In the March issue of Housing Technology, I wrote about how Microsoft Dynamics can be extended to tenant self-service portals; in this article I will discuss how Microsoft Dynamics can be extended to mobile devices.
There is an increasing emphasis in the housing sector on flexible working, whether this is because there are more face-to-face interaction with the tenant or whether there is more home working or perhaps a combination of both of these things. Whatever the reason, the overall trend is towards more flexibility as housing staff spend less and less time in the office. This trend necessitates that the systems that mobile workers use on a daily basis must be mobil-enabled.
Microsoft Dynamics is fortunate in that there are many options available out-of-the-box or as add-on solutions that provide this level of mobile flexibility. But before deciding to go mobile with Dynamics there are a number of factors to consider, such as functionality, ease of integration and device suitability. But probably the most important element of any mobile implementation is security.
Securing the app
When a mobile worker is out and about using their mobile device, the risk that the device could be lost or stolen is far higher than for the average office worker. Fortunately there are a number of Microsoft solutions, such as Intune (with multi-factor authentication), that can be used to secure the data for any mobile application linked to Dynamics. These solutions can also be used in tandem with other third-party, non-Microsoft applications but generally speaking, out-of-the-box security for some of the leading third-party mobile apps tends to be more robust than that which is available with the Microsfot Mobile App. The security features that usually come with these apps feature encrypted SQL databases, device tracking and remote wipe options.
Security is probably a more important consideration to administrators than to the average user who will be far more interested in how easy it is to use. Some organisations who have successfully implemented a mobile solution often report that their mobile staff prefer to use their mobile device rather than the standard interface when using Microsoft Dynamics, and indeed this is one of the indicators of a highly-successful implementation.
The right core implementation
How do you ensure that whatever mobile solution you decide to implement is easy to use? First things first, the basic Dynamics system should be optimally configured because if there are any inherent issues with the underlying Dynamics core implementation, such as missing functionality, missing data or structural problems with the tables, these problems will inevitably be replicated onto the mobile device and will have an impact on usability. I have often seen projects halted because of such issues, when there is a dawning realisation by the business that the functionality or data needed on the mobile device is simply not there in Dynamics.
Assuming you have optimised Dynamics, the next step is to select the right mobile app for your business processes – the out-of-the-box solution may be perfect for your requirements now but will it be in the future? There are other apps on the market that are much more functional, secure and user-friendly than the out-of-the-box version, but does your business need all those extra benefits? And, of course, highly-functional software tends to come with a price tag.
Non-Microsoft mobile apps
If looking at non-Microsoft mobile apps, then there are broadly two types; apps that are designed to integrate with Dynamics by default and apps that offer connectors to back-end systems but don’t connect to Dynamics out-of-the-box. The integration of these latter apps will need to be custom developed, which isn’t a problem in itself, but solutions with native integration will be far more functionally rich than the alternatives when it comes to replicating Dynamics functionality. Also when Microsoft introduces enhancements to Dynamics, those changes will inevitably filter through into any application that is designed to work with Dynamics out-of-the-box, so the safe bet for implementing a mobile solution is to either use the out-of-the-box application or purchase one designed to work with Dynamics.
As with any project, data is often the hardest area to get right, but when implementing a mobile solution, there are some unique challenges. For example, if there is lots of data in Dynamics that needs to be replicated to the mobile device, data usage and therefore data costs will inevitably increase so there needs to be a balance between managing data usage and making sure that the user has enough information on their device to do their work.
When it comes to configuring your mobile integration, there are a few golden rules. Firstly, less is more. Being ruthless with the information available on the screen means that there is less unnecessary scrolling and moving from screen to screen and, of course, less data is synchronised when changes are made which minimises data usage.
Secondly, let everyone decide on the type of device they want to use, I realised how important this was during a workshop when there was a divide between older and younger members of the housing team who were testing the solution. The younger team were particularly enthusiastic about having the solution on their mobile phones whereas the older members of staff were in favour of tablets because the screen size made reading and viewing information easier.
Finally, think about other integrations; for example, if Dynamics integrates with SharePoint for document management then the mobile apps should integrate with SharePoint too. Also consider the existing apps and functionality available on the mobile device – whatever mobile solution you choose, check that it is compatible, at the bare minimum, with the phone’s functionality. For instance, make sure that you can make calls direct from the app, that there’s in-built integration to maps and therefore route planning, and integration with the camera to allow photos to be automatically linked to a record.
In summary, if you’ve done everything right during the implementation stage, the biggest challenge you will face will be getting users to use the desktop app again.
Andrew McCormick is managing director of RedkiteCRM.