Answers To All Your Mobile Questions [Interview]

woman using mobile phone at workAs the use and development of mobile devices and applications in the business world continues to rapidly expand, almost every company, large or small, is considering how to they can take advantage of expanding mobile technology.

More and more companies are recognizing the power of mobility to increase workers’ productivity and enable them to respond quickly to market changes and opportunities as they arise.

To learn more about how mobile is enabling businesses to run like never before, I interviewed Randy Sell, Director of Solution Engineering at SAP.  Randy manages a team of solution engineers that provide product demos and technical support for SAP’s mobility products.  With his extensive expertise in business and technology, specializing in mobility, he was able to provide some valuable insight into how mobile is transforming the workplace.

1) So your career has spanned over 5 decades.  What are some of the biggest technology changes that you’ve seen during that time?

Wow, I feel ancient when you put it in those terms.  When I look back, I see technology enabling me to be far more productive and having more freedom to work outside the office.  Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the only computer access we had were terminals tied to the mainframe computer.  When you logged off at night, you lost access to your business data until you arrived at work the next morning.

During the 1990’s I was given a laptop (a 40 pound IBM huggable luggable) and then a mobile phone with voicemail, which began to expand my access to business data when not in the office.  I started working from a home office during the 1990’s, which gave me more time with my young family.  By far the biggest change has come in the past few years, with the explosion of mobile technology, faster internet access and apps.

2) Expand on that a bit.  What benefits does mobility have from a business perspective?

It’s all about speed and ease of use.  Work activities that used to take 10-15 minutes can now be done very simply in a few minutes.  Information is shared and received instantly through email or text.  With mobility, you don’t have to shut down once you leave the office – you become easier to reach.

That allows me to get more done in less time, be more responsive, leaving more time for a personal life.  The challenge is deciding when to turn off your mobile device and stop working.  This becomes especially difficult at times in the year when you feel you have to be available 24/7.

Mobile applications with analytic capabilities also provide tremendous benefits by giving workers access to data in real time.  As a manager I can use sales apps to see what the sales pipeline looks like in real-time. This information wasn’t available to me up until recently. Now I have access to current data on an iPad to view anywhere.

3) Do these benefits apply to only large enterprises or can small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) take advantage of mobile technology as well?  What are the implications and benefits of mobile for SMEs?

I previously worked in a small company with only 70 employees and I can tell you that their desire to get to information quickly is no different than larger companies.  Fast access to data has benefits for any size company.   Every business has the same need to make better decisions and values personal time for employees just as much.

Larger companies in some ways actually are faced with more challenges than a SME. They typically have the difficulty of dealing with multi(s), (multi-language, multi-plant, multi-currencies), while SME companies do not.

4) What about from an industry perspective? Is mobile having a larger impact on certain industries?

Industries that have service technicians, especially on the road, and remote sales employees benefit the most from mobility.  Industries where everyone is working in the office may not have as critical of a need for mobility.

5) Mobile has been sparking some big changes in the retail industry.  Can you comment on that?

As a consumer, I see the world of retail making some radical changes in order to make it faster and easier and to conduct business.

For example, cash registers are being replaced by mobile devices that can process transactions instantly anywhere.  Using mobile technology, like Square Up, allows you to swipe a credit card on your smartphone or tablet and email a receipt to the purchaser.  Mobile technology is impacting both consumers and businesses, and I’m certain that it will have a larger and larger impact over time.

6) Can you give us an example or two of how technology and apps helps you save time?

Sure. Two come to mind off the top of my head.

Time and Expense reports used to be a 100% manual exercise.  We moved to completing expense reports by scanning receipts and attaching them to electronic expense reports, which actually took longer to finish than manually writing reports and mailing in receipts.  Now, I take pictures of all my receipts and complete my expense reports using an Expense App, before I ever get home.  That saves about 30-45 minutes for each trip.

The other big winner has been the use of mobile workflow.  From approving vacations to approving PO’s, everything is so much faster today.  As a manager I can respond much quicker to my team with mobile workflow solutions in place.  It’s hard to remember operating like we did in the “old days”.

7) Many businesses are still hesitant to adopt a mobile strategy.  What are the risks associated with increased mobility and how can you mitigate them?

People in many businesses are risk averse and tend to be laggards for adopting new technology.  Certain industries tend to be slow to adopt changes for a number of reasons including a fear that mobility will compromise data security.  The medical industry comes to mind.  Medical had been an industry still keeping virtually all paper medical records until recently.

Businesses and institutions are becoming more comfortable and confident with data residing outside of their firewalls.  The mobility wave has arrived, and there is really no going back.  Sometimes it takes a new employee with a fresh perspective to question the status quo. Businesses get stuck in old habits and need to be convinced to invest in new technologies.

8) From your perspective, Randy, what mobile technology trends do you see on the horizon?

While it is difficult to project too far into the future, several changes are beginning to impact how I do my job.  First is the move to real-time access to large amounts of data.  Information that used to be run through a data warehouse and put on a weekly report for me is now available through mobile devices in near real-time.  This type of access will allow me to make better decisions faster.

The other trend I am seeing is the move from portable computers to portable tablet devices.  As tablets become more robust, I see the day coming soon when I won’t even need a PC.  All the data I need will be housed somewhere on a cloud, and accessed from my phone or tablet at lightning speed.  How the world of work has changed since the 1970’s.  I am very excited to be a part of the future of technology.

For more information about mobility is enabling employees to become more productive at their jobs by using mobile technology, take a look at this short video.

Randy Sell

Randy Sell is the Director of Solution Engineering at SAP, managing a team of solution engineers that provide product demos and technical support for SAP’s mobility products. He has been a solution engineer for over 18 years now and also has 15 years of experience in supply chain management. His career started in 1979 as a Production Control Analyst.