On a plane last week, in that not-short-but-not-long time in which they ask you to power down your electronic devices I went old school with a paper copy of the latest Inc. Magazine when I came across the article "Unsexy Is the New Sexy." It seems every where you look, there's a high-profile entrepreneur running around chasing the next "Angry Birds" app. But the folks quietly making noise in the market are concentrating on business related (B2B) mobile apps and development.
As I'm consulting with a company that's just released a new B2B web app - I figure NOW I to HAVE to read the article - if only to save you, my blog reader, the time...so here goes.
Turns out, the article was right up my alley, but not for the reason I initially thought.
As a grizzled veteran of the dot.com boom/bust - I'm all about separating hype from reality - and this one article by Jill Krasny really focused on what's actually making sense - not just making a splash. Now I'm really interested.
She reports, that while B2B startups may not be flashy and may not garner all the attention, over 80% of the start-ups most likely to go public are B2B plays. It seems that B2B startups are driven by - - - wait for it - - - wait - - - ACTUAL REVENUE! And they create this mythical revenue stream by - - - SOLVING PROBLEMS! Who knew it could be that simple? Why has no one mentioned this before???
Which leads to the final conclusion: Real innovation in the business arena can create new market-disruptive uses for mobile technology - and can even be a game changer.
Now light bulbs are going off over my head - (turns out that was just the Flight Attendant dimming the cabin lights) - actually it became really clear how mobile technology is moving into a lot of B2B areas.
At the risk of sounding self-serving (I am, it's my blog) and delving into a very dry subject not everyone's familiar with - here's how one company is applying game-changing mobile technology to an albeit small, section of food manufacturing.
Just a bit of background:
It's a given that any food manufacturer needs to have a cleaning and sanitation program. And with focus on food safety there's more scrutiny than ever on inspections from various regulatory concerns, up to and including the Food and Drug Administration.
Everything that goes on in the food chain has to be documented - because the inspectors need to be able to understand consistent practices being repeated over time - so it creates a environment where everything is judged by - if it's not written down, how do you know it actually happened?
By 2013, most food manufacturing plants have this automated to some degree to track ingredients, finished lots, batches and so on - except for one area - the cleaning and sanitation process. (Yes, they have a cleaning and sanitation process, it's just the records aren't automated.) Overwhelmingly, the guys and gals who make up the sanitation crew are working their way through the plant at clean out time with a paper cleaning sheet on a clipboard. They check off cleaning tasks as they're completed, writing down a test result value or two. And then that paper gets filed in a stack somewhere, until a supervisor reviews it, and then someone else files it away for record keeping.
The problem is, as with any manual process, dealing with the paper cleaning sheets takes time and creates mundane tasks for people. In order to track cleaning trends over time, to be able to say we're getting better at cleaning, maintaining a clean status quo or identifying potential issues, someone has to manually enter the results from each cleaning shift into a spreadsheet - and at a large factory, this can quickly become a full time job in and of itself.
Filing the paper records also becomes critical, because if there's a product recall, the manufacturer needs to produce the clean sheet (and other relevant records) almost instantly. Any questions or uncertainty can lead to catastrophic results - it may not even be the food product in question - and if the manufacturer can show proper sanitation and handling, inspectors can focus recall scrutiny elsewhere and perhaps correctly identify the real issue faster, which could be life-saving in some cases. But even bad press for a news cycle or two while someone searches for a lost or missing paper record can damage a company's reputation or brand - a damage that will be certainly costly short-term, and perhaps insurmountable long-term.
This is where mobile apps come in. They've recently released a B2B mobile web app to take the paper clean sheets used in most factories and create an electronic clean record that uses any mobile device, tablet, smartphone or whatever to replace the clipboard/paper version.
Here's how electronic clean records becomes a complete game changer.
The FDA uses the graphic to the left to illustrate the proper process for controlling critical points within the HACCP process used in food manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing etc.
Paper Clean sheets would fall into category #6 Recordkeeping and they do a fine job in that one area. A case could be made that by a supervisor reviewing the paper records, it becomes an 'after the fact' #3 Monitoring Procedure. You could try and make a case that entering all that data into spreadsheets allows you to do a poor man's #1 Hazard Analysis - even if the reports produced in Excel aren't very useful or comprehensive. All this relies on the talent , skill level and constant focus of the staff involved.
Or you could automate with a simple, mobile app to start tracking cleaning and sanitation.
So now you have your #6 Recordkeeping - only you're guaranteed you will ALWAYS have a complete, legible, time-stamped electronic document that can easily be retrieved instantly.
But once you're using the mobile app, you can also have Alerts set to notify a supervisor real-time if a step in the wash process gets skipped - a real time #3 Monitoring Procedure of your sanitation efforts. The system can be set to require supervisor approval prior to the next step, so it becomes a #4 Corrective Action. Requiring a real time inspection becomes #5, Verification and so on.
Above all, the electronic clean sheets integrate seamlessly with Analytics to provide real time dashboards, trending and tracking reports, and an almost limitless ability to slice and dice data regarding the cleaning process.
So for about $20 a user per month, a factory can take the person that was spending all day entering data and move them to a productive endeavor, filing the paper is eliminated, reports are better, and the cleaning and sanitation process moves from a static process that lives in one section of the HACCP circle to a comprehensive program encompassing the entire approach to safer cleaning and sanitation.
Not bad for a simple mobile app - granted, it doesn't revolutionize the entire food chain, but I believe it's a real game changer to a significantly important task in every food processing plant.
You can contact Gene via GH@GeneHammons.com.
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