Tablet applications are now the new normal for the office. A recent survey of FileMaker Pro users, conducted by FileMaker, Inc., revealed that businesses are using custom database solutions to automate all kinds of business processes across all departments.
Furthermore, businesses are using tablet applications to “mobilize” workers inside the building or across the company campus as often as they are mobilizing field sales forces and technicians.
Early adopters of tablet applications are achieving tremendous productivity advantages, including reducing paper, saving steps for employees, cutting processing costs, and improving customer service.
With the push to get tablet applications to market as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, many smaller businesses and entrepreneurs are going the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) route–ditto to workgroups within larger businesses. They’re taking advantage of low-cost or no-cost software and DIY application development tools that help them build professional-quality, highly customized business solutions for tablets and have their solutions ready to go in a matter of weeks, not months.
Case in point, entrepreneur George Page runs Sea Breeze Farm, a grass-based animal farm on Washington’s Vashon Island that boasts a dairy, butcher shop, winery, cheese business and popular restaurant. He was able to use FileMaker to create several custom solutions that run on iPads and integrate his various business operations even though he had no software development skills. Page estimates that the new solutions have made his business three to four times more productive.
Similarly, West Paw Design of Bozeman, Montana, a manufacturer of eco-friendly toys, beds and apparel for four-legged friends, developed a custom manufacturing and inventory automation solution that runs on iPads. The solution has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Based on what we learned from our customer survey, here are five tips to keep in mind when taking on a DIY tablet application project.
It’s All about the Data: For the most part, solutions for tablets mobilize data for businesses whether it’s on your manufacturing floor, in the barn, in the showroom, or in the field. So, make sure you pick a tool that enables you to create your mobile database quickly and to connect easily to all your data sources–ideally without programming. In addition, you shouldn’t require a dedicated database administrator to manage your application once it’s up and running.
Think Good Design First: Plan to take full advantage of tablets and their operating systems, particularly iPads and iOS, when designing applications for the devices. Don’t just duplicate desktop solutions and assume they’ll look and run well on mobile devices. In fact, employees simply won’t use your tablet application if it isn’t as attractive or functional as their consumer apps. Nor will they use your application if it doesn’t make their lives easier by simplifying or replacing the tasks that they perform daily.
Don’t Forget Security: Security of data on mobile devices is an ongoing challenge. A good, simple starting point is to use a tool that includes a server-based database with a separate application that feeds your data to the tablets. Your data is protected at the server level and, more importantly, it isn’t left on the mobile devices for scrutiny by unauthorized viewers. You also want to be able to take advantage of the built-in security features of whatever operating system your tablet uses.
Build. Rinse. Repeat: By definition, a great tablet application is never finished. You’ll want to be able to update it, refine it with suggestions from employees, add new data sources, and so on; all quickly–and without having to call in a programmer.
Why Reinvent the Wheel? You can learn a lot from what other businesses have done. If you choose a tool that a lot of people are already using, you can often pick up ideas from them or even solutions that they’ve shared in the public domain (see examples at Made for FileMaker). In addition, well-established tools usually have acquired third-party-developer communities. Professional developers can provide extra help if you decide you need it–and some even have specific expertise in building solutions for your problem or industry (or, you can pick up free tips by reading their blogs). There are a lot of great ideas out there. You’ll never be alone if you pick a popular tool.
So, what are you waiting for? Go for it!