Developing Interfaces for Mobile Staff


Mobile devices are rapidly becoming the standard for online interaction. The benefits of using mobile applications include:

  • Convenience through the ability to access and share information anytime from anywhere
  • Replacement of traditional built-for-purpose service devices
  • Speed and reliability
  • Enhanced user experience
  • Improved productivity

Often as Microsoft Partners we are required to develop a process centric smart-device interface for Dynamics CRM scenarios or Microsoft SharePoint line of business applications. Although Dynamics CRM 2013 and Microsoft SharePoint 2013 have come a long way as products in terms of being platform independent, HTML5 based and include responsive web technologies, often they are not sufficient (out of the box) when developing an employee self-service portal that has a limited view of the business process.

An important question that is often asked is around the nature of the mobile app that is to be developed: should be native or web based? Should it be platform specific e.g. iOS App or should it be based on web 2.0 technologies? There are advantages and disadvantages under both models, and the largest factor in the decision comes down to Internet access. That is, if you can get reliable Internet access on that devices (Cellular or Wi-Fi) then it would be probably more cost effective to develop a web app that is based on web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 etc.

If you are from Melbourne or Sydney, the following article on 3G and 4G mobile broadband speeds might of interest to you. It has the results of some latency and bandwidth tests conducted for the common network providers.

Let us assume that you have good internet coverage where you are and you want a cost effective interface that will allow your field staff to have a limited view of your backend system and be guided through a process or form. In that case you would develop a web based app with the following in mind:

  • The staff member should only see what they need in order to complete their task. You need to think about the user experience from beginning to end
  • The design has to be light and quick to load, especially given that so many smart devices with cellular connectivity are still using 2/3G. Especially on smartphone where you have a much smaller real-estate on a smartphone
  • Utilising Active Directory for security is a must in order to keep relevant audit history on records

The following examples are based on solutions that have been developed for our clients:

Staff rostering

When using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a backend rostering system it may be essential to develop a mobile enabled screens that allow staff members to interact with rosters remotely in a way that is not available out of the box. An example of this would be staff wanting to view rosters in a tabular format which makes it easy to view this week’s rosters, last week’s etc

This example looks at making a self-service portal available to field staff in order for them to access real-time information. The field staff have a really simple interface that allows them to view and confirm rosters from a tablet or a smartphone. Previously, field staff would be emailed copies of the rosters from head office, and then they would have to email back their confirmations. Thus, since field staff never had prior access to any system and were less tech savvy, it was essential that the developed interface was custom, straight forward and very painless to use.

Viewing rosters

Home screen of an employee self-service portal on a mobile phone

The following screenshot shows a HTML5 based app that is capable of authenticating the user with AD and performing reads/write into Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Given that many IT departments don’t like rogue web applications running on their web servers, the app could be easily adapted to reside in SharePoint under a new site collection as an Extranet.

week's roster

Screen that shows how an employee can view shifts by week

Work order management

In certain scenarios it may be useful to develop a portal for staff members based on their role within the organisation. The following example shows a supervisor portal that is used in order to perform work order management functions and in particular on-site audits for quality assurance purposes.

The supervisor portal allows the capture of GPS co-ordinates for onsite assessments as well as the uploading of photos taken directly at site and then saved under a job card in real-time. Photos can be stored in a SharePoint library for example or directly into a database.

Work Order Management Screen

Using smart devices to manage jobs

Onsite assessments example

In this scenario, field staff are required to fill in an onsite assessment that is then saved in Dynamics CRM in real time. Supporting the notion of Bring Your Own Device, the customer required that any smart device (phone or tablet) be supported. Empower IT developed an assessment portal that allows the field user to perform the following functions:

  • Select the relevant customer
  • Select the required site
  • Choose the type of assessment
  • Carry out that assessment

The assessment form which is usually 4 to 6 pages in hard copy was developed into an online form using the wizard (step by step approach). Thus instead of the field staff carrying a different paper form for each type of assessment, they were able to carry any type of assessment from the one place.

Using smart devices as interfaces for forms

Using smart devices as interfaces for forms

Capturing of photos using the smart device can be incorporated as part of the assessment by utilising the new HTML5 framework.

developing paper based forms into online forms

Developing paper based forms into online forms

If you would like to discuss how we can help you create mobile interfaces for Dynamics CRM and/or Microsoft SharePoint then drop us a line here.