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For all the hype surrounding enterprise mobility — the declarations of both its benefits and its risks — most companies are still in the early stages of implementing mobile strategies. Here are the stories of two companies, Merck and Qatar Airways, that are turning talk into action.
By Straight Talk Editors
Merck: Go Fast, Be Ambitious
When Merck, the $44 billion pharmaceutical giant, embarked on its enterprise mobility journey four years ago, it took an unusual route. Many companies were initiating their mobile efforts with the sales force so that salespeople could access information in the field. But according to Randie Schlamowitz, executive director of Merck IT, Merck decided to emphasize the “enterprise” in enterprise mobility and enable its entire corporate environment holistically.
“We built a company-wide mobile network,” she explains. “We made sure we had security in place and that data was protected on mobile devices. We brought in a mobile device management tool, and we were able to track company-purchased mobile phones and, over time, personal devices, too. We supported e-mail and calendar and all the standard productivity capabilities.”
From there, Schlamowitz began to consider Merck’s SAP-based ERP environment as a fertile landscape for taking mobility further. She began with a small pilot program. In a company the size of Merck, where many factors — performance, usability, support, etc. — need to be considered, pilots are essential. The initial pilot enabled the approval of an expense report using a Blackberry or an iPhone. After the success of that effort, the pilot was then expanded to more than 1,000 managers across the company. It wasn’t earth-shaking, but it was a start. “Our philosophy for enterprise mobile applications is that we build them pretty rapidly — in anywhere from eight to twelve weeks — and deploy them among a small pilot user group,” Schlamowitz says. “We get feedback to ensure that there are no issues before we deploy the app to a broader user base.”
After its initial forays, the company began to get more ambitious. What would it take to enhance productivity for managers, for the sales force, and for others around the organization? Schlamowitz’s group investigated available mobile enterprise application platforms, or MEAPs, and selected an SAP technology that plugged seamlessly into the company’s SAP landscape. Her team used SAP's MEAP to rapidly enable certain key transactions on mobile devices, primarily iPhones and iPads, as the Blackberry, the company’s traditional smartphone of choice, was eclipsed by rivals.
Unlike most U.S.–based companies, Merck made its most dramatic foray into enterprise mobility off-shore, specifically in China, an important emerging market for the company. In that case, the sales organization was the focus. The laptop devices they had been using were slow and were not effectively connecting to the network. Under Merck’s single-device strategy, China’s 3,500-member sales force all received iPads and were initially given ten mobile capabilities, including access to their enterprise portal, documents stored in SharePoint (Microsoft’s web-based collaboration software), the enterprise learning management system, and travel expense reporting.
This last capability was particularly innovative, allowing a salesperson to quickly create an expense report, snap a photo of a receipt, and transmit it instantly on the iPad to the corporate back end. A process that had taken 26 minutes through the corporate portal was reduced to less than five minutes on an iPad. Given the success demonstrated in China, which included a close collaboration with business colleagues who changed their traditional ways of working to adopt mobility, these capabilities were ready to be deployed to the enterprise. The team continues to develop innovative mobile solutions across Merck and is working with Manufacturing to leverage mobile devices and applications to enhance productivity.
Merck’s mobile philosophy has diluted the oft-heard refrain in corporate environments that the CIO and IT are impediments to the BYOD and mobility trend, trying to protect their turf and control the distribution of technology. For mobility, IT at Merck has been the visible champion.
“When we embarked on this journey, we looked at it holistically, Schlamowitz says. “Organizations that focus primarily on mobility as a sales force enablement technology don’t necessarily think about the broader enterprise.”
Merck’s CIO at the time made it clear that “whatever we do, we need to do it for the enterprise,” Schlamowitz says. Clark Golestani, who has been CIO for the past two years, has strongly supported and expanded that philosophy. Schlamowitz says that at least 50% of the company’s 74,000 employees around the globe eventually will benefit from the company’s mobile capabilities.
What are the lessons from Merck’s mobility efforts? “Mobility is all about speed and forward momentum,” Schlamowitz explains. “You need to approach mobility a little bit differently in that you have to leverage the appropriate standard development practices using a much more aggressive timeline. It’s not just the group that’s building the app; it’s the group that is testing the app, it’s the group that is supporting the app, it’s the group that’s changing the back-end systems of record. They all need to be focused on acceleration.”
At the same time, IT leaders must be prepared for unexpected changes in the technology landscape. Schlamowitz says, “A decision you make today may not be the right decision a year from now.”
Qatar Airways: Delighting Your Passengers — and Your Employees
The marvel of flying is an exceptional example of mobile technology — which puts an airline in a good position to realize the potential of mobile computing. Airlines don’t just transport passengers from one location to another; they manage a ceaseless flow of workers, baggage, fuel, and critical information.
Qatar Airways, the award-winning airline of the State of Qatar, uses the latest in mobile technology — smartphones and tablets — to change how the company operates in the B2B, B2C, and B2E (business to employee) areas.
“The technology challenge for the airline industry is preparing the passenger for travel through real-time, online solutions. Passengers increasingly want to do more of the preparation themselves, and for them to do so, cost-effective information dissemination mechanisms must be available to them,” says CIO Arasnipala T Srinivasan, a 30-year airline technology veteran. “Mobility has finally offered that opportunity.”
Qatar Airways has developed mobility solutions across the entire spectrum of its business: apps for empowering passengers and productivity- and service-enhancing apps for the cabin and flight crews and for a wide range of airport personnel and other employees.
The term “mobility” was not part of the lexicon until recently, but the basic business advantage was clear. “As the iPad and other mobile devices became more reliable and robust over the past four years,” Srinivasan says, “we realized that we could provide our mobile workforce with a high level of information capture in real time.”
Qatar Airways’ consumer apps have been welcomed and used widely by passengers. The initial offering allowed customers to view schedules, book a flight, check in, and check flight status — capabilities that are now being further enhanced.
The airline’s solutions for its mobile workforce — cabin crew and pilots — consist of iPads that offer real-time information to help employees discharge their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively. Initially, these efforts were focused on elevating the customer experience — something Qatar Airways was already known for — to a whole new level.
For example, when a flight is boarded and the door is about to close, a ground operations team member previously stepped onto the plane and handed the flight attendant a sheet of paper listing all passengers, seat by seat, and basic information such as special meal requests or medical needs. Two years ago, Qatar introduced Qruise, an app for the iPad that automatically provides detailed passenger information to the cabin crew. Instead of simply a name and a meal preference, the mobile app contains a deep well of data about each customer, especially first-class and business-class flyers, whom the airline ensures receive unparalleled service. Qruise is an office in the air for the cabin crew. Today, Qatar Airways deploys around 500 iPads and iPad Minis across its 130-aircraft fleet.
Qatar Airways is also rolling out the iPad to its 2,000 pilots, giving them a single device for all flight-related information. The company created an app called Qloud that will ultimately become an EFB (electronic flight bag) approved by the FAA as an integral Class 1 flight instrument. With it, pilots can, for example, check in for the flight, observe schedules and weather conditions at destination airports, meet the flight’s crew, and even obtain details on hotels where they will be staying in the cities they will be flying to.
“The idea is to remove as much paper and documentation as we can from the flight deck,” Srinivasan says, “which not only leads to better decision making for the pilots, because they have the data at home or anywhere in the world, but also reduces weight on flights and enables data preservation.”
Airport operations have also benefited immensely from mobility solutions. For example, Qatar’s dispatch functions — the so-called “red caps” who are accountable for on-time departures — have a prodigious task in a fluid environment. On a given shift, a red cap is responsible for multiple flights and must move around the airport overseeing many activities: baggage loading and unloading, fueling, following the status of passengers, and staying abreast of maintenance on the planes. In the past, this person was armed with a walkie-talkie and loads of paper.
Today, all the information on every aspect of every flight is updated in real time on Galaxy Tab tablets, and the red cap receives alerts when there’s a problem. “Now, it’s really management by exception as opposed to management by calling and sharing and handling finite pieces of paper that become irrelevant in five minutes because the status has changed,” Srinivasan says.
To enhance productivity and employee self-service, Qatar Airways has developed a Corporate App Store that allows employees to download apps onto their personal devices. The Souq app, which provides details of corporate discounts, is popular with employees. Apps like Staff Check-in and MyGems allow employees to check in seamlessly, receive corporate messages, and view personal information while on the move.
“It’s critical to note that Qatar Airways is a 24/7 operation,” Srinivasan says. “The airline’s home and hub at Hamad International Airport is always open. This adds a whole other dimension to our operations. The mobile technology must be able to support this.”
“Though it hasn’t been an easy task,” he says, “it has been a huge delight making mobile technology applications that take flight.”
[Read Part 3]
Originally published in CIO Straight Talk, No. 5 (September 2014)