One of the biggest challenges to large-scale mobile rollouts is consistent use by the workers in the field. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear that companies have mobile initiatives that are struggling or stalled because they cannot get their mobile workers or drivers to consistently use their mobile applications. While as leaders and managers we can talk about the business benefits of mobile technology, many field workers are slow to adopt them as they can be viewed by the field worker as intrusive and constricting the freedom that they’ve traditionally had.
It’s amazing how many excuses can be generated for inconsistent mobile use: “The device was out of coverage,” “It didn’t download the route,” “It ran out battery,” etc.. This is particularly the case with less technologically-sophisticated workforces, such as product merchandisers. Mobile devices, applications and networks are far from perfect, so there are legitimate issues to address and, if not handled correctly, they can limit effective adoption. However, these issues are the exception and not the norm.
One of our customers, Kraft Foods, took a more proactive approach to mobile adoption with its staff of 1,000s of merchandisers; it tied the use of the application to the pay of each merchandiser. In the 2+ years that Kraft has been operational, merchandisers have actively and successfully used the mobile application and training time for new users has been minimal. This should be no surprise as there is no more effective way to align work than to tie it directly to compensation. It should also be no surprise that Kraft was able to achieve and maintain its productivity goals.
It was a significant step by Kraft management to take a large group of people who were used to operating on the “honor system” and put in place a mobile solution that uses GPS for accurate tracking and tie it directly to the Kraft payroll system. Equally important was the need to have the infrastructure in place to efficiently handle exceptions and approve time, mileage and other information required for payroll authorization. The following are some important points to consider for this approach to be effective.
The Base Data Has to Be Right: If, as in this case, mileage is reimbursed and some stores are in very close proximity to others, the geocoding has to be accurate. Even companies that have “geocoded” their customer locations for years will find that their data quality is not as good as they thought. This is as much of a discipline issue as it is a technology one and advanced digital maps do not necessarily provide the fidelity required on their own. A process and supporting technology need to be in place to review and improve data quality.
Have a Website for Field Worker Review and Manual Entry: As I mentioned before, “things can happen in the mobile world” that can cause the information from the mobile device not to record correctly (or at all) for some short period of time. While this is truly the exception, you must have the ability to address it. Kraft’s mobile workers access a review section over the web to regularly (e.g. daily) see what was reported by the system, enter missing data and make adjustments.. Individual merchandisers get an update on their phones each morning for their work on the previous day so they are prompted to review the results if they do not believe the right numbers were recorded.
Implement an Approval Workflow for Managers: Every week, managers need to approve the time and distance traveled for each merchandiser. Kraft uses a 3-tiered review process to allow the manager to spot unusual numbers, see where manual changes were made and then drill down to the individual activities. Once the manager is satisfied with the results, they can easily approve the entire week or individual days and review the exceptions with the individual field workers. Managers and merchandisers are encouraged to review their progress throughout the week so that the approval process is highly efficient. And, with the built-in work flow, no paperwork is required for payroll approval.
Mobile applications represent a significant opportunity to improve the productivity of logistics operations and other field workers. Tying the use of the mobile application to compensation is an extremely effective way to ensure that there is adoption and continued use at a high level. Taking into account the exceptions that can occur in the mobile world ensures that the right data gets collected, workers get fairly compensated and the process is highly efficient.
Chris Jones is the Executive Vice President for Marketing and Services at Descartes. He has over 20 years of experience in the supply chain market, holding variety of senior management positions including: Senior Vice President at The Aberdeen Group’s Value Chain Research division, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Development for SynQuest and Vice President and Research Director for Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions at The Gartner Group.