By The Business Solutions Network
This integrator’s ability to respond to customers’ needs for mobile solutions that require a combination of consumer and rugged devices was the key to last year’s 30 percent revenue growth and a projected 50 percent revenue growth this year.
Photo By Tim Schermerhorn
Since Integrated Solutions International (ISI) first started, 22 years ago, the company has never been a fan of delivering only one part of a mobile solution, such as just providing staging, installation, or solution design services. It’s always been all or nothing for ISI, where all includes consulting, hardware procurement, software development, staging, configuration, implementation, hosting, and depot repair services. And it’s that attitude that’s enabled this integrator to run a profitable, debt-free mobile workforce solutions company that’s survived multiple economic downturns and big competitors.
About a year ago, ISI VP of Sales Mike Sweeney refined his company’s sales process, which now includes 10 questions designed to help customers self-discover the best mobile solution for their business. Not only has the process led to several “aha moments” for ISI’s customers, it led to a major revelation and change in thinking for ISI as well.
A 10-Step Program For Mobility Sales Self-Discovery
Sweeney figured out years ago that there is no one-size-fits-all “killer app” or “de facto standard device” when it comes to meeting customers’ mobility needs. Instead, the integrator uses the following questions to help customers — and ISI — discover the right mobile solution:
- What is the intended use case? This question gets to the heart of a customer’s business needs and oftentimes reveals how much thought and planning has already been put into the process before engaging with ISI.
- Is content delivery important? This question helps narrow down the form factor. For example, if ISI discovers a client plans to use video (e.g., sales presentations, technical training), it’s going to be thinking tablets, not handhelds.
- Will the solution be used for interaction or transaction? This question helps further narrow down the form factor. High transaction volume applications tend to be better-suited for handheld devices that can be used in a single-handed operation. Interactive applications, on the other hand, are better-suited for full-screen tablets.
- Is a virtual or physical keyboard needed? If users will be wearing gloves (e.g., cold-storage environments, inclement weather), then a physical keyboard often makes more sense. Virtual keyboards can appear and disappear and are often preferred in applications where screen real estate is important.
- What types of scanning technologies are needed — imager, laser, or camera? This question also gets into the amount of scanning/image capture required. For example, a delivery driver who does six deliveries a day may require a much less robust (and ergonomic) scanner than a warehouse worker who may scan hundreds of bar codes a day.
- What are your battery requirements? Will the device be docked throughout the day, or will it be used for long shifts outside without much downtime? In certain cases, customers need to swap out batteries during their work shifts without powering down their devices, which points to the need for a purposebuilt, rugged mobile device. For many consumer devices, hot swapping a battery is not an option.
- What type of network connectivity is needed? Will the solution be used in a Wi-Fi environment, cellular, or a combination? And is it okay to not be connected sometimes, or is constant connectivity required? Also, are other types of wireless technologies needed, such as Bluetooth, GPS, NFC (near field communication), or RFID?
- What type of environment will the solution be used in? Answers such as “office,” “freezer,” or “outdoors” help customers self-discover situations where rugged or consumer devices (or both) may be appropriate.
- What kind of security is needed? Will the solution be used to capture and access protected personal information (which could result in stiff fines if data is compromised), or will it be used to display nonpersonal data?
- What’s the expected life cycle of the solution? This last one is geared toward the customer’s accounting department and deals with how businesses depreciate business assets. Some companies, for example, depreciate assets over a one-year period, whereas others prefer a five-year period. For those who choose the latter, the TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage of a rugged mobile solution always wins out.
The Makings Of A Multimillion-Dollar Paradigm Shift
ISI’s sales pitch emphasizes that it can provide a turnkey mobile solution that supports multiple device categories (rugged, hybrid, and consumer), multiple form factors (handhelds, tablets, and kiosks), and multiple operating systems (Android, iOS, and Windows mobile) and meets the highest security requirements (communication, data, operating environment, and software). Mentioning consumer devices and operating systems isn’t a gimmick, but there was a time when ISI didn’t believe that consumer devices had a place in the enterprise environment. “Everyone’s familiar with Gartner’s TCO studies, which basically spell out various reasons purpose-built devices are superior to consumer devices,” says Sweeney. “But after years of quoting those stats like scripture and seeing that clients were becoming less and less convinced, we had to admit the inevitable — the world was changing. Five years ago, the UPS and FedEx delivery people had the coolest technology, but today consumers are using the coolest technology, and they’re demanding to use that technology at work. Service providers have to continuously embrace new technology, adapt, and innovate. That’s a value-add we provide our customers every day,” says Sweeney.
After listening to its customers and gathering feedback from its self-discovery questions, ISI uncovered another truth: TCO was no longer the be-all and end-all for every customer. “Use case can be more important than TCO,” says Sweeney. “In the case of field sales applications, where the user is working and interacting face to face with national accounts, salespeople and their customers sometimes prefer the familiarity of a consumer device such as an iPad over a rugged, purpose-built device. Also, for companies that depreciate assets over a one-to-two-year period, the math for the traditional rugged TCO model may not hold up.”
Provide Customization Beyond The Mobile Platform
ISI spent several months talking to a few of its closest customers to get a deeper understanding of the products and offerings they were most interested in and to determine how it could adapt consumer products to its business model.
This exercise led to another realization, which was that no matter which devices customers wanted, they were still going to require customization to get the full value out of their devices. “Some service providers sell devices, off-the-shelf software, and a basic mobile platform,” says Sweeney. “Their belief is that they can write one set of code and use it everywhere on any platform. After 22 years in the business, I’m convinced this is a fairy tale, like finding a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. It just doesn’t exist.”
Sweeney clarifies that the problem with this approach is that developing platform-based solutions caters to the lowest common denominator. “It’s like designing a chain around the weakest link,” he says. “It allows for only the most basic computing functions to be performed, while neglecting the unique device characteristics that distinguish one mobile device from another.”
The way ISI differentiates its business is by offering a turnkey, hybrid solution that’s platform-agnostic and device-aware. ISI accomplishes this by adding a software layer to its mobile solutions that delivers capabilities such as “self-healing” and “intelligence.” For example, ISI’s customization enables mobile devices to recognize installation problems (e.g., unintentionally downloaded file, corrupt file, wrong version of the software). “Do you think a delivery driver is going to be able to deal with a SQL error or a bad index error on a handheld?” says Sweeney. “The software should be smart enough to deal with those issues in the background. And it should be designed so a user can be trained in 5 minutes.”
This intelligence layer is especially important when it comes to implementing consumer devices, which lack some of the features built into rugged devices. For example, one of ISI’s recent installations entailed developing a solution to enable smartphone cameras to capture and decode driver’s license bar codes. “A rugged Motorola device would have already had this functionality built in, but iOS and Android devices do not,” says Sweeney.
“After years of quoting [TCO] stats like scripture and seeing that clients were becoming less and less convinced, we had to admit the inevitable — the world was changing.”
Mike Sweeney, VP of sales, ISI
Another example of where this extra layer of intelligence comes in handy is for devices that rely on multiple wireless networks. Consumer devices have radios built in and can seamlessly switch between Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth, but they don’t have the capability to automatically turn off and on various radios as the need arises, which can drastically save on battery life. “There are hundreds of examples where adding customization adds a desired differentiation,” says Sweeney. “Even though customization accounts for 20 percent of the overall solution, it’s what gives customers the greatest value.”
Since embracing consumer mobile devices, ISI has picked up a number of big wins that affirm its decision. One notable recent implementation was with a national DSD (direct store delivery) customer. “The customer’s requirements spanned four areas of its business, including presales, delivery, national accounts, and field service,” says Sweeney. “The end result was that the best fit for the delivery guys was the Honeywell Dolphin 99EX and Datamax-O’Neil PrintPad (see sidebar on page 22 for more info about ISI’s mobile printer partner), presales and national account reps were set up with iPads, and the field services team received 7-inch Panasonic ToughPads.”
The beauty of this example, says Sweeney, is that neither his company nor the customer tried to force the decision to go with rugged devices or consumer devices, handheld form factor or tablet. The integrator followed its self-discovery sales process, and the results pointed to the answer that’s become Sweeney’s motto: It’s not one or the other — it’s all of the above.
Prepare For The Next Wave In Consumer/ Business Mobility
Although ISI’s mind shift has the integrator in a good position for the next two to three years, Sweeney won’t be resting on his accomplishments anytime soon. He’s already hard at work investigating other consumer solutions and practices that can be adapted to the business world. “One area we’re looking at is rethinking the traditional loyalty card sign-up process,” he says. “Instead of requiring store employees to walk around with rugged devices and interview customers to sign them up for programs, we’re looking to flip the script and incentivize customers to sign up on their own without the aid of a store employee. This research is also leading into personalized electronic coupons and other incentives.
“Consumers are doing things today that a few years ago could only be performed with a purpose-built AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) solution,” says Sweeney. “VARs and integrators need to continue adapting and innovating if they wish to remain relevant when the next wave hits. It’s already coming. It’s already here.”