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“The Offline Problem”: How to Solve the Biggest Hurdle Facing the Mobile Workforce

February 10, 2015 No Comments

Featured Article By Richard Rabins, CEO, Alpha Software Corporation

Today’s disparate, global workforce relies on mobility to get the job done anywhere, and productivity depends on anytime access to critical business apps. Despite the opportunities that mobilizing the workforce offers, enterprises have deployed a surprisingly small number of apps due to the challenges inherent with mobile app development. According to an IDC survey, 61% of organizations with 1,000 or more employees have deployed 3 or fewer applications, with 44% having deployed 2 or fewer.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to the creation of these mobile business apps is the Offline Challenge, or the ability for apps to function without an Internet connection. In fact, Forrester reported that the “offline” issue is the greatest obstacle facing mobile app developers today. Building offline capabilities into mobile apps is often considered too costly or too difficult, but the reality is, according to VDC Research, 89% of developers regard offline support it as “a critical requirement for the mobile enterprise applications they are developing.”

Let’s take a look at a common example in many businesses – a salesperson in the field. They might start their day connected to WiFi at home, and load information onto a tablet about all of the customers they plan to visit and call that day. While on the road, they’ll often be disconnected from cellular and WiFi data – due to deadspots in warehouses or hospitals, poor connectivity in the field or lack of reliable connection on mass transit or planes. But regardless of where they are, it is critical to get information and make updates to databases, to keep the orders flowing and to keep the customer informed.

What happens if the salesperson isn’t using a robust offline-capable app? A common but often flawed solution is “last-write wins,” in which the last update to a record is saved. For example, if two employees are updating the same sales document, the data won’t be synchronized to the database and only the last update will be saved—without notifying either user. This means valuable work may be deleted and serious discrepancies can occur—ultimately defeating the initial purpose of utilizing mobile apps to increase productivity. Simply put, there is a major problem with disconnecting employees from the database, and many enterprises are not equipped to handle the issue.

And, even if there is assured connection, businesses should ask whether they actually need to always be connected or if they can design apps that only need to be occasionally connected. For example, a team of field workers could load up on the data they need for the day in the morning when they have WiFi at home or at the office – and then go into the field and work offline. They could do updates once or twice in the day from a WiFi connected coffee shop and could therefore save $50-$80 per person per month – which would translate into $600,000 – $960,000 annual savings for a 1000 person field force

How can you solve this issue? By using a development platform for mobile apps that can automatically robust offline transactional capabilities directly into mobile business apps (rather than having to incur the significant cost and time by having to do this through coding), enterprises can create a system where employees can use the critical business applications they need to work effectively, at any time, without worrying about connectivity issues. Whenever the device connects back online, all of the information that has been collected while the device has been offline is readily available for writing back to the server and for synchronization using business rules that match the company’s requirements, and that data will be restored if the app is closed or the battery dies. An offline solution can also deliver faster-performing apps because traffic to the server becomes a non-issue when working offline, and instead the work is being updated locally. Finally, enterprises will realize significant cost savings with offline capabilities, as employees working offline will no longer need to access expensive data plans.

As enterprises adopt offline solutions is a major hurdle that requires a smart approach – but if enterprises are serious about building more mobile apps for employees, they’ll get serious about offline capabilities as well.

alpha 150x150 The Offline Problem”: How to Solve the Biggest Hurdle Facing the Mobile Workforce

Richard Rabins, CEO and Co-Chairman of Alpha Software focuses on strategy, sales, and marketing for the Alpha Anywhere development environment. Richard served as CEO of SoftQuad International from 1997 to 2001, when it owned Alpha. In addition to his 30 years with the company, Richard played a key role as co-founder, and served as president and chairman of the Massachusetts Software Council (now the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council), the largest technology trade organization in Massachusetts. Prior to founding Alpha, Richard was a project leader and consultant with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), and a management consultant with Management Decision Systems, Inc. Richard holds a master’s degree in system dynamics from the Sloan School at MIT, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and master’s degree in control engineering from University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has served on the boards of Silent Systems, Legacy Technology and O3B Networks.

CLOUD COMPUTING, DATA and ANALYTICS , Fresh Ink, MOBILE, SECURITY

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