’ll look and run well on mobile devices. In fact, employees simply won’t use your tablet application if it isn’t as attractive or functional as their consumer apps. Nor will they use your application if it doesn’t make their lives easier by simplifying or replacing the tasks that they perform daily.
Don’t forget security: Security of data on mobile devices is an ongoing challenge. A good, simple starting point is to use a tool that includes a server-based database with a separate application that feeds your data to the tablets. Your data is protected at the server level and, more importantly, it isn’t left on the mobile devices for scrutiny by unauthorised viewers. You also want to be able to take advantage of the built-in security features of whatever operating system your tablet uses.
Build. Rinse. Repeat: By definition, a great tablet application is never finished. You’ll want to be able to update it, refine it with suggestions from employees, add new data sources, and so on; all quickly – and without having to call in a programmer.
Why reinvent the wheel? You can learn a lot from what other businesses have done. If you choose a tool that a lot of people are already using, you can often pick up ideas from them or even solutions that they’ve shared in the public domain. In addition, well-established tools usually have acquired third-party-developer communities. Professional developers can provide extra help if you decide you need it – and some even have specific expertise in building solutions for your problem or industry (or, you can pick up free tips by reading their blogs). There are a lot of great ideas out there. You’ll never be alone if you pick a popular tool.
So, what are you waiting for? Go for it!
Willem Meyer is the Regional Manager, APAC at FileMaker Inc., the innovative software platform to easily create custom business solutions for iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac and the web.