Classification is important to understanding, and I'm concerned our industry is off on the wrong foot. I'm hearing a lot about new mobile applications, but apps fall into a number of tool classifications. Some simply do what you tell them to do; some help you remember how to do it, and others extend your management programs to guide or control the work of others. Here are the four categories as I see it:
1) Wrenches and typewriters have no memory. There is nothing about them that can help the user understand the process of tightening bolts or writing letters. These non-memory tools are great for users who know or can figure out the process of completing the task without assistance. The user works the tool.
2) Many software products come with a help button. The process for completing a task is recorded in the help menu and can be called up when needed. The user accesses additional process memory within the tool.
3) Everything in Microsoft office has a multitude of features, but does not memorize processes unless a macro is created to do that. Macros do tasks according to a recorded process. The user starts the process as recorded within the tool.
4) A GPS determines the process for getting somewhere, then tells the user what to do. This is what some of the new apps coming out offer, and it is a boon to areas like sales and marketing involving complex processes. The tool directs the user.
I'm going to call this fourth group management tools, because they manage the actions of others. This is often essential for process control.
Configurator tools guide shoppers through the path of designing their dream car. More recently, apps are being sold that guide the salesperson through the sales process or guide the F&I manager through the menu process. The if-then nature of computer programming allows for branching, making it possible for the system to design a nearly infinite number of process combinations. Each solution is produced to optimize the process based on the situation as input. The user is guided through a process of information inputs, and those inputs optimize the remainder of the process.
A Canadian company, cDemo, caught my eye in Dallas several months ago with their Mobile Inspector Application. It guides the user through a process that simultaneously develops vehicle photos, live video, and a vehicle condition report. That process varies from vehicle to vehicle. The photos for a pickup truck are not the same as for an SUV or a sedan. If something is found to be wrong in the vehicle condition report, additional detail is captured on that item. There must be millions of combinations, but the user doesn't have to remember any of them. Just about anyone can complete the process. In fact, cDemo asserts it's so easy a monkey could do it, and it all happens on an iPhone or Droid based smart phone.
This is a radical departure in the purpose of tools, yet it is not entirely new. Twenty years ago, I had a sales interview that involved me giving a sales presentation on the product of my choice. I sold them on buying my Hewlett Packard 19B programmable calculator for each sales person. Buy programming in the formulas for quoting rates, no salesperson would ever again need to remember the variables, the formulas, or how to execute. The program tells them what variables to entry and takes care of everything else. No more missed information, no more miscalculations. Sales people could function faster and more perfectly by letting the tool direct them. I provided break-even analysis to demonstrate the how quickly this simple management tool could pay for itself. The interviewing team quickly understood the importance of management tools in sales and marketing. Needless to say, I was offered the job.
If you can hire highly skilled professionals, it may make sense to give them tools they control, and maybe even tools with additional memory support. However, if the process and discipline is more than your people can live up to, then put a tool in place that runs the employee the way you want them to be run. Most of these tools can be modified by the manager. For example, the cDemo tool allows steps to be added or deleted from the process by the manager or through company support.
In many ways, these new tools are an extension of management, and it is badly needed. The cars we sell and merchandise are more complex than ever. The buyers are more knowledgeable than ever. But the people selling and merchandising vehicles are generally not any more talented than those we worked with ten years ago. These management tools are not coming out a moment too soon. If you want to insist that vehicles be sold or merchandised the way you want it done, then consider duplicating yourself through one of these new tools that manage your people in your absence.
Yes, I do practice what I preach. I've developed internal tools to guide myself, preventing mistakes when I'm working tired. I've talked to several companies about helping them develop and/or market management tools and will remain involved in this growing field as it relates to the marketing and sales of durable goods. I recently lured my brother, Gary Galbraith, into the auto industry to help cDemo introduce their new tool in the United States. As I look at the collision course of product complexity, product proliferation, transparency to the consumer, and an undereducated workforce, these tools appear essential to the future profitability of retailers. Management tools cannot be looked at as just another kind of application.