The anytime, anywhere business opportunity

By Thomas R. Johnson

No longer viewed as a strictly consumer phenomenon, smart devices enabled by wireless data networks are getting down to business. Companies operating within all kinds of value chains are embracing them to improve processes, enhance collaboration, and reduce costs. But those benefits are only the beginning: The real payoff comes when companies begin looking at the full spectrum of business mobility and how it can create new value for the organization, its partners, and its customers. Businesses are reaping productivity gains in the near term—while paving the way for more-innovative business activity in the long term. In this article, the first in a series, PwC Advisory principal Thomas R. Johnson examines how mobility can transform business—and why formulating the right strategy for the organization is the first step.

While just 12 to 18 month ago, smart devices like the Android, iPad, PlayBook, and Xoom were barely on the corporate radar screen, business leaders nowadays are starting to take them seriously. In PwC’s most recent global CEO survey, 88 percent of US CEOs say they expected to make some change or significant change to their business strategies in the next three years because of consumers’ increasing use of mobile devices and social media. Additionally, 46 percent say their information technology (IT) investments will be made primarily to support growth initiatives and take advantage of emerging innovations, such as mobile devices and social media.¹

Take the airline industry, for example. When pilots at charter airline Executive Jet Management need to review a flight plan, they no longer wrestle with paper charts or access the information via specialized laptops. Instead, it’s only a matter of tap, tap, done. Thanks to an Apple iPad mounted at knee level in the cockpit, pilots can quickly zero in on the information they need, bookmark it for later reference, or make relevant notes.²

Executive Jet Management is one of the first carriers to win approval for exclusive use of iPad-based navigational charts— no paper-based backups are required. The company has worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration and the application developer to rigorously test the safety of the device, whose approval represents a significant milestone, paving the way for large commercial carriers to follow suit. Meanwhile, commercial carriers such as Alaska Airlines³ have begun testing similar applications or are in the planning stages of doing so.

Eliminating industry-standard paper manuals or laptops is a productivity win for the airlines. Pilots can more quickly access information, and they no longer need to lug around 20 pounds of manuals or a heavy laptop. But more than that, an iPad in the cockpit opens up a world of possibilities—both in the near term to improve productivity and in the long term to transform an organization.

More-immediate payoffs include using tablets to accomplish tasks currently handled by other systems, such as GPS, weather information, and crew scheduling. And as carriers take a longer view, they might design apps that serve as intelligent agents, interacting directly with the aircraft to handle routine tasks precisely and automatically according to the pilot’s instructions or the airline’s policies.

What began as a more convenient way of accessing navigational information ultimately is creating a disruptive ripple effect for pilots, airlines, even the whole industry: How can apps improve safety and service? How should pilots be trained to better utilize the technology? Do aircraft systems need retooling to better integrate with smart devices?

And this kind of transformation isn’t limited to the airline industry. Forward-looking business leaders across the board are considering mobile business opportunities from two perspectives: 1) How can we boost productivity in the next one to two years? and 2) Where can we add real value or make transformations in the next decade?

Busting mobility myths

At present, business mobility may be garnering leadership attention, but we believe that the current focus may not always yield the best results. In our experience, companies often look at mobility too narrowly or only through the lens of technology. The danger is that they will not reap the biggest payoffs. To help ensure your company is looking at the full range of possibilities, here are four mobility myths to be mindful of.

Myth 1: Mobility is about the consumer.

In many organizations, mobility is automatically pigeonholed as part of consumer marketing, customer touch points, and other externally facing activities. While we believe consumer mobility initiatives are essential—virtually all consumer-facing businesses will need to develop the right strategy—they represent just one side of the coin. The other side—mobility for internal or business-to-business projects—holds the promise of being truly disruptive. Companies will want to take a balanced approach, looking at mobility’s role both inside the business and in the consumer marketplace.4

Myth 2: Mobility is about IT.

It goes without saying that technology is a fundamental part of a company’s mobility strategy. After all, there are several important technology decisions to make: Do we standardize on a single device platform or support a bring-your-own-device model? Which app programming environment is right for us? How do we implement robust security? Do we have the wireless connectivity, trusted data, and rich media available?

But these are decisions best made in support of a mobile approach that is integrated with a company’s primary business strategy. Organizations that relegate mobility to the IT shop miss out on the broader perspective of the leadership team and key business users. And for their part, company leaders beyond the CIO will want to have a high-level understanding of the enabling technologies that make the mobile strategies realities.

Myth 3: Mobility is about the device.

While smartphones and tablets are symbolic of the mobile opportunity, they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. PwC defines mobility as an organization’s ability to digitally connect employees, assets, suppliers, partners, and consumers from any location and in real time. This broader vision, beyond smart devices and apps, is about the business prospering in the post-PC era, which contains new possibilities for working and for creating new products and services.

Mobility is not just about data on a device; it’s also about the capability to deliver interactive media in real time, including video, high-definition images, and searchable knowledge. The linchpin here is operational data, combined with GPS location information and relevant rich media. Companies will be able to use mobile devices to access, analyze, and exploit real-time business events—often via the cloud—by using current business systems, as well as new, sensor-rich ones, such as highly calibrated restaurant equipment, truck trailers, aircraft, and other devices with embedded systems.

Myth 4: Mobility is about apps.

Instead of wondering how to adapt digital newspapers, gaming, and e-books or any of a number of popular consumer apps to a business context, bigger thinking yields better results. How will greater sensing capabilities and a variety of intelligent devices affect the way an organization works? Mobility runs the spectrum from apps to agents. A business will be just as interested in an expense-reporting app on a BlackBerry as it will be in a software-based agent that automatically reroutes a repair vehicle in response to real-time traffic data and notifies the registered customer of the new estimated time of arrival.

Why the time is now

The picture of the anytime, anywhere business is a compelling one. Like other recent business revolutions, such as the Internet and e-commerce, the impact is already being felt, albeit incrementally. If they haven’t already, employees, partners, and customers—maybe even boards of directors, too—will demand to know just what a company is doing with mobility.

For example, the next generation of company leaders will be digital natives—those born in the digital age and who have so fully embraced smart devices that they’re already integrating them into their work lives, with or without corporate blessings. The same goes for other early adopters in an organization. Chances are that departments or business units in many organizations are already experimenting with one-off business mobility initiatives. The initiatives don’t necessarily need to be reined in, but their lessons need to be considered and integrated into coherent strategies. The best managers will apply the lessons learned from the projects to other areas as the organization moves on to the next level of real productivity improvement.

Also, disruptive technologies bring with them special challenges. In the case of mobility, while the technology is rapidly maturing there remain questions around interoperability and security, among other long-term implications.

Nevertheless, in our experience, more and more executives are discovering that businesses can’t afford to wait, and the approaches they take need to be well thought out and disciplined. In each instance, they’re considering both the near-term and longterm implications of their strategies. More specifically, operations leaders will be asking, How can we improve the productivity of our resources by eliminating routine tasks through smart apps and trusted data? And those in IT leadership roles will be asking, What are the functional requirements, data, and apps we need to get started?

To begin along this path, it’s helpful to think of the opportunities as falling into three domains— what we refer to as the “three Fs”: on the floor, in the field, and in flight.

On the floor

Mobility efforts on the floor refers to those that focus on internal business processes: inside buildings and locations. In some cases, that may mean adding smart devices to an existing process flow, but often it’s about rethinking the way work is done so as to take advantage of mobile capabilities.

Several examples of that are already taking place in the healthcare industry. In particular, many hospitals are addressing an all-too-common pain point for physicians: the fact that viewing up-to-date patient information is time-consuming and cumbersome. For each patient on rounds, doctors have to log on to a computer and use disparate systems to access test results, chart information, radiology images, and other relevant information. In a survey of 1,000 physicians conducted by PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI), one-third said they make decisions for nearly 70 percent of their patients based on incomplete information. And only half of physicians surveyed access electronic medical records (EMRs) while visiting and treating their patients. They believe the greatest benefit of mobile devices will be to help them make decisions faster as they access moreaccurate data in real time, with 56 percent saying mobile health would expedite decision making.5

From small private practices to large health systems, mobility is being viewed as a way of giving doctors a comprehensive view of a patient from wherever they are in the hospital— or even outside it. Providers are taking different approaches to enable clinicians to view patient data on wireless devices. Some organizations have built portals that pull data from other hospital information systems, thereby enabling secure display on a phone or tablet. The data reside on the core systems, but doctors can access an integrated and up-to-date view of a patient as they make their rounds.6

Other providers, especially those in smaller practices, are adopting EMR applications that are cloud based. They can use the EMR from any Web browser: via computer, tablet, or smartphone. Tablets, in particular, have proved to be popular choices because they resemble paper charts in their look and feel and have been easy for physicians and patients to get used to.

Healthcare providers are also piloting mobile apps that improve workflow. In the HRI survey, after EMR access, the other top areas of physicians’ interest included prescribing medication and monitoring patients in the hospital. (See Figure 1.) In current pilots, some organizations are conducting consultations over a mobile video network or using a physician’s mobile device to electronically prescribe medication.7

Figure 1

In the field

Looking at how mobility can be used outside a company’s four walls is an important part of the mobility strategy, enabling companies to operate more effectively with field teams, partners, suppliers, distributors, and customers. In our experience, companies find a multitude of opportunities to boost productivity and generate value in the field. For example, they look at how mobility can make their sales teams, service fleets, or customer service agents more effective in the field.

Consider the case of Nationwide. It was the first insurance company to come out with an iPhone app, which was aimed primarily at its policyholders. It then turned its focus inward, looking at how mobile technology could help its claims adjusters, a user group that has generally embraced emerging technology. Nationwide developed a mobile app that agents use for capturing photos and data at an accident site and uploading it to the claims management system. Instant access to the system via the cloud helps speed claims processing.8

Looking beyond those immediate productivity gains, Nationwide is considering how mobile devices can improve the way its agents work and interact with customers. For example, the company envisions an app that might take on some of the work a claims adjuster would do when assessing a hurricane-damaged house: Could an app take advantage of multitouch capabilities and the device’s GPS to start pulling in specific coordinates? Can an adjuster use the device to measure the size of a hole in a roof? How else can the device make the adjuster’s job easier and the interaction with the customer more seamless?9

Field mobility also opens up considerable opportunities for businesses in the consumer packaged goods and retail industries. While many retailers have focused first on consumer initiatives, such as those that let customers call up detailed product and inventory information on their smartphones, many are now looking at how to build upon those early forays to deliver more value. Generally, such consumer efforts have been well-received by customers, but more important, they better position companies to embark on mobility efforts that can increase revenue and service opportunities. For example, by applying the lessons learned from consumer initiatives—such as how to program for the mobile environment and how to package and deliver a sizable amount of product data—hard-line retailers might look at how to grow their servicing business. Imagine the revenue potential if a field technician could access detailed product and service information for a range of products— not just the initial one that originated the service call to the customer’s house.

The real transformative application for workers on the go is mobility for reducing travel or changing what it means to be a worker on the move—whether traveling across the factory or to a distribution center, or taking the train to Boston for a supplier visit.

Another way mobility can help field service technicians is through optimized routing. For example, grocery retailers might install remote diagnostic sensors in refrigerators, freezers, and rotisseries that feed to technicians certain hourly updates on equipment performance. The service techs, with the help of the app, could then organize efficient routing to fix the equipment before it breaks. And that savings is in addition to gains realized from increased utilization of service techs.

Field mobility is also important for supply chain collaboration, as exemplified by other early initiatives we’ve seen. Many consumer product companies have begun to enable field sales staff to access the company’s customer relationship management system via mobile devices. The benefit is that salespeople have access to up-to-date information, and in turn can more easily and quickly enter their own data remotely so that everyone can get a clear picture of the sales pipeline.

Now, companies are exploring ways of adding functionality that takes on more tasks a field rep might do. For example, a smart tablet could use sensing technology to automatically populate the device with only the SKU and promotional mix relevant to the store the rep was visiting.

In flight

For businesspeople across industries, all too often much of the workweek is spent “in flight.” That is, they are in constant motion by moving from building to building, driving out to see clients, or traveling by plane to visit global locations. It all adds up to a loss of productivity when decision makers are cut off from the business applications and information they need to guide their teams or respond to a crisis.

Of course, with the introduction of the BlackBerry in the late ’90s, followed by a new generation of smartphones, the idea of having an office in your pocket began to take hold. Employees could now get to e-mail and view basic documents, but they were still at a considerable disadvantage when compared with working directly through corporate systems. Now, however, thanks to the combination of mobileaccessible, cloud-based business applications for office productivity, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and other business apps, this has begun to change.

Yet even more potentially powerful is employees’ ability to combine corporate information with rich third-party data, also accessible from their devices. Consider that traditional knowledge management hearkens back to an era in which the enterprise information system was all that was online. Employees had access only to internal IT resources. Now, in the era of the smart handheld, employees have anytime access to external resources. The new smartphones and tablets take advantage of new classes of applications that facilitate easier commingling of knowledge and information sources on the public Web.

They also facilitate context-aware computing, which is computing that benefits from human-assisted, sensor-rich mobile handhelds for timely location, personalization, and environmental input. For example, a salesperson about to visit a prospect’s headquarters can automatically learn about a local customer’s team and connections before walking in the door. Or consider if the sales call gets canceled at the last minute. Thanks to a social networking app and sensing technology, the salesperson could instead instantly call up a list of potential targets and contacts available in the immediate vicinity for visiting.

Beyond those productivity gains, the real transformative application for workers on the go is mobility for reducing travel or changing what it means to be a worker on the move—whether traveling across the factory or to a distribution center, or taking the train to Boston for a supplier visit. For example, a store buyer could forgo site visits if factory or farm personnel could use the video capabilities of mobile devices to enable buyers to view and inspect products virtually. Or new store managers could use tablets to access real-time store data and affordably take part in videobased interaction at their location instead of traveling to headquarters for training.

Building your mobility strategy

Business mobility will mean different things to different organizations depending on an organization’s industry, unique business challenges, and level of investment. But regardless of the variables, certain common approaches can help any company best position itself to take advantage of mobility today—and in the future.

To begin, companies can consider the following maturity model for business mobility, identifying where they sit today and where they would like to progress in 2, 5, or 10 years. The model identifies four distinct levels of maturity that focus on how mobility redefines the ways organizations work. (See Figure 2.) As companies ascend the levels, the payback moves from productivity gains to value creation. At the same time, the role of technology needed to transform the organization becomes more important. At lower levels, technology is an enabler, but the productivity gains come from changes in the way that people work.

At the first level, in which mobility initiatives are used to reduce task times, the apps are simple and a primary component involves integrating mobile devices with the company’s core systems like enterprise resource planning or performance reporting. At the second level, the goal is to accomplish more tasks in the same amount of time. To do this, companies look closely at workflow, required content, and decision trees, embarking upon process redesign and creating tailored apps that may take advantage of device capabilities like GPS. Lean or Six Sigma methods can be useful for redesign of work activities that take advantage of mobility.

At the third level, companies consider how to reduce the level of effort required to get the job done. Here they might totally change the way work is perceived and completed, tapping into operational data in real time through smart devices and sensing technology. At this level, the mobility initiatives are likely parts of a larger strategic effort to transform the organization by automating, digitizing, and modularizing processes called digital transformation.

Finally, when organizations reach the fourth level, where the goal is the elimination of tasks, the focus is on collaboration with partners. At this level, organizations look at how mobility can help transform their value chains and how they can create apps that better integrate with their partners’ operations, systems, content, and data in real time. Organizations also consider what additional external information or collaborations can serve to inform the best immediate decision making either in the field, on the floor, or in flight.

From enhancing productivity to transforming the business

Mobility is set to transform business in ways we can only begin to imagine. And as with other disrupters like the Internet, companies can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. While we don’t see the mobility opportunity reaching a steady state for a number of years, organizations can realize real business benefits in the near term. Companies that develop sound, disciplined strategies and that have gleaned lessons from early mobility efforts will be wellpositioned in this new era of working.


Business mobility essentials

As organizations begin—or progress along—their mobility journeys, leading organizations consider several important actions.

Bring together the right team.

Assembling a diverse group helps company leaders set the company’s mobility strategy. Beyond IT and leadership, such groups include business users who represent different groups in the organization, including early adopters of mobile devices, digital natives, and subject-matter experts. By involving such communities early and connecting with them in their work environments, leading companies become able to determine how mobility can boost productivity. They also consider individuals who can help assess changes to process, such as industrial engineers and process designers. As organizations are discovering, mobility efforts are not simply about shrinking or streamlining existing processes, because often, what emerges are brand-new ways of working. They ascertain how their current processes, practices, and workflows might change.

Look beyond the company’s four walls.

Another important user community to involve consists of business partners, such as suppliers or distributors. By soliciting their points of view and collaborating with them, businesses may uncover solutions they might not have thought of on their own. Additionally, they seek customer feedback as they think about consumer mobility efforts. Most businesses tackle mobility on both fronts—companyfocused efforts and consumer-facing ones—but each strategy will likely share commonalities and together will support the company’s business strategy.

Envision the future.

With the right strategy team assembled, the group can begin thinking about what mobility means for the organization today—and what it could look like 10 years from now. Yet instead of engaging in blue-sky thinking that can be overwhelming, they consider how mobility can help the organization address real pain points in the three primary business dimensions: on the floor, in the field, and in flight. They begin looking at concrete ways they can use mobility to reduce task times (Level 1 in the maturity model), progressing to more-advanced levels in the model. By focusing efforts on real scenarios, the organization can create a future-state blueprint that is specific and attainable. As organizations think about new ways of working or new products and services that become possible due to mobility, they also consider the broader impact: What tasks or workflow are now possible? How will the organization be structured? Do we have the right skill sets?

Evaluate different kinds of payoffs.

Leading organizations also consider the total cost of investing in the mobile solution in terms of both tangible and intangible benefits. Traditional return-on-investment calculations, based on realized employee productivity gains or improved return on assets, can be tempered with the intangible benefits that result in improvements in customer satisfaction, employee and customer retention, and competitive advantage. To evaluate the success of the strategy, they select both quantitative performance measurements as well as softer business measurements such as, Did the mobile solution make our company easier to do business with? and Did the mobile solution drive innovation in the ways people perform their daily routines?

Practice risk mitigation.

The watch- word in pursuing mobility is discipline— in everything the company does. This is especially true when it comes to making technology investments. Executives in addition to the CIO will want to understand the tradeoffs when determining the company’s platform and application development strategy, among other considerations. Another important risk-mitigation technique is to focus initial efforts by using pilots or limited deployments. Likewise, establishing milestones and metrics that will provide crucial data for making go-forward decisions is essential. Even when a project turns out not to be the success hoped for, smart organizations take the time to analyze the outcomes, gleaning valuable lessons to apply to future projects.


1 PwC, 14th Annual Global CEO Survey, 2011.

2 Executive Jet Management press release, http://www.executivejetmanagement. com/articles/pr20110211.asp.

3 “Alaska Airlines testing iPads in cockpits,” Seattle Times, March 5, 2011, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/sundaybuzz/2014402413_sundaybuzz06.html.

4 For a detailed look at how businesses are using mobility to better engage customers and enhance their brand, see the second part of our series, “The anytime, anywhere customer,” in the next issue of View.

5 PwC Health Research Institute, Healthcare unwired, 2010.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 PwC Center for Technology and Innovation, “Unleashing enterprise mobility,” Technology Forecast, 2011.

9 Ibid.