Q: What are B2E apps and tools being used for?
A B2E app is one used by employees on mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads for a specific business process or set of processes. Rather than being deployed through public app stores, B2E apps are deployed and used internally.
These apps are usually designed to take advantage of the mobility of the user and should not be confused with the simple idea of "working remotely".
Mobility can lead to complete changes in business processes thanks to the capabilities of the devices that facilitate it. Mobile devices are able to record time and location; record still images, video and audio; and capture a signature on glass. All these features take mobility to a higher level than is possible with a laptop.
Many apps allow you to work offline and then push data back to central storage, as well as pull updated data for future use offline. Employees then get the benefit of access to current data and the business gets on-the-spot data collection.
Q: How do they work for businesses with dispersed offices?
Where offices and staff are spread across the country or across the world, B2E custom solutions become more important, with businesses able to access live data from employees no matter which time zone they are in.
Once installed, these apps can work off a live connection to corporate servers for data creation and consumption. In this case, the devices are more secure, since no data is stored on the device and access will require a secure account login. Transmission of data across the air can also be secured.
Alternatively apps can be designed to work offline and periodically transfer data between the device and a central server repository. This can be useful where an employee may not have reliable network connectivity during their work day.
Q: How do B2E apps benefit the customer?
Productivity gains are achieved because existing data can be accessed and processed on the spot. For example, when a salesperson visits a customer, the order they take can be automatically populated with the customer and contact details. It can also provide instant and accurate pricing and product data. The app will automatically calculate totals, discounts and tax as needed. And an order can be accepted by signature and sent for allocation immediately.
Q: What sort of businesses use the technology and how can it help SMEs?
Small businesses can afford to have custom apps developed, or even do it themselves, using some of the newer rapid application development environments available like FileMaker.
The advantage of developing a customised app is that it can be designed to fit directly into your business, not the other way around. Sometimes, commercial apps require the business process to change to suit the app, which can lead to lower adoption rates and anxiety among users accustomed to a process.
Willem Meyer is Asia-Pacific manager of FileMaker, a database software subsidiary of Apple.