How to Connect a Field Service Workforce with Custom Mobile Apps

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When it comes to business support software, you could say that primarily virtual companies have it easy. By contrast, geographically distributed businesses like retailers have to juggle a dizzying array of variables, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Customer data
  • Products
  • Promotions
  • Spaces
  • Employee data
  • Shipping

Woman working on servers with tablet pc on the phone in data cen

Business process software can make this complex dance manageable and help organizations of all sizes react more quickly in a highly dynamic marketplace. But not all apps are created equal. As businesses consider what kind of mobile field service management software solution to use for their field service workforce, there are a couple key questions they need to ask to determine success later on:

Custom or generic?

First, should you develop a custom application for your business or purchase a generic software solution?

In the past, custom mobile apps were only an option for the largest operations. Today, it’s a different story. Mobile devices are so commonplace – and web technologies are so efficient – that developing a custom app is more affordable than ever, and many businesses are leveraging the opportunity.

The advantage of a custom app is that it can be designed precisely for your business process, so it “understands” the unique ways various pieces fit together in your organization. Since it’s tailored to the way you do business, the software can optimize your processes, well, optimally.

For example, the app might recognize the difference between distinct types of promotional displays. When someone in the field orders a new one from their mobile device, the system will know exactly which department to order it from and exactly where to ship it, taking care of all those steps instantly.

Furthermore, as your developers iterate a piece of software that is truly reflective of your business, it may help you identify opportunities to iterate and improve your business processes as well. In this way, custom software can really drive business-wide evolution.

Of course, if a business doesn’t have the budget to engage a third-party development partner or hire developers, generic mobile apps may be the way to go. They can still represent a big step up from older, more centralized business process software, helping businesses collect data and communicate more richly – using dynamic video and images. Plus, the ability to easily archive data in the field helps companies analyze that data to identify actionable trends and opportunities.

But unlike custom apps, this software won’t as readily scale with your business. Companies with the ability and inclination to invest in a long-term software solution will be better-served by a custom app.

Responsive web app or native?

Once you’ve resolved to build a custom mobile app, one of your biggest questions is going to be whether you should create a responsive web app (sometimes known as an HTML5 web app) or a native application.

What’s the difference?

Native software is built specifically for a given operating system. In the mobile world, that generally means Android or iOS.

Web apps, on the other hand, are accessible on any device – from an iPad to an Android phone to a laptop running Windows. Responsively designed interfaces can make the experience smooth and consistent regardless of your device’s screen size and form-factor. A web app runs from your servers, while native apps are typically distributed through an app store.

So which approach is right for your project? Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

You might want to develop a native app if you’re looking to use a particular feature on a particular piece of hardware. A native app may also make more sense in business environments where mission-critical software has to run even if the internet connection goes down or becomes inaccessible.

If you’re not working with such constraints, responsive web apps provide tremendous flexibility both for users and for you. Users can utilize the software on whatever device they like. And you have the freedom to update the software whenever you like, without waiting on approval from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. You can make use of any programming language and any open source technologies you like, driving down costs. And you won’t have to rewrite your app completely so users on both iPhones and Android phones can use it.

Today, responsively designed apps run quickly and look beautiful – the best are indistinguishable from top-tier native apps. Additionally, they’re generally easier to create and maintain. If these advantages align with your business’ priorities, responsively designed custom mobile apps may make the most sense for your needs. By discussing your goals and priorities with your software development team, you should be able to identify the right approach for you.

Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Edward Wahl

Edward is a Lead Engineer at Art & Logic where he manages and develops custom software for a wide variety of clients and platforms. He has over two decades of professional development experience managing and developing software projects for clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to angel financed startups. His core expertise includes architecting and developing complex web/mobile software systems which are efficient, scalable, testable and in line with client business needs.


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