Empowering mobile workers with fusion apps

Fusion apps empower mobile workers by fusing social and location data with key business data. Mobile expert Tom Nolle offers development tips.

Mobile fusion apps are redefining what it means to empower mobile workers at the point-of-activity. Most companies believe they can achieve this simply by giving workers mobile access to information in desktop applications. But they are wrong.

Providing access to information such as customer sales data cannot fully empower mobile workers. That information alone doesn't take context into account. Context, in this case, means where the mobile worker is and what's been happening recently with that customer. Effective mobile empowerment demands a fusion of social, location and application information.

In this tip, I explain what fusion apps for mobile workers are and offer some best practices for developing, testing and deploying them.

Step 1: Establish mobile worker context.

The first step in effective point-of-activity empowerment is to establish mobile worker context in terms of information needs. When a prospect calls in, for example, the call center worker would logically want to know the status of the prospect's recent orders. That portion of information context is available from applications in a traditional way. Effective empowerment requires more than that.

There are a host of questions to consider. First, does this prospect have a relationship -- good or bad -- with any specific call center agent? After call center interactions in the past, did the prospect rate a particular agent highly, or poorly? Did the prospect call earlier on the same matter and now wants to speak with the same agent? If the prospect is new, is there an agent or a salesperson who has specific customer experience in the caller's vertical market? Has the caller been using message boards or other forms of online help and information gathering? If so, what did the caller look for? Did that customer receive positive or negative comments from other prospects or customers on the message boards?

For mobile workers, the location of both the caller and the worker are also important. Which salespeople are nearby, and what is their relationship to the prospect and the prospect's business? Are these salespeople highly or poorly rated? Would traffic problems affect the time needed to get to the prospect location, and if so is it better to wait for the "ideal" salesperson or respond quickly? 

A mobile fusion app answers all these questions by collecting the data, analyzing it based on specific company policies and then presenting it in a way that's logical based on the activity the worker is currently involved with. For example, a worker using a tablet computer might get a Metro-like panel display with basic information in each of these categories, which could then be touched to get augmented information. A worker using a smartphone might get a text-to-speech summary, presuming that the worker may be driving and unable to read the display.

Step 2: Develop an information inventory and make it easy to navigate.

Each of the information sources for fusion apps, from application data to location-based services and social context, must be identified and a format for extracting each information source established. The best way to do this is to organize data in a tree or hierarchy with each branch point representing a summary of what's beyond it. Mobile device navigation that's hierarchical works best, and so it may be necessary to construct a summary-and-detail structure for some applications. Because correlations between information elements are likely to be identified at this point, this is also where specific software design or orchestration requirements will be indicated. In addition, software projects to develop any specific tools needed for fusing information resources will be launched from this point. Those projects, when completed, combine with existing application, social and location APIs to create the information conduits that will be fused to empower mobile workers.

Step 3: Carefully test each information resource as an independent element.

Any software project that involves components will benefit from extensive unit testing, since testing all of the composition alternatives may be difficult. Here, the specific goal is to insure that each information component of the fusion application conforms to the interfaces that you've developed. That will insure that anything that composes application components based on those interfaces is very likely to work. That is essential if mobile workers are to be allowed to personalize their own information views.

Step 4: Creating a framework for compliance auditing and monitoring.

Much of the data used in fusion applications will be highly confidential; even the location of mobile workers -- salespeople in particular -- is something most companies will want protected. If the previous three steps are properly followed, it should be possible to identify compliance requirements associated with each of the information resources that contribute to the fusion application, and establish company policy with regard to safeguarding the information or summarizing away details that might compromise regulatory or internal policies.

Step 5: Construct a suitable ALM framework for the fusion apps to protect operations processes.

Fusion apps are tightly woven into mobile worker behavior. So if something goes awry during an application change, business will be disrupted. Even when things are operating smoothly, changes to fusion apps are likely to happen often, because these applications are so tightly coupled with operating practices. Most ALM processes target relatively compartmentalized company-records-oriented applications that are static by comparison, so it's best to construct a separate ALM framework for mobile fusion applications.

How is your organization supporting mobile workers? Are you ready to take on mobile fusion software projects? Let SearchSoftwareQuality.com editors know. 

This was first published in February 2013

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