Building FOTS solutions which integrate with operations has direct influence on your profits.
What solution works best for your business and where to start?
Approaching a build can be challenging but having built numerous solutions here are the major considerations for your project.
You can change your business to fit “off the shelf” tools but what if the project could fit your business perfectly without massive cost?
This article examines the considerations and provides key project checks for your endeavour.
- What does a FOTS tool need in it?
- Integrating with operations
- Security and Data Protection
- Wrap up
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What does a FOTS tool need in it?
Building FOTS solutions starts with Data Capture.
Data capture starts with basic form filling whether that is paper or electronically.
Making an easy to use, minimum data entry solutions is the primary consideration.
Pre-population for common data entry is often massively overlooked.
On a tablet or phone how do you keep the operator input to a minimum amount of presses?
Digital signature capture
We have to use paper as we need a signature.
No longer true when building FOTS solutions, as law recognised digital signatures.
Just look at UPS, DHL and Fedex global solutions.
Using digital signature capture is the same as a person signing a legally binding contract.
In Ireland, on May 25 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became the main legal framework for data protection in the EU. Yet since 1998 digital signatures were recognised in Irish law.
Tools like bxp software enable you to capture signatures in the application itself.
Extending this data capture phones in camera can instantly digitise information that would previously have to be posted or duplicates sought from original creators.
Coupling this camera with teams you can
- firstly verify in-store layouts and
- also confirm marketing layouts
Your FOTS team can provide unprecedented feedback to companies on what is actually happening in the field.
Building FOTS solutions capable of supporting credit cards are mobile tills.
Furthermore by extending this capability to include direct debit capture with validation of details whilst still with the customer has proved invaluable to utility providers.
Global Payments is a payment solution provider in Ireland.
Their secure solutions easily integrate with operational tools.
Where are our customers? Where are our staff?
GPS is now common place. Eircodes allow pinpoint mapping.
This data allows for real management insight into the effectiveness of operations where historically no metrics were available.
This information also called geo-location information can allow insights into data that a spreadsheet will never be able to properly visualise.
It’s not often practical for you to pull your entire team back into the office when your products or processes change.
So when building FOTS solutions how can you keep your teams in the field “connected”.
It is possible to deliver
- warnings and
- instant updates with staff confirmation
to your team in real time in the field.
In additions this level of communication is all facilitated by ongoing improvements in mobile technology and their supporting data networks.
With stronger and stronger encryption technologies, more in-depth and detailed legal requirements, your solution needs to be more security conscious than ever.
When FOTS agents have no network coverage, your solutions needs to be storing only what is absolutely necessary.
That is to say, it is a requirement for you to make the risk of data loss or destruction, a very limited risk under the law.
Online or Offline
A primary challenge of any field tool is the ability to compensate for being unable to have an Internet connection.
Building FOTS solutions requires building custom secure applications for the devices as a primary starting point.
Change is the primary consideration here.
When an app is built for a tablet or phone, how do you get it updates without incurring huge down the line development costs?
Often these customisation costs are “hidden” when you first set up. Ask!
Tools like bxp software now provide a much richer toolbox to those in the fields.
Effectively your FOTS team can have your entire business data at their fingertips securely in the field.
The advent of smart phones and mobile data capabilities mean all the traditional office tools are instantly available in the field.
Integrating with operations
Decide the how, the what, the where and the why of building FOTS solutions.
Identify all that you want to enable in your teams considering the headings above.
There are specialisations in the delivery of FOTS.
Building FOTS solutions
There are many potential suppliers and approaches to help with building FOTS solutions.
The most successful projects I have seen implemented require chatting to a team who’s done it before and who can hit your price points reasonably.
Most importantly you’re integrating your live business processes with numerous departments.
Without customised software this is very hard to purchase off the shelf, your business will be unique.
Also even off the shelf solutions need customisation to your processes.
In rare cases I have seen businesses change their operating models to suit the software available.
I cannot name a single project where this approach has worked long term.
Instead make use of people willing to show you how its done. Let them give you a proposal, it’s in their interests to help you.
- Firstly chat to a good team.
- Next ask them for a reference as most companies are proud of their work.
- Also speak to that company’s customers.
- Furthermore ask what they did and how it was done.
- Finally consider what the reference can answer that you may not have even considered.
Building FOTS solutions requires teams to understand the solution in the field.
Small screens, cold fingers and poor data connections easily leads to massive amounts of frustration.
Being in the field can be isolating so how does your interface help teams feel like they are not alone.
Massive research has been done in the areas of interface design and really helps adoption of solutions.
How does an office based team know an in the field person needs support. Wall boards and live notifications are also a factor.
The FOTS teams are going to have to be comfortable with the tools.
Don’t thrust solutions on the teams without considering their input as this results in lower adoption rates.
The fear of big brother now watching is very common in experienced teams as they move from more traditional in the field data capture to electronic data capture.
Their fear is natural and part of change.
Your need to address team concerns when building FOTS solutions as early in the process as possible.
Teams need to be focused on the task they’re delivering not worrying about the tools they use to do their job.
In the field testing
Your most experienced and least experienced FOTS agent working in the field for a day with the solutions developers.
One day of use by the teams will provide far better testing that all or any analytical testing by software developers.
When the solution goes live a phone number of point of contact will be required.
This support is temporary and helps to allay fears.
Furthermore as your team becomes comfortable with the solutions scale back the support to direct managers.
You should not under estimate the initial flood that is the first week of use and first cycle of reporting.
Security and Data Protection
Firstly as FOTS is a form of sales and marketing it falls in Ireland under the eye of The Data Protection Commissioner.
Also it’s worth noting that FOTS outsourcing is a service available in Ireland from companies like CPM Ireland and FMI.
Encrypting and making safe your data in the field is a big concern for companies including yours.
Furthermore “encrypting data at rest” is something your solution should include. It sounds more difficult to achieve than it is.
Consequently your solution provider will be prepared to give you answers.
Outsourcing the tool to software specialists often can do the heavy lifting when building FOTS solutions.
Always consider who will support your solution. Do you really want to become a software development house?
GDPR should be a large part of your considerations as well.
Your business is responsible for protecting that data.
No data storage on the device. When offline and unable to connect to the service encrypt any data at rest.
Keeping the data stored on the device should be kept to a minimum relying more on communication with centrally secured information rather than carrying around lists of data.
In conclusion building FOTS solutions with wow factor is eminently doable.
There are companies and teams ready to help build a solution for your around your business processes.
The considerations for how it all will work and helping you navigating the pitfalls is often the most effective for first time and those who realise they need their existing solutions to evolve.