How a mobile-first strategy saves money and powers efficiency

By Philip Hardwick


Large organizations are besieged by notifications in email inboxes, especially when it comes to approvals. The process for managing the many types of approvals incoming from a range of systems requires constant connection.

Meanwhile, many organizations are using systems that have no way of prioritizing these tasks: The only option is to open up the email and determine the urgency of the approval, which defeats the purpose of attempting to manage workflow priorities.

As businesses better understand the scale of time lost to unstructured approvals systems, they’re getting more serious about embracing a mobile-first strategy that leverages digital transformation to save time, streamline operations and even improve employee satisfaction.

One multibillion-dollar consumer-goods company did the math on its annual approvals and uncovered staggering statistics: 13 million approvals were being processed throughout the company every year. Assuming each approval took two minutes each, the company was losing 250 man-years every year to managing its approvals.

This inefficiency was also an opportunity to radically transform business practices. If a faster, simpler method of approvals could be developed, the organization would regain years of productivity, becoming more efficient and clear-eyed about its priorities. The company teamed up with IBM MobileFirst to develop an agile, user-centric solution that could revolutionize its approvals workflows across the organization.

Building a framework for successful implementation

To develop a mobile solution that could solve its pressing approvals issues, the company put business users at the center of the project. Design thinking and IBM’s SAP capabilities were incorporated with the goal of improving the user experience while managing efficient integration of this solution with other business software.

The company understood that while a beautiful app is nice, its functionality and user experience is key — when data can’t be easily accessed and applied to the problem, the solution will go unused, no matter how slick its interface may be. This is where integration came into play: To access the data needed to power the mobile-approvals solution, connectivity with other solutions was essential.

The first app produced from this new mobile-first strategy was designed to access and process SAP invoices. The solution was applicable to all 11 approval types throughout the organization, affecting a total of 30,000 employees. A crucial aspect of the solution’s functionality was the ability to work offline: The company realized early on in the development process that by enabling offline approvals, managers and senior workers could use dead time in airplanes, trains and other locations with poor connectivity to get approvals done. This increased productivity in situations where workflows are hard to maintain, freeing up valuable office time for other business tasks.

The impact of a mobile-first strategy on a happier, more engaged workforce

By combining design thinking and SCRUM to build a mobile-first strategy around enterprise approvals, the consumer-goods company was able to get better outcomes from its approvals while also elevating employee morale: The technology solved the problems that come with trying to combine old and young workers, as well as junior and senior roles, to give everyone a voice in the room, rather than having decisions and processes dictated by a senior manager on high.

By democratizing the development process, the organization saw its workforce become happier and more engaged. The business solution solves a key point of friction, but the holistic approach to developing and implementing solutions helps employees at all levels feel heard and valued by executive leadership. One executive from the company said that this approach to design thinking and digital transformation has been essential in attracting millennial workers who want to work at companies that emphasize innovation.

Addressing ongoing pain points

Driving digital transformation is much more than managing the creation of a minimum viable product. The solution must also have the agility to support innovation going forward.

The ability to try new things is important, but it can often be held up by archaic licensing agreements that haven’t been updated to accommodate the pace of today’s business innovation. At the same time, artificial intelligence offers another method of enhancing approvals by providing a method of prioritizing tickets without human intervention. After implementing IBM’s Watson for help desk and ticket answering, the consumer-goods company is now using AI to identify urgent approvals and send alerts when necessary.

Outsourcing this task to an automated solution is critical to preserving the integrity of this hierarchy. When human workers are in control, it becomes too easy to flag items that aren’t objectively urgent, flooding the approvals workflow with so-called urgent tasks and rendering the management system irrelevant. To protect the system from being manipulated, AI should be used to read documents, assess urgency and apply a standardized method for assigning priority.

IBM’s Apple Garage was able to turn out an MVP solution within six to eight weeks after the request by the consumer-goods company, fast-tracking the process of installing a solution that saves years of productivity just by simplifying a tedious process. By embracing innovation and a mobile-first strategy, other organizations bogged down by similar paperwork logjams can blaze their own trail to a more efficient future.

Written By

Philip Hardwick

Director of Philip Morris Global Delivery Center

Philip Hardwick Is a Director of the Philip Morris Global Delivery Center in Krakow Poland. He graduated from Queen Marry College, University of London and joined Lucas CAV as a trainee programmer immediately after University from where he has developed a diverse and travelled career…