Real work, real mobile

Mobile capture, access and printing join forces with networks of smart MFPs to unchain formerly desk-bound business processes

It’s not exactly breaking news that mobile is changing business processes.

But what used to be a trickle of tools to equip tablets and smart phones for interactive participation in workflows has turned into a deluge. And cloud-based IT applications and open-standards data-exchange frameworks in traditional business networks have begun to empower mobile as a full-fledged member of the team.

Everyone developing mobile solutions for the enterprise is pitching potential use cases, like the insurance agent who uses a phone to take pictures at the accident site, input key data on the spot, gather signatures, and quickly route the right information to appraiser, adjuster and customers without using a fiber of paper.

To business, the advantages are compelling: Scanning or entering data at the point of transaction ends the need to carry documents around and eliminates scanning, reading and processing paper forms back at the office. No longer constrained by the “speed of paper,” processes get faster and the data input errors typically associated with paper are reduced.

A new mobile strategy

Inspired by such visions, enterprise software vendors have gone beyond dipping their toes into the waters of mobile. The speed of the platform’s rising tide has led many to jump in and learn to swim.

Lexmark’s Perceptive Software, for example, started in 2012 with a basic app for Android, iPad and Windows 8 tablet that brought mobile users into the workflow fold of their Perceptive Content platform by letting them review and approve documents on the go.

Since then, according to Jud Milham, Perceptive’s product manager of mobile, the company has completely rebuilt its mobile strategy around a modular architecture that lends itself to rapidly creating and deploying solutions that meet the needs of specific industries and work roles.

Solutions for industry needs

Milham says Perceptive is doing away with the concept of building different individual native mobile apps for banks, higher education, AP clerks or doctors. Built around the company’s modular, cloud-based “Evolution” platform, the Perceptive mobile product line interacts with users through native apps for each mobile OS. These apps can automatically download and configure unique combinations of relevant modules to provide the capabilities each industry and job role needs–optimizing performance on each mobile device’s hardware.

“Some users need basic capture,” says Milham, “while others may need workflow, annotation, OCR/ICR, data extraction or image processing. Our app can be tailored to give each user just the solution they need, without having to configure or download dozens of different applications.”

Flexibility in licensing

Another advantage of the new architecture, according to Milham, is the savings offered by licensing just the functions particular users need. And a “combo” license option allows licensed capabilities to be shared among a pool of mobile and non-mobile devices, on which users will experience almost the same user interface.

Milham says the new architecture allows some mobile functions, such as capture, to run while disconnected from a network, though functions such as workflow will still require connection to the network the device is part of.

Less paper, more efficiency

Mark Vance, software marketing manager at Lexmark International, says mobile is in many cases eliminating not just hand-written paper forms but the paper-centric scanning and printing that were part of traditional workflows.

“Process owners are starting to see how they can save both time and money by electronically capturing and validating information where the transaction starts, using mobile devices that are already widely deployed in their workforce,” says Vance. He points to a car rental company whose customer-facing staff uses tablets to enter customer information, complete waivers, and photograph the condition of vehicles at check-out, data that can be saved to an in-house server or cloud repository as soon as it’s collected.

Vance says Lexmark is rapidly adapting to new ways of documenting and accessing such mobile-originated transactions, and thousands of others in every industry, without paper.

Mobile at the heart of business

At the same time, Vance says the company has developed new technologies and methods for convenient, secure and reliable printing from almost any mobile device when hard copy is still necessary.

Within what Lexmark refers to as the “smart MFP ecosystem,” Vance says mobile printing and capture  have not only become as seamless as hitting “print” from a traditional desktop, but are an easily integrated and in many cases automated step in defined workflows requiring paper output. And smart MFPs, capable of running apps for specialized functions, have become more than merely a printer, scanner and fax machine. They’ve become hubs for information capture, processing and access that can support mobile-enabled processes customized to the unique goals and existing IT infrastructure of any size business.

“We are far beyond the early days of mobile when you emailed yourself a JPG from your phone to supplement a paper-based process, or waited until you got back to your desk to review documents or manually initiate output,” Vance says. “Now mobile is at the heart of business processes and fully integrated with cloud, onsite IT systems, and multifunction devices. It’s time to let go of the idea that ‘real’ or ‘official’ business is only done sitting at a desk.”