When transportation companies consider building mobile applications, they need to answer two questions before investing their time and resources into this new technology. The first question is two-fold: what audience do you build the application for and what do you build? Three distinct audiences benefit from mobile applications: carriers, end customers and agents or freight brokers. However, each audience requires different tools to run their business.
The Audience Needs
For example, carriers need to know what shipments are available for their drivers to pick up. However, agents need status updates on their business at any given time. At the same time, the end customer wants a good tracking system in their palm to see the transit status of their merchandise.
With the differing needs of the three audiences, many would consider building a separate application for each audience. The problem with this lies in the cost of developing so many applications. That is why it is much easier to find a common operational issue among all three audiences, such as booking loads and developing one application that works for each.
Consider the technology as a means of communicating between the audiences for booking loads. Both agents and carriers would be interested in an application that finds a carrier/driver needing to book a load and a broker with merchandise available for shipment. However, the end customer would only care about booking their loads. They could use the application to view a real-time snapshot of their loads booked and waiting for shipment.
The Question of Cost
The second question to answer when developing a mobile application is whether to build it in-house or contract it out. This largely depends on the size of the company, which dictates their available funds and talent resources. Small brokers and carriers are unlikely to have the money and resources to develop a mobile application and are more likely to contract out. However, large logistics companies, 3PLs and carriers might have more budget to allocate to in-house development and more authority to control costs.
There are four platforms for mobile applications: the iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows. Each platform has its own set of complexities and requires different coding, resulting in one application becoming four. A company can choose to only build an app for one or two platforms to cut down the cost, but that could potentially cut down the number of end users able to access it. Or, they can build a mobile web page that would function on all platforms.
When considering whether to develop in-house or contract out, companies need to determine whether they have the talent to build the kind of application that is needed. In-house IT departments probably have at least one or two people who know enough coding to build a mobile web page or build an application for one of the platforms. If this is the case and the company has the budget for in-house development, then that might be the best option.
On the other hand, if the company wants a well-designed application for all four platforms and they don't have the in-house talent, it might be better to take advantage of the reduced cost of contracting the work out.
Going to Market
After developing the product, it is important to determine how to generate and measure return on investment (ROI). All focus on marketing and development costs should revolve around the needs of the general audiences. This will enable companies to determine how to structure the cost. Since each of the constituents is a client in some form or fashion, having them pay for an additional service could potentially turn them off from taking advantage of the new service. Instead of having the audiences pay for the application up front, give them a basic version of the application as part of the services rendered and build upon the application to meet their individual needs.
As companies continue to develop new components of the application, such as a message or alert service, they can require the users to pay a small fee if they want to include such upgrades. This way, they can build a simple application that meets everyone's needs, and then build separate components tailored specifically to one or two audiences, enhancing the usability for their in-depth needs. This demonstrates a commitment to identifying the customized solutions for the constituents, while also providing a simple method of generating income.
To fully penetrate the target market, it is also important to develop targeted messages to each audience in varying mediums. Each type of transportation company understands how their clients, agents or carriers prefer to be contacted. Send them direct communications in their preferred medium with background on the benefits of the application and instructions on the various components.
While rolling out the application, consider including the power of social media in the communication mix. Updating all social media channels will not only inform the main constituents, it will also reach secondary audiences, such as unaffiliated carriers and potential clients. The goal of using social media is to create conversations around the application and the company, increase traffic to the company's website, and generate more business opportunities.
In addition, have a process in place for updating all company collateral to include messaging around your mobile application. This includes dispatch forms, check inserts, brochures, websites, and presentations, anything that addresses the public or the clientele and business partners. It's important to complete all updates before the product goes to market.
Just as providing upgrades and add-ons to the application will be a continuous process, so will the measurement of ROI. Once releasing the application to the target market and implementing the marketing plan, companies will need to track and measure several variables. First measure the number of people downloading the basic version of the application. Then, as upgrades become available, track the people paying for those add-ons. Establish a baseline for measurement when it comes to business leads and website traffic. For example, each company should have a current average of how many business leads they get in a month. After implementing the application, compare the number of new leads to the current average to establish growth. The same goes for website traffic.
As feedback is received on the application, quantify it into positive and negative sentiments. In the feedback process, encourage the users to discuss whether the application facilitates business efficiency and how it affects their overhead. Quantify those responses as well, for those numbers will not only provide a greater picture of the company's ROI, but also their client's ROI. They will also provide better information on refining the upgrades.
ROI for developing mobile applications goes well beyond simply generating revenue. A successful application will show positive results in developing business leads and obtaining greater process efficiencies. The mobile application should provide both the company and its clients a significant tool in growing business while saving money at the same time.
Source: TTS LLC
Keywords: Business Strategy Alignment, Quality & Metrics, Global Supply Chain Management, Transportation Management, Supply Chain Visibility, Technology, LTL/Truckload Services, Transportation & Distribution, Third-Party Logistics, Logistics, mobile computing in ground transportation, mobile access to transportation data
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