Finance Institution Custom Development vs. Out-of-the-box Software

Finance Institution Custom Development vs. Out-of-the-box Software

Today banks, credit unions, and financial institutions are in a constant battle to offer users the latest technology features. Features like cards on/off, mobile deposits, and card management seem to be among the standards users have grown to expect within the ever-growing fintech industry (common competitors in this space include PayPal, Venmo, and Cash App).

As a software developer focused on created financial applications, I’ve learned that these features do not come easily. Let’s discuss why.

Many financial institutions already use out-of-the-box, white label banking systems for their digital experience.

The majority of the small banks and credit unions’ core banking solutions are developed and maintained by only a handful of vendors. This results in banking products which are built on the same functionalities that, unfortunately, are not easily customizable during the development process.

Although an out-of-the-box solution may seem like an economical way to go, this introduces severe limitation in customization and competitiveness. White labeled banking systems provide a consistent build and user experience regardless of the financial institution. Adding new features that are unique, company-specific, and user-centric to a banking institution becomes a complex challenge.

Core banking systems often provide the necessary backend infrastructure. Banking applications rely heavily upon an infrastructure that includes a white-labeled user interface. Yes, this user interface can be customized to fit a financial institution’s branding (i.e. logo placement, terminology, and mainstream features).

So why choose an in-house solution instead of an out-of-the-box product from the system vendor? A custom solution helps financial institutions secure quite a few advantages.

 

Benefits

 

Custom provides the tools users want:

Core systems provide very common modules and services readily used by financial institutions. However, such services fail to cut it in this competitive fintech environment. Innovation is key in engaging customers and an in-house solution provides the flexibility that gives users the latest features. In our recent deployment with Virginia Credit Union (VACU) we added a simple new feature to its banking platform: displaying account and routing numbers. Our custom solution was able to resolve many of the limitations presented by the white labeled vendor’s ERP.

Custom design for a thoughtful customer strategy:

Some vendors may provide a customizable interface (think drag and drop elements, color pickers, etc.) within their core system. These customizations cannot account for the unique needs of every financial institution. The core system used at VACU provided a tile layout with drag and drop elements. Based on their users’ feedback, VACU wanted to steer away from this layout, but the core system was not flexible enough to accommodate the desired usability strategy.

Custom solutions saves money:

A custom solution adds value to customer expectations because a thoughtful roadmap will be dependably better received than plugging in half-baked modules Always start by building on what your users expect from your business. Deploy a solution from the ground up that is thoughtful of the end-user rather than pushing in the core system’s ERP that can be a mismatch to the way the bank operates.

Core system ERP’s are designed to capture the needs of a general audience — they succeed with the broader picture but sometimes fall short when getting into the details of what makes one bank unique from another. Custom can provide an opportunity for banks to stand out, listen to their customers, and create an experience that is tailored to fit.

In the case of VACU, customers were looking for a way to access routing and account numbers, but the cost of producing this feature from the ERP system was prohibitive. The vendor’s resources would need to be allocated directly to the financial institution – which would have ended up costing the union both time and money. The credit union chose Shockoe to rebuild a customized accounts module so that the feature would be present.

 

Process

 

When to consider custom:

VACU’s mobile roadmap stated that certain features were integral to driving repeat mobile traffic and engaging a growing contingency of young users that won’t step foot in a bank. Therefore, VACU paired up with Shockoe to steer away from some of the core system features that were currently dictating their mobile user experience (more on this in our complete case study here). They wanted to keep the necessary parts of the core, such as the backend infrastructure, but rebuild the UI from the ground up with new designs and added functionality.

How we approach custom:

To follow the agile approach we use here at Shockoe and to accommodate our client’s needs, the application architecture was split into different sprint-sized modules: View Accounts and a Transactions module. Each new module was developed based on VACU’s prioritization, and deployed by embedding it into their existing application without disrupting the existing UI and UX that would house it.

The idea has been to progressively rebuild their online banking platform modularly until the whole platform can be replaced with the custom solution.

Users deserve a digital experience flexible to their needs and expectations as they are constantly shifting. I’ve had the opportunity to work first-hand on an application that increased productivity and provided cutting-edge technologies to the highly loyal customers of VACU. As with most financial institutions, staying innovative and user-centric is the key to succeeding in both the digital and brick and mortar space.

 

Lucas Mezalira

Lucas Mezalira

Lucas is a full stack web developer who has experience working with different backend and frontend javascript frameworks. He has been writing code for over four years and is always curious to find out how things work under the hood. He started by creating simple digital circuits using VHDL and FPGAs, moved to low-level kernel programming in C and ended up in the web programming world.

Scaling a Push Notification Server

Scaling a Push Notification Server

Previously we explored the topic of setting up a sandbox push notification server in Node.js. This featured a Mongodb instance to store users and device IDs, as well as endpoints to register users and send them the push notifications all at once. But what happens when you need to target individual devices instead of blasting your entire user base all at once? All of a sudden instead of processing one API call to send notifications to all of your users, you’re fielding multiple calls at once, possibly on the order of thousands of requests per second during peak user hours for your application. Fortunately, Node.js has built-in tools to help you scale your server.

The first issue we can tackle is breaking our Send endpoint out to work as a tool to send an individual push notification. We’ll assume in this case that the requests to this endpoint will come from another source with knowledge of the device Id and operating system to target. We’ll again use restify to set up our server:

 

//server.js

const restify = require('restify');

const server = restify.createServer({
name : 'pushTest'
});

// this allows us to parse the POST request body
server.use(restify.plugins.bodyParser());

server.listen(8080, () => {
console.log('listening on port 8080');
});

// set up a basic route
server.post('/', (req, res) => {
// parse the request body
let body = JSON.parse(req.body);

// check to make sure the body has the correct fields
if (body && body.platform) {
// send push here
}
// send a success response
res.send(200);
});

We’ll skip over actually sending the push since we covered that in our previous post. Once we start the server, we can use the ApacheBench command line tool to load test it. In a separate terminal window, paste:

ab -p test.json -c 20 -t 10 http://localhost:8080/

Where test.json is a local json file with test data. This will open up 20 connections per second for 10 seconds on our server. When we run this we get an output of about 150 successful requests per second, but let’s see if we can do better. The cluster module ships with node and allows us to spin up a server for every CPU we have on our machine. In a separate file we can have a “master” node that spins up servers for every CPU we have on our machine:

// master.js

const cluster = require('cluster');
const os = require('os');

// check if master
if (cluster.isMaster) {
// find out how many CPUs we have available
const cpuNum = os.cpus().length;

console.log(`Found ${cpuNum} CPUs`);

// fork the process for as many CPUs as we have
for (let i = 0; i < cpuNum; i++) {
cluster.fork();
}
} else {
// otherwise spin up server
require('./server');
}

Now instead of running

node server.js, run

node master.js

On my personal machine, this spins up eight different instances of the push server, and when I run our same ab command, I’m now seeing over 500 requests per second. This works by running master once and then running it again every time cluster.fork() is called for as many CPUs as we have. If master.js is entered as a result of calling fork, the isMaster call will fail and it will spin up the server.

This is a simple example of the built-in power of Node.js to increase the scalability of your application and expertly handle any kind of heavy load your test servers might need to endure.

John Surface

John Surface

Senior Developer

With a birth weight of just under seven and a half pounds, John has in less than three decades managed to gain thirteen stone and several years of experience as a full-stack and mobile engineer. He does his part to slow the spin of the earth spiraling out of control by creating robust backend solutions and intuitive cross-platform and native mobile applications.

The Key to an Effective Warehouse Management App: User-Centric Design

The Key to an Effective Warehouse Management App: User-Centric Design

Custom mobile apps are effective tools for improving the Warehouse and Inventory Management process. However, a robust app with the best-of features can be rendered ineffective if the product itself is not usable. The key to launching an effective warehouse application is to create a user-centric experience that genuinely aids employees in improving productivity and performance. Let’s dive into what this means in more detail.

What do we mean by user-centric?

We mean: understanding the user, tasks, and environment surrounding the application. Poor usability can lead to user frustration and in turn, reduce overall productivity. The need for user-centric design is crucial when speaking of warehouse and inventory management applications — after all, these are the tools equipped to workers to perform their job effectively on a daily basis.

Some off-the-cuff strategies I’ve seen personally help Shockoe in deploying a great warehouse application include:

  • Get to know your user
  • Understanding the work environment and its nuances
  • Be flexible and aim for continuous improvement.

This was the core of our strategy with Arrow Electronics, an app that would go on to recognize our team with RichTech’s 2018 Technology Builder Award.

Know your user

Employees know the in’s and out’s of their daily tasks better than anyone else. They can often expose golden nuggets of information to help improve app flows as well as desired user-experiences. Whether you shadow workers or conduct interviews, the key is to expose needs and pain-points in the day-to-day. This information will give you the greatest insight as to how to design an effective solution that is easy and truly helps improve daily task performance. Below are pain-points we uncovered in our work with Arrow as well as how we applied that knowledge to the next generation of their warehouse application:

  • Pain-Point A: Product walkthroughs with workers revealed a need for clear, simple, and intuitive user flows. Solution: Minimal screen design, and clear CTAs on-screen to reduce distractions.
  • Pain-Point B: The small interface and visual elements on the previous scanners made it difficult to interact with the device. Solution B: Go large! We helped implement larger screens and from a design-standpoint included large text and bolder visual elements
  • Pain-Point C: Workers struggled to juggle boxes and packages while attempting to interact with small format scanners. Solution C: Large format CTA’s now make it easier to interact with the screen, even with busy hands

 

Understand the environment

Where an app is used can greatly influence whether a design is effective or not. Some important environmental factors to note include: lighting, noise, common distractions, and present equipment. Warehouse environments produce unique challenges; fork-lifts, conveyor belts, endless rows of supply, and obstacles should all be documented and considered in the user-experience — here are a few things we saw at Arrow that impacted the next version of the application:

  • Pain-point A: Multiple environmental distractions (steady stream of noise, bustling workers) and placing the tablet down made it likely to miss important alerts. Solution A: We made notifications large, bold, and sticky (make sure they stay on screen until dismissed)
  • Pain-point B: Finding the right box with the right item could be tricky at times Solution B: We Incorporated a label identification system (Area, Aisle, Bay, Tier, Position) into the app so that workers can match it to the physical product. see example below:

 

Flexibility & continuous improvement

This is a part of a strategy that’s unfortunately often overlooked. Companies are constantly growing, changing, and improving; the tools in place should do the same. Even great apps should be tested with users and iteratively improved over time. They should also be designed with flexibility in mind — sometimes the best ideas don’t work as expected, and being able to pivot to an alternative solution is critical to the app’s overall success. Not doing so, could mean greater failure for the rest of the features that do in-fact work. Here are a few areas we saw the need to pivot with Arrow’s warehouse solution and ensure its ongoing success:

  • Pain-point A: App testing revealed manual-workarounds being performed by employees to relabel already picked inventory Solution: Workers were given a custom print option to create labels that would reflect proper quantities and date codes all from within the app
  • Pain-point B: Arrow employees required different features for different roles. Solution: We incorporated a responsive user experience that would shift the interface to match the job function of the current user.

 

Every company, every process, and every employee are different —  that’s why taking a user-centric approach to design is essential towards an app’s success. It is up to the designers and strategist to always have the end-user in mind. A blanketed approach to a user-experience could yield great results for one warehouse system, but a disaster for another. The key to a successful warehouse management app is to start from the ground floor and focus on understanding the end-user, the environment, and remain flexible with your team.

Angela Balzano

Angela Balzano

UX/UI Designer

Ange is a Rhode Island native with a passion for problem-solving and a flair for design. She specializes in strategy work and creating intuitive user experiences. Her long-standing career in technology design has led her to become mobile UX/UI expert with an emphasis on enterprise application usability… oh, and she loves crime podcasts.

7 Tips for Utilizing Alexa Skill Development to Engage with Customers

7 Tips for Utilizing Alexa Skill Development to Engage with Customers

Amazon first released Alexa virtual assistant and smart speaker Echo in late 2014. An in-home virtual assistant is an impressive tool, but creating a seamless user experience with it can be a challenge. So how do companies overcome this challenge? What engagement can you provide with a voice programming interface to fully utilize Alexa and engage customers with your brand?

Why Should Brands Care?

Amazon has a wide variety of Alexa products, but the Echo Dot keeps the price of admission as low as $49.99. The Echo Dot also frequently goes on sale, lowering the bar to $39.99 or even $29.99. At such a low price point, it’s no wonder NPR and Edison Research have found that 39 million adults in the US now own a smart speaker. And of those 39 million, 65% would not want to go back to life without it.

Establish a Brand Presence on Alexa

Alexa skills give you an opportunity to produce a user experience with voice. Users can simply activate skills for use on their smart speaker through the Amazon Alexa app or by simply asking their device to enable a particular skill. Alexa skill development gives you the opportunity to advertise and engage with your customers and provide value through your brand.

Build to Consider

The development of the skill is relatively simple. As an Alexa developer, I am excited to find that Amazon provides a great guide to get you started. A skill is just a REST endpoint, accessed over HTTPS, combined with a list of user actions and activation phrases. The endpoint can be hosted on any server that supports HTTPS, but an easy way to get started fast is to utilize AWS Lambda. User actions, known as intents, and activation phrases, known as utterances, are then added through the AWS console. When a user talks to your skill, Amazon will attempt to match what was said to an utterance to determine the intent. The intent and phrase are then sent to the REST endpoint; that endpoint then has a chance to do something with the information before sending back a response to be read to the user.

Once done with the Alexa skill development portion, the next challenge is creating a good user experience. Why is it important to create a seamless user experience and how much can you expect out of Alexa voice programming?

Here are just a few examples of how to master Alexa skills and make sure you engage with your user while building customer loyalty:

Tip #1: Provide a Great Experience on Open

Most users immediately ask skills questions directly, however it is important to note that skills can also be opened without a question. When a skill is opened for the first time, be sure to provide instructions on how to use your skill. Give examples of what kinds of questions can be asked. If the user is returning, let them know about any additions to your skill or ongoing promotions with your brand.

Tip #2 Answer Common Questions

Think about what kind of questions customers have. Instead of your customer searching through a mobile app or website for the answer, they can just ask! It’s important to start off with the basics and be prepared to handle general questions such as:

  • “Where is the closest store?”
  • “What are the hours of the store?”
  • “What is the phone number of the store?”

Try to think about how your customer will naturally try to ask a question. Customers may ask “When does the store close?” and expect to receive the store hours. Consider error handling as well. Your user may be asking for store hours, but the provided store cannot be found. Take advantage of the ability to respond with a question and receive a response. For example “I’m sorry, which store would you like hours for?”

Tip #3 Surface Interesting Data

Use analytics from your stores to help customers out where possible. Leverage store traffic data so that your customers can ask how busy a store is. Customers may be more interested in shopping when the store is less busy. If the store is busy, consider responding with an estimate of when there will be fewer people in the store.

Utilize your inventory database to allow customers to ask if a product is in stock. If there is low stock then engage with your customer by encouraging them to order fast or reserve their selected item. If a product is not in stock, let your customer know when they can expect the product to return or suggest a similar product. The more helpful you are to your users, the more likely they are to use your skill in the future — a guaranteed way of keeping people loyal to your brand.

Tip #4 Promote upcoming events and ongoing sales

Allow customers to ask about promotions. When customers ask about upcoming events, provide relevant information such as the date, time and location. When a customer asks about sales, be creative with your response. Instead of listing off items, pick a few to highlight based on their previous purchases. Allow customers to ask about sales by department, category, or deal, such as “what product is on sale?”, to get more specific answers on sales.

Tip #5 Extend the App Experience

If there is an OAuth login for your services, customers will be able to link their existing accounts using the Alexa Skill. This allows support for features that require authentication. Allow customers to add items to their shopping list or even do online ordering. Leverage information about the logged-in customer when responding to other questions. When a customer asks about discount opportunities, spike their interest by targetting a known previous purchase. You can also allow an authenticated customer to ask questions about their favorite store.

Tip #6 Provide Some Entertainment

If possible, add something extra to make the experience fun. Allow customers to ask for interesting facts about your brand or any questions related to your industry. To make things more engaging, you could even add a weekly trivia question to encourage users to check back in regularly. It’s important not to overdo it.

Tip #7 Utilize Flash Briefings

Flash briefings are very short podcasts that Alexa users can subscribe to, they are a great way to communicate with customers who are opted in. A user will subscribe to flash briefings from various skills to build their flash briefing. Then when a user asks, the latest series of flash briefings will be played. These are generally for news, however, they can be used to talk about upcoming promotions or events. Take a minute or two each week to let your most loyal customers know what’s going on with your company.

It is evident and backed that people are ready to accept virtual assistants in their homes. Companies taking advantage of this interface will ultimately be the ones that pioneer the next generation of mastering brand engagement and capturing this fast-growing market. I hope you find these 7 tips helpful in building customer loyalty and engagement, leave us a comment to share your thoughts!

Andrew Rumbley

Andrew Rumbley

Senior Mobile Developer

Andrew is a Senior Mobile Developer focused on creating quality user experiences. He is a full stack developer with experience working on every piece of a mobile application from backend APIs to frontend UI. Andrew is passionate about creating high performing native applications. He also has the distinguished mantle of being the longest-tenured developer at Shockoe.

Supply Chain Apps your Company Needs

Supply Chain Apps your Company Needs

Prioritizing the strategic importance of technology that supports your supply chain is essential. Mobile Solutions are an integral and expanding component of the technology landscape that support all steps of the manufacturing process. Organizations that have mobilized solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM) or field service management (FSM), warehouse management system (WMS), Inventory Management System (IMS), etc. are more prepared tackle the overall digital transformation.

By 2018, mobile has served as the key to unlocking the “supply chain digital transformation.” Shockoe is creating supply chain apps that are designed to support new production strategies, reduce time to manage and log resource and production activity, bring greater accuracy to tracking and analyzing data, and support the automation of production centers.

Within the supply chain, more specifically warehouse management, manufacturing, and distribution, there are several opportunities for leveraging mobile in the workforce. In working with our clients, we believe the list below is the starting point for mobile solutions. These supply chain app options are aimed at supporting the overall manufacturing and sales process through an ecosystem of inventory apps, customer-facing apps, and order fulfillment apps.

supply chain management diagram

 

Mobile Apps to Consider by Point in the Supply Chain

 

Planning & Production Apps

  • Product traceability and quality
  • Inventory and asset management apps
  • Logistics and supply chain coordination

Order Management & Accounting Apps

  • Order management, pricing, and fulfillment
  • Real-time quote generation

Manufacturing Apps

  • Production workflow management
  • Machine level compliance
  • Managing parts and resource staffing requirements
  • Making manufacturing intelligence

Order Fulfillment Apps

  • Order status and delivery
  • Logistics and supply chain apps

When prioritizing and considering mobile supply chain solutions to support the manufacturing, administrative, and customer engagement process, Shockoe suggests using three key metrics to prioritize supply chain app development versus alternative mobile applications or the overall technology portfolio.

Reduce Manual Labor and Increase Productivity

Delivering a successful customer experience and subsequently driving more revenue requires mobile leadership and prioritization activities to go beyond the building of apps for customer facing roles (i.e. Work Order Management or Sales). Back-office workers, technicians, and managers need mobile access to enterprise systems to better perform their jobs and service customers more efficiently. Think about creating a better mobile experience by integrating with ERP or WMS systems for example, giving employees more freedom to do their jobs wherever and whenever.

Critical features for a mobile supply chain functions are scheduling, measuring, and dispatching the workforce. Leveraging the mobile context for such, will allow organizations to accurately measure and improve the productivity of each individual. Which finally in turn will allow organizations to accurately measure and improve the productivity of each individual.

Going beyond technology and mobility, an app that enables the workforce can also collect data essential to future planning. The organization can better analyze how much more work it can take on and whether there are enough people to support the forecasted workload.

Revenue

Historically speaking, revenue was only accounted for from a customer standpoint. Integrating new technologies to create a mobile supply chain allows monitoring and assessing revenue percentage at the process level. Being able to quickly obtain the percentage of revenue contribution at each step in the order to cash process is valuable information for real-time decision making and forecasting. Mobile solutions can track performance at each step which gives both location with context. These values help indicate whether a measured process is underperforming or contributing significantly to the overall revenue. Whether it’s an investment in an asset management app or an inventory management app, whatever it is, a more granular overview of information through your processes can help target your areas of growth, need, and reward in the supply chain.

Automation

Automation, IOT, and Machine Learning are popular terms. What manufacturing companies really need to worry about and set goals for is the extent of the automation planned and how these emerging technologies can help. Once the business understands its goal, mobile solutions can embrace IoT devices to enable the desired automation. Allowing employees to monitor automated processes on mobile devices can decrease error rates, speed fulfillment processes, and ultimately settle cash faster.
The continuing development and availability of newer and better technology implies that processes can be made to work faster, repetitive work can be automated, FTEs can be reduced, operations can be systemized, and customer handling can be improved. Tackling automation, IOT, or machine learning require a set of tough decisions:

  • To what level will I automate the process?
  • What aspects of the process will I automate?
  • What tools will my employees use to monitor and be alerted of the process?

The mobile supply chain is the next era of communication, collaboration and responsiveness to the customer, driven by the ability to meet ever-more-stringent deadlines and delivery dates. Start from your key challenges and business objectives, use the right metrics to prioritize, and plan your journey for successful implementation of mobile, IoT and emerging technologies.

Alejandro Otañez

Alejandro Otañez

COO

Alex has more than 10 years of international experience in Strategic IT Transformation and Custom App Development. His expertise in various industries ranges from Consumer Goods to Retail to Finance while assisting clients in the areas of Business Strategy & Development, Security & Compliance, and Technology Transformation. As one of Shockoe’s founding members, Alex is focused on business strategy, security & compliance, digital innovation, mobile management, and operational transformations.

5 Useful Ways to Use QR Codes in a Grocery Store Customer Engagement App

5 Useful Ways to Use QR Codes in a Grocery Store Customer Engagement App

When one of our clients approached us with the idea of building an entirely new customer engagement app for their grocery stores, we were very excited. Their project goal was a mobile application that would allow their customers to pay for groceries by scanning a QR code at the store’s register using just their smartphone. Sounds awesome, right? We definitely thought so.

Although a project like this does carry a number of challenges, we hoped to create the best customer engagement app experience possible for our grocery store client and their users. But QR codes can be used for so much more. Here are five useful ways to use QR codes in a cutting-edge grocery store app.

     

  1. Seamless payment at the register: Customers can pay for their groceries at checkout by simply scanning a QR code with their grocery app. We were able to accomplish this without upgrading the existing POS systems, and since this method uses the device’s camera instead of dedicated hardware (like Apple Pay or Google Pay), we are able to support a wider range of devices including older iPhones and Android phones without NFC chips.
  2.  

  3. Personalized Coupon Integration: The store’s website already lets users order items ahead of time which means in many cases users will already have a saved payment method on file. This means that for this grocer, they were able to remove a frequent barrier to entry and get customers started on mobile payments with greater ease. Users get personalized coupons and deals if they have an account, but now those coupons will be integrated right into the mobile payment app. Customers won’t have to worry about whether or not they are getting all the possible savings when checking out.
  4.  

  5. App Download Redirect: Since QR codes are going to be displayed in the checkout lanes, we had to consider that some customers might scan the code even if they don’t have the grocery store mobile payment app installed. We use this as an opportunity to inform the customer that they are able to pay with their smartphone. If the QR Code is scanned by a different scanner app, the customer will be taken to a web page where they can visit the App Store or Play Store to download the mobile payment app.
  6.  

  7. Scan barcodes to add items to your shopping list: Users can also use their phone’s camera to scan the barcode on items they have already bought in order to add them to their shopping list. The mobile app can use the barcode to fetch images of the item and tell customers where it’s located. This can make finding exactly what you want at the store even easier. And if there are any savings for that item, it will automatically be applied to your account; a far faster option for customers that otherwise would have to type out the product’s name to find it.
  8.  

  9. Streamline account signup: When this mobile app was first rolling out, all the existing members of the loyalty program had a card with a unique ID and a barcode. When those users signed up for an account on the mobile app, we didn’t want them to lose anything from their existing loyalty account. Instead of making the users type in a long number from the back of their loyalty card they could just scan their unique barcode from the app and automatically link their accounts.

And as a bonus, a word from this wise: Be cautious of small barcodes! Smartphone cameras have come a long way in the past few years, but they still aren’t as sensitive as the laser scanners at the register. If you have to hold your phone so close to the barcode that the camera can’t focus, you’re going to have a bad time.

Editor’s note: Curious to see our most recent case study for the fifth-largest supermarket chain in the U.S.? You can find it here! 

 

Kyle Engler

Kyle Engler

Developer

Self-proclaimed Google Fanboy, Kyle is a Titanium and native Android developer who has been creating mobile applications for over 5 years. He is always on the lookout for new trends in the mobile space. Kyle is equally at home implementing a front-end UI as well as designing an application’s data architecture.

4 Tips in Designing a Retail Inventory Management App

4 Tips in Designing a Retail Inventory Management App

When designing a retail inventory management application, it’s crucial to do a lot of heavy lifting in the preliminary stages of design to ensure that the transition from the client’s old system to their new app is seamless, intuitive, and incorporates just what they need to get the job done right.

From concept to delivery, the retail inventory app design process requires research, attention to detail, inspiration, testing, and refining. By keeping the following tips in mind during the design process, you can be sure to deliver a quality app that your client and their employees will love.

Tip 1.) Do Your Homework on the Client’s Needs

Prior to diving into a design project, it’s important to ask the right questions in order to understand 1) why the business prioritized this project, 2) the process/tasks employees are being asked to do, and which parts are the most challenging, and 3) how the system (including APIs) works in order to design around limitations or suggest changes accordingly.

These questions are crucial, along with other obvious questions, like what equipment/device does the client foresee using, how many stores do they have, how many employees will be using this solution, who has admin privileges, and how will admin use differ from that of general employees?

This initial info-gathering stage is key in the design process because having the team and the stakeholders “in the know” is necessary when making a polished, efficient, and effective app that everyone is proud of.  

design_agile_shockoe

Tip 2.) Find out What the App Users Need 

Once you’re confident with the client-provided requirements data, the interview process should transition from the stakeholders to their employees. Sitting behind a screen, it can be easy to gloss over seemingly minor details, but those minor details can impact the people on the other end and affect their job performance daily.

By focusing on details such as how the user will input data to the app and how they will maneuver around in it, you will be able to design a new system that will be effective and intuitive for all users and will replace outdated systems that might require quirky shortcuts and workarounds.

Vital to this step is gathering client data, studying the data, and researching and implementing said research, all the while incorporating your interview results with the employees/users. If you don’t understand their procedures, keep the dialogue going until you understand their daily routine, in order to provide them with the solutions they’re looking for.

app-user-needs

Tip 3.) Create an Inspired, Intuitive Design

Once you have all the details worked out, start working out the app flow. Put the pen to the paper, the markers on the whiteboard, and let the heavy brainstorms pour inspired innovative ideas.

This process will require multiple iterations and failures so you can reach the holy grail of design solutions for your client. In order to achieve this level of design fruition, you will need to research design trends (Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance), your client’s app (if they have one), and their competitors’ apps (if they have them).

Expand your design horizon outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be satisfied with safe designs; mediocre designs don’t break any new ground or impress clients.

That being said, try not to reinvent the wheel either. It’s great to have inspiration, but it’s up to you to be innovative while also staying intuitive.

intuitive-design

Tip 4.) Test Your Design, and Redesign as Necessary

Now that you have shiny, impressive, and modern designs, it’s time to test. Your design has to exceed expectations. So, even though you’ve interviewed a variety of people, researched every corner of Google, and spent countless hours in Sketch, Xd, or your design app of choice, you still need to test the app out.

The testing results will likely incur some redesigns, as any good test would. It’s important to ensure that the user flow makes sense, which is why you’ll test your prototypes with the client’s employees.

Remember, these employees are the experts in their job field. They know what they need to complete their job successfully and what will make their day-to-day work routine more efficient. Listen to their every complaint, concern, and compliment.

Redesigns can be fun. They often make us rethink what we thought we knew or understood. This could be a eureka moment for a designer, their team, and possibly the client. At most, it should only require some simple, but effective, design tweaks in order for the user to know what’s what.

So tweak away, tighten it up, and bust out of your design bubble. Find the sweet spot everyone’s looking for and apply your groundbreaking ideas to your designs. Finally, make sure any, and I mean any, users will know how your designs work—intuitively.

test-your-design

Key Points to Remember

Be sure to keep these points in mind when designing an app for retail inventory solutions:

  • Listen: The stakeholders typically have a good idea of what they’re looking for.
  • Answer these essential questions:
    • Why does the business (client) want this app? Know their KPI (Very important!)
    • How does the system currently work? (APIs and integration)
    • What are the client’s current pain points? (This is where we can REALLY help, by improving on what doesn’t currently work.)
    • What works? (What do employees like about the current system?)
    • What type of equipment are you designing the app for? (What type of device will employees use to access the app? Will they need a sling or a harness if they’re unloading a truck?)
    • What is the client’s budget? (A necessary evil.)
  • Follow up. Have constant communication and keep everyone in the loop. Interview the client’s employees to make sure you’re including everything they need to do their job well.
  • Prototype your designs, and see what works and what might need to be tweaked or rethought to make the app intuitive and easy to use.
  • There’s always room for improving the design until you get it right.

Look Towards the Future

Once your super-powered retail inventory app is developed, there will be updates, which require continued communication between you and the client. It’s your job (and ours) to help clients succeed. When our clients are successful, so are we. Together, we can conquer the world—one app at a time.

Editor’s Note: 

If you’re interested in reading about our most recent work for a retailer, check out A.C. Moore Case Study and the Inventory Management App our team has created for this retailer’s team.

Watch the full Case Study Video for A.C. Moore below.

ac-moore-inventory-management-app-video

The Warehouse Management System of Tomorrow: Faster, Leaner, and Mobile

The Warehouse Management System of Tomorrow: Faster, Leaner, and Mobile

Imagine this: you show up at your place of work, look out onto the warehouse floor, and see all your employees hard at work making sure inventory is being stocked and orders are being fulfilled. But these are not your normal employees, instead, they are robots automatically and seamlessly performing the work previously assigned to countless humans.

Some warehouses are already adopting these technologies, and it won’t be long before others do as well. With the ubiquity of mobile and greater access to the latest technology, it’s not surprising to see more manufacturers incorporating emerging devices into their processes.

Warehouses once relied exclusively on paper for production orders, dispatch notifications, and as a means of managing asset and inventory. Fast forward to today and you’ll see an increasingly paperless industry. Warehouse Management System software, scanning solutions, and other applications are now in place to enable data to be entered directly into digital or cloud storage. This has reduced the number of errors caused by readability issues or lost paperwork, while also reducing the operating costs of the companies.

So how do warehouses become more efficient between the world of today and the future world of automation? Well, the transition is becoming increasingly achievable with all the evolving technology. The key is evaluating the current infrastructure and technology, coming up with a strategy based on key objectives, and starting to make the investment.

Over the last couple of years, we have been working with Arrow Electronics to do just that – improve efficiency through mobile solutions. When we first started working with Arrow, they had a WMS system in place but were using older technology that limited the efficiency of their employees. Shockoe created an overhauled WMS using mobile tablets, wireless handheld scanners, and a revamped user interface. The new process and interface allow operators greater flexibility and maneuverability, increasing pick speed efficiency. Supervisors can now make necessary decisions away from their desk through the mobile interface allowing them to review reports, manage inventory and processes, and communicate directly with the operators.

As we continue to grow our relationship with Arrow, we are exploring means to provide further functionality to operators and immersing them in the mobile experience. This will include wearable technology which enables operators to work hands-free and eliminate the need to bring a cart down an aisle.

As we move forward, other technology will be considered to improve the efficiency of the warehouse operations. For example:

Truly hands-free with Smart Glasses

How about integrating the core functionality of a smartphone into a pair of glasses? The main difference is the display technology: images are projected directly in front of the field of vision, freeing-up user’s hands for other tasks. When working in a warehouse, having free hands and ready access to information is hugely progressive for both ergonomics and efficiency. Using this kind of device in the picking process will ease the work for operators and can help increase picking performance. It is also a flexible solution to implement since it doesn’t need any other specific equipment in the warehouse.

Voice as a guide

Adding voice-guidance to different WMS functionalities can also increase the efficiency of warehouse operations. Instructions can now be heard rather than cumbersomely viewed. This can be integrated into both smart glasses or a traditional mobile app, further allowing the operators to function hands-free and increase focus on their tasks.

MR/AR: Layer instruction & Complete more Processes

Augmented and mixed reality ‘picking’ uses smart glasses to merge virtual images and information with an operator’s surrounding environment. The operator would wear the glasses, follow any on-screen instructions, and scan product barcodes all within the glasses’ display. The combination of real-world and virtual information provides speed and accuracy beyond previous warehouse picking technologies.

VR/AR: Immersive Training

Did you know only 40% of information is retained when people observe versus 90% when they experience it themselves? So, how about leveraging VR or AR to train employees so they can become productive quickly, while also improving quality of the work and reducing training costs? Using smart glasses, VR headsets, or other simulators allows both new and current employees to get immersed in the work to learn without having to shadow other employees. This keeps productivity high across the board as you don’t need to pull someone away from current work to train someone.

The state of warehouse management has evolved over time as companies continue to evolve to keep up with consumer demands. Fully automating systems will take time and money. Yet, with the ubiquity of mobile and existing WMS software, an affordable cutting-edge solution might not be so distant. By employing a combination of mobile solutions, smart glasses, AR/VR/MR, or voice, warehouses can become exponentially more productive — improving not just cost, but also overall quality and safety.

Note from Editor: 
With mobile technology, employees are no longer confined to their static cubicles, bulky PCs, and disorganized file cabinets. If you’d like to learn more about what it means to have a truly mobile workforce, check out this page.

Also, you can read about “A Mobile Workforce: What Customers Want” in our previous post.

Mobile Apps for the Supply Chain

Mobile Apps for the Supply Chain

Don’t Limit Yourself

While computing in the supply chain is nothing new, many of the existing systems and platforms are typically running on bulky and dated equipment, limiting the flexibility and efficiency of employees. This issue isn’t confined to one segment of the supply chain. Everyone from suppliers to retailers is often conducting day-to-day operations with outdated supply chain applications and hardware. With the ubiquity of mobile technology, introducing apps into the supply chain can be beneficial and seamless. Mobile supply chain apps can lead to improvements at every step, often in similar ways across segments. For example, inventory management apps allow suppliers to track their raw materials, manufacturers to decrease the time to manufacture and ship, and retailers to more effectively track their stock.

Companies frequently focus the majority of their mobile technology investment on consumer-facing apps, often at the expense of mobilizing their supply chain operations. Shockoe has partnered with several big box retailers, as their supply chain app developer, to create apps that support supply chain workforce and processes. The infographic, below, outlines examples of how these supply chain apps can support desired customer experiences by improving processes such as inventory management, production planning, material management, and resource planning processes, to name a few.

See The Potential

As a supply chain app developer, we work with our clients to help them gain insight into points along the supply chain that will benefit from mobile app investment in order to get customers their product faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. This leads to a better customer experience, which maximizes their existing investment in consumer-facing solutions and increases customer loyalty.

How Suppliers Benefit:

  • Accurate sourcing: track and distribute raw materials anytime, anywhere. Mobile apps connect manufacturers to the first step of the supply chain, the raw materials supplier.
  • Easier inventory control: inventory management with the tap of a finger. Warehouse management apps give you 24/7 control of inventory
  • Simplified logistics: order fulfillment that’s simple, intuitive, and on the go. Track the transit of materials from anywhere in the field.

How Manufacturers Benefit:

  • Faster production times: supply chain apps integrate with legacy systems to cut down on the overall production process, decreasing the time to manufacture and ship.
  • Recall/damage control: simplify field assessments and integrate data captured in the field from mobile apps with back office applications. The faster a customer complaint is resolved, the more likely customers are to become repeat customers.
  • Better final product: tighter quality control means better oversight. All of this amounts to a higher quality product.

How Distributors Benefit:

  • Improved warehouse management
  • Smarter communication
  • Increased “on-time” delivery

How Retailers Benefit:

  • Better stock management
  • More efficient front-line employees
  • Less shrinkage

How Consumers Benefit:

  • Faster shipments
  • Accurate order tracking
  • Great customer experience

Increase Your Bottom Line

Partnering with an experienced supply chain app developer to digitize the supply chain means organizations can have the best of both worlds by increasing efficiency to decrease costs and making sure customers become ambassadors for the brand, leading to repeat business and long-term revenue growth.

 

Apps for the Supply Chain

 

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