If a store failed to meet certain standards, the managers had to go back and pull previous audits to look at discrepancies in scores. They would then perform a follow-up audit to see if the problems had been fixed, again recording their findings on paper, entering data into their laptops and then checking the score.
Under a pilot program launched in April, six district supervisors can enter data directly on their BlackBerrys while visiting stores. The data is entered into Open Text's content manager via Actuate Corp.'s open source Eclipse BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) system, and it is displayed through Webalo Inc.'s Mobile Dashboard.
Data that a supervisor enters for a particular store is automatically sent into Open Text and can then be compared to that store's previous audit scores and to the scores of other stores in that chain nationwide. "We can look at it from a single-store, district, regional, and national perspective," says Weisman.
Managers at the retailer can also parse the scores to see if the custodial services provider is doing only the minimum necessary to achieve a base score necessary to pass the audit. For instance, store entryways are difficult to clean, but poor scores in that area can't sink an entire audit by themselves -- and that could mean custodial firms might be tempted to be less careful about cleaning entryways if they know it won't have a big impact on their overall scores. Now, Johnson's supervisors can instantly see whether entryways consistently score poorly and then take steps to address such shirking.
Weisman says the system being piloted has performed exactly as he'd hoped, and Johnson Controls intends to roll it out this August to, among others, all district supervisors, regional operations managers and area managers at the custodial services companies.
Johnson Controls didn't have to spend a lot of money to make its mobile application work.
After the rollout, his goal is to expand what the mobile app can do, turning it into a "super dashboard" to give supervisors reports not just on custodial work, but also on merchandise displays and appearance, and ultimately the condition of the entire store environment, including HVAC systems, plumbing and so on.
Weisman says that Johnson didn't have to spend a lot of money to make the application work -- the field managers already had BlackBerrys for email, and the company was already using Open Text. Only the Webalo dashboard was new, and Weisman says a 100-seat-plus-server license cost "a fraction" of what he spends on Open Text development.
Weisman says that the managers can't do as much data manipulation on their mobile phones as they can on their laptops, but he thinks that will change over time. "I don't think laptops will be around in five to ten years, at least in the form they are today," he says. While he notes that the BlackBerry has limitations as an application platform, he says "these aren't phones, they're handheld computers."
One major challenge for mobile BI is that its impact may be hard to measure. Steinmann says he couldn't put a monetary value on Fraport's application. The fact that it gets used is probably the best indicator that it's a successful tool, he says.
"These applications have soft benefits," agrees Prasad. But he says that despite the squishy ROI, the mobile BI apps will be undeniable drivers of productivity.
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