Progressive Web Apps vs. Native Mobile Apps

As you go about implementing your Digital/Mobile strategy, one of the decisions that you will have to make is whether to build for the Mobile Web or Native apps or both. There has always been a debate around this, but the lines between them are blurring now. Gone are the days when you were required to go Native for high-performance apps, offline capability, or if you needed an app icon installed on the home screen. Although web technologies have evolved significantly, there are no clear-cut answers yet. Specifically, Google has invested in technologies that enable the creation of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which combine the best of the two worlds—that of mobile web and native apps. We share below our take on PWAs based on research on this topic and our experience of enabling customers with their digital/mobile requirements.

What are PWAs?

In a nutshell, PWAs bring native app-like functions and features to websites. They should work on all smart devices, adapting the performance to the ability of the device, browser, and connection.

The key Benefits are:

  • Works across platforms (Desktop, Web, Android, Windows, and iOS (Safari has limitations)
  • Option to save the PWA icon to the Home screen
  • The ability to send push notifications
  • Some offline capability to provide a good User Experience is possible
  • Make payments
  • Access native device features like camera
  • No need for any App download or seek Approval from App Stores
  • Easier to use in Low Bandwidth Conditions or on lower end smart devices
  • Easy Discoverability and Shareability (just share a link)
  • Less Costly to Develop compared to Native apps as no need to maintain different code bases for Web, Android, IOS, and Windows
  • Fast Loading: Order of Magnitude Lower Data Sizes compared to Native apps

In fact, one of the most attractive features of PWAs is their download size, compared with iOS apps and Android apps. This is important because the smaller the size, the quicker the download, and better the performance.

Limitations of PWAs

It should also be noted that PWAs today have some limitations, especially for the iOS Platform. As Safari has yet to implement the Service Worker feature, PWAs on iPhones and iPads are not able to send push notifications or work offline.  As far as Windows goes, Microsoft is in the process of supporting Service Workers in their Edge browser.

PWAs Vs. Native Apps

Now that we understand PWAs, a natural question to ask is whether PWAs eliminate the need for Native apps. This question is best answered by analyzing what strategy enterprises are actually undertaking in the real world.  Google has shared the Case Studies of Twitter and Lancome, and the highlights are:

Twitter PWA Case Study

The Twitter Lite PWA combines the best of the modern web and native features. It became the default mobile web experience for all users globally in April 2017. Twitter developed Twitter Lite to deliver a more robust experience, with explicit goals for instant loading, user engagement, and lower data consumption. Twitter’s website reaches millions of users, but it’s traditionally been difficult to re-engage users on the mobile web. After implementing the “Add to Home screen” prompt asking users to save Twitter Lite to their home screens, Twitter has seen 250,000 unique daily users launch Twitter Lite from the home screen 4 times a day on average. Twitter also implemented web push notifications that work the same as those from native apps and arrive even if the user’s browser is closed. The implementation is delivering over 10 Million push notifications a day. Full details can be read at:

https://developers.google.com/web/showcase/2017/twitter

Lancome PWA Case Study

At first, Lancôme considered building an e-commerce mobile app but decided that an app only made sense for customers who visited regularly. They understood that shoppers on Lancôme’s mobile site behave differently, and wouldn’t return to an e-commerce app. Lancôme wanted to build the right user experience (UX) on all of their devices. The company needed a fast-loading, compelling mobile experience, similar to what they could achieve with a native app but one that was also discoverable and accessible to everyone via the mobile web.

Instead of minimally updating their underlying site, Lancôme looked to PWA technologies to provide an immersive, app-like experience. They took advantage of service workers to deliver reliable performance on unstable networks and push notifications for re-engagement. Their best-in-class PWA achieves a performance score of 94/100 on Lighthouse, an automated tool for improving web page quality.

With the new PWA, the time until the page is interactive fell by 84%, compared to their previous mobile experience.  Lancôme saw their mobile sessions rise by more than 50%, and conversions increase by 17%. Full details can be read at:

https://developers.google.com/web/showcase/2017/lancome

Recommendations

The Unvired view is that enterprises do not need to necessarily choose between native apps and PWAs. Companies like Twitter, Lancome, and Ola Cabs (a leading cab service in India) have both native apps and PWAs. It really depends on the business strategy, target customers/markets, and the prevailing bandwidth/mobile devices environment.  There are various possible Scenarios:

  1. Existing Web and Native Apps Presence: You have several options. If you already have developed native apps, you should continue to enhance their User Experience if the native experience is very important for you.   At the same time, you may want to move your website to a PWA to enhance performance.
  2. Existing Web Presence Only: This may imply that native apps are not critical for you. Evaluate moving to PWA and get the best of the mobile web and native apps.
  3. Poorly Performing Website on Mobile: Evaluate moving to PWA and get the best of the mobile web and native apps.
  4. Existing Native Apps Presence Only: Enhance Native Apps if the native functionality is critical. Else, evaluate moving to PWA.
  5. No App Presence at all (for example a New Company/Product): Evaluate PWA as a first option while recognizing that PWA is limited on iOS currently (No offline, No Push Notifications). Instead of Web + Native (iOS) +Native (Android) +Native (Windows 10), you can build only for Web + iOS.

I would love to hear your views on this topic—have you implemented PWAs as yet? Pl. write to me at alok.pant@unvired.com to share your thoughts.

 

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Unvired for Health Care Applications

Mobile access to patient data or Protected Health Information (PHI) is of paramount importance.  While the backend is already digitized using EMR (Electronic Medical Record) systems, the last mile is mostly manual using pen and paper or other offline means of data management.  Modern health care requires that the care team has immediate access to the patient information.
 
PHI is part of the HIPAA Privacy rule and protects most “individually identifiable health information” held or transmitted by a covered entity or its business associate, in any form or medium, whether electronic, on paper, or oral.  This requires that mobile and web applications enabling this access are ultra secure and handle the information accordingly.
 
Unvired recently implemented a Patient Information System on mobile with a backend database to store the PHI data securely.  The key aspects were:
 
 
Mobile Application
 
1.  Data at rest is encrypted on the iOS devices.  Additional data protection is enabled with security mechanisms such as password/PIN to prevent unauthorized access.
2.  Data in transit is transmitted via secure HTTPS/SSL.
3.  Data stored in the backend database is encrypted at rest.  Connections to the database are protected via encrypted SSL connections.
4.  The web application allows online access and all data is invalidated/cleared on session termination.
 
The Landscape
 
The Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) enabled this offline/online access to the patient information from both Mobile devices and web browser.  While UMP satisfies the security and encryption requirements of HIPAA, Unvired partnered with Aptible (http://aptible.com) to additionally enable a secure environment in the AWS cloud.  Aptible provides a platform on AWS to securely deploy applications and satisfy the regulatory requirements.  UMP was deployed in Docker containers on the Aptible landscape to enable this secure access.  All the docker containers are isolated in an Amazon VPC with restricted access.  Additional logs and audit trails in Aptible ensure that every access to the landscape is recorded.  All data transmitted and received via the platform is logged and audited by the UMP.  Once data is safely delivered to the device, the data is cleared on the UMP and no PHI information is cached.
 
The combination of the secure UMP platform with the Aptible landscape provides a secure and cost-effective platform for customers to deploy mobile and web applications to handle PHI in a secure and compliant manner.  Over the next few weeks there will be a series of follow up blogs delving into more detail on each of the above aspects, do join us for the journey.
 
Contact us to know more about how Unvired can enable a robust health care solution for your institution.
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Four Themes from the Best Practices for Chemicals (SAP) Conference

Earlier this week, I attended the Best Practices for Chemicals (SAP) Conference hosted by The Eventful Group in Houston.  It was a great conference attended by several CIOs including from Huntsman, Nova Chemicals, PLZ Aeroscience, and Americas Styrenics among others.  There were many great presentations.  Here are the top themes:

1.Digital: Chemical companies are embracing digital.  Mobile applications, Internet of Things (IoT), Predictive Analytics, and the Cloud is being adopted by this industry.  Agricultural chemical companies are combining sensor data, soil data and weather information to increase crop yield. HANA is beginning to be adopted as a database and SAP S/4 HANA is also making headway as the digital core. Customers, Suppliers, Employees, and Assets are the four pillars of Digitization.

2.Outcome-based: Chemical companies are also innovating and defining new business models. For example, instead of selling compressors, they are selling “Compressed Air” as a service. It is all about Outcome-based models.

3.Cyber-security: Chemical companies are very concerned about being hacked.  Given the nature of the products they make, a cyber attack can be very dangerous.   There are regular meetings held where Chemical companies discuss how best to implement cybersecurity.

4.Global Compliance: Chemical companies have to ensure that their products comply with various regulations. Also, they have to register each product in the country where they plan to sell. Regulations change frequently, and it is critical to stay on top.

 

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Digital Use Cases for Chemicals : 3 Non-Obvious Mobile Applications

The chemicals industry is going through very interesting times. This is an intense period of building new plants in the Gulf Coast, mergers and acquisitions are frequent along with divestitures, and products are becoming commoditized. Supply chains are ever complex, and safety/compliance issues are paramount. At the same time, the workforce is beginning to retire, and with that, a lot of knowledge is walking out the door. Uptime has to be maximized, processes have to be optimized, cycle times reduced, and the workforce has to be engaged by leveraging digital technology. The need for real-time information to manage demand and supply is making chemical companies adopt sensors to collect data and make predictive decisions. Digital, indeed is being embraced by chemical companies. As we talk to various chemicals/refinery customers in Texas and beyond, we have found 3 non-obvious Digital use cases for mobile applications (beyond Operator Rounds, Work Orders, Warehouse Management):

1. Supply Chain/Transportation: Chemical companies ship products that are frequently hazardous. Many times, they outsource the shipping to third-party carriers. These carriers can be shipped via trucks and rail. However, the liability to ensure that the transport vehicle is roadworthy still rests with the chemical company. So, the employee of the chemical company has to do inspection checks and record them. Calculations need to be performed as the quantity of chemical loaded depends on various parameters. These are today performed manually, and results are recorded on paper. All this paper and manual work could be replaced by a mobile app that can record data on a smartphone/tablet, and send that data to SAP or some other system. Results in better safety/compliance, faster shipping, and better customer service.

2. Production: In chemical processes, the yield is different from the theoretical value due to process parameter variations or impurities. Hence, it is difficult to know beforehand the exact quantity of a product produced. So, frequently, the production order has to be adjusted or a new order created. Mobile apps on tablets/smartphones can be used to adjust/create production orders in SAP straight from the shop floor.

3. Product Shipping: It is not uncommon for wrong products to be shipped—the chemicals industry is no exception. However, shipping a wrong chemical is vastly different from shipping a wrong pair of sneakers. There can be serious legal and financial consequences. Mobile apps that scan barcodes to compare material number in various documents like Shipping Order, Certificate of Analysis or Bill of Lading can minimize the probability of wrong product shipments by alerting warehouse workers in case of a mismatch.

Hope that you found the above non-obvious mobile use cases in Chemicals interesting. If you have ideas related to these, pl. share them.

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The Digital Enterprise: Transform your Employee Engagement

Enterprises are transforming themselves into the Digital Enterprise. The drivers behind the move to Digital are enhanced customer experience, operational excellence, new business models, innovations in business processes, and greater employee engagement. Technologies such as Social, Mobile, Analytics/Big Data, Wearables, and Cloud are the enablers behind going Digital. The Digital Experience varies for the Customer, Supplier, and Employee. This blog focuses on that for the employee.

While it is true that enterprises already have digital data due to ERP, CRM, and other such systems, there is still an enormous amount of data on paper, especially generated by the mobile worker who till now, has not had ready access to mobile devices and systems while in the Field. Mobile devices were limited to certain roles like in warehouses or sales. The proliferation of mobile devices has now created the opportunity to create a true Digital Enterprise.

I have also included some real-world customer examples to add context to the discussion.

The “Disconnected” Employee

Today, employees at a company are still struggling to connect with each other and are unable to share information seamlessly, despite all the advances in technology. Communication is still via emails for the most part, and over phone calls.  Information is not shared with all team members who have a need to know. Collaboration suffers leading to sub-optimal decision making that can delay a product launch in a CPG company or endanger patient safety in a healthcare setting. This in turn also leads to a lost opportunity in providing employees with a lifelong learning experience. The “Disconnected Employee” is thus a Less Productive and less Engaged Employee.  Let us examine below some of the steps one can take to overcome these limitations.

Communication

As the “Consumerization of IT” takes hold, employees expect to be able to use the same tools that they use in their personal lives to use in the workplace. Email only does not cut it anymore. So, texting including leaving voice notes becomes an important tool to communicate as does the ability to easily make video calls. Employees expect to receive alerts or notifications not just via emails—they want notifications sent to their mobile devices when an important event occurs or they need to take action.

Chat/Messaging like communication channels are becoming increasingly popular, which will have subscribers based on levels of interest. Thus, for example, employees at a manufacturing plant could subscribe to an Asset Management Channel where they could share information related to suppliers, parts failing, and tips for preventive maintenance.

In all cases, communication between employees has to be highly secure. Data that resides on mobile devices need to be encrypted, and in some industries like healthcare, communication needs to be HIPAA compliant, and protect patient health information.

Collaboration

Employees are demanding that they be able to collaborate across channels—be it over their desktops, Web, tablets, smartphones, or Wearables like Apple Watch. The Mobile web and mobile applications allow for the exchange of information anytime anywhere.  A Field Service Worker repairing a piece of equipment on an oilfield can make a video call to an expert back at Headquarters, share images of the damage, and seek advice, so as to perform the optimal repairs. Similarly, a physician in a hospital can share lab results over a HIPAA compliant texting application using their tablets, leading to enhanced patient safety.

Mobile Dashboards are an important element of collaboration.  The ability of executives to access data at their fingertips anytime enables them to make better and real-time decisions. Trending of data, and predicting possible outcomes be it in the areas of Sales or Plant Operations adds immense value and moves enterprises from a reactive to a proactive mode.

Lifelong Learning

Employees add new skills and gain training throughout their careers.  In many industries, they need to pass tests on a regular basis and keep certificates on record for compliance purposes.  Mobile applications are a great way to ensure lifelong learning.  Employees can access content from their smartphones or tablets anytime anywhere and are not tied to their desktops.  Data captured about the tasks performed by an employee can be analyzed, and recommendations are made about what training is best suited for that particular employee.  As an example, an electrician performing asset/equipment repairs in a Chemicals plant can be evaluated on the quality of work based on the re-work performed within 30 days.  Also, the data recorded about the procedures performed by a specific worker can be used to dispatch the best workers for a particular job based on their experience.

Benefits of the Digital Experience for Employees

We present below some tangible business benefits reported publicly by two of our customers.

Kaneka: Kaneka is a chemicals manufacturing company based in the Houston, Texas area. They have deployed the “Digital Plant” incorporating mobile applications on iPads for Equipment Inspections, Work Orders, and Warehouse/Inventory Management. Below, we list the benefits they have realized in addition to getting rid of paper:

Asset Management/Plant Operations

  • Automated the complete process –standardized process across Kaneka
  • Increased compliance
  • Increased safety
  • Increased Rounds productivity
  • Estimated to Reduce Maintenance Costs
  • Increase in Safety and Compliance
  • Time savings/Increase in productivity

Warehouse/Inventory Management

  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Reduced data admin costs due to On-demand stock information and easy and accurate material movements
  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Material Issues and Returns more accurate leading to savings in time

WEL Networks: WEL is an electric utility based in New Zealand, and they provided a digital experience for their employees by deploying mobile apps for Windows 8 tablets to perform Field Service on their equipment located across the country. Benefits reported by WEL in addition to getting rid of paper are as follows:

  • Efficiency gain in inspections: more inspections are done
  • Lower administrative effort: more time for other tasks
  • Field technicians doing the job employed for staff retention
  • Timely data capture: better information available sooner

Conclusion

Actual customer feedback points to the fact that the Digital Experience for the Employee increases communication, collaboration, and automation of business processes. This reduces costs and increases employee retention.  Employees feel more empowered, and happier employees stay longer. In many cases, it also enhances the Digital Experience for the Customer.  For example, a paperless office that may be viewed as a Digital Experience for Employees initiative can equally impact the Customer Service process.  The digital data captured and analyzed can lead to tailor-made learning opportunities for an employee over their lifetime. Employees can make better and real-time decisions that bestow a competitive advantage over their employers.

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