Enterprise iPad App: A Deal Closer?

Can a new-fangled iPad app really change the way a 100-year-old energy company sells hydraulics equipment? Eaton Corp. says its new app has already led to more sales.

Shortly after energy giant Eaton Corporation came out with an iPad app that threatened to change the way hydraulics equipment was being sold, a veteran salesperson tried to stump the app with questions gleaned from years of experience in the field. He couldn't do it.

Eaton launched a series of training sessions to teach a massive distribution channel how to use the app. In the parlance of the tech set, this is called change management—considered the most difficult stage of an IT project. Surprisingly, the veteran salesperson and hundreds of his colleagues enthusiastically packed the sessions and quickly got up to speed.

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"We were prepared to do more in training, [but] it became pretty obvious to people how to use the app," says Eaton CIO Justin Kershaw, whose projects over the past decade have mostly been complex ERP projects. "We built the app hoping they would come, which is something you don't want to do very often in our IT profession."

The iPad in the enterprise seems to break all the old rules, creating a kind of culture shock for IT. A mobile app running on a consumer device and transforming a legacy business process flies in the face of CIO conservatism. But all is forgiven if the business side can use the iPad to close deals.

Slideshow: 15 Ways iPad Goes to Work

As a 100-year-old company posting $13 billion in annual sales, Eaton knows change doesn't come often or easily in the hydraulics industry in general. After all, the engineering science of hydraulics has been around since Greeks invented the Perachora wheel in the 3rd century B.C.

Today, Eaton offers some 200,000 hydraulic products with varying configurations, specs and capabilities. Most of Eaton's sales flow through a third-party channel made up of thousands of distributors and veteran salespeople. Yet they were the ones who needed to embrace Eaton's iPad app, called PowerSource.

Build It, and They Will Come

To this end, PowerSource tapped into the competitive nature of the channel by putting reams of searchable product information and ordering lead times at a salesperson's fingertips, thus speeding up the sales lifecycle. Orders could be taken via an email that goes into Eaton's order entry system. If there's one way to get salespeople on board with new technology, it's by creating a competitive advantage.

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CIO Justin Kershaw

It took less than a year to develop PowerSource, but the project had its share of challenges. Top among them was scope creep. CIOs wanting to develop an enterprise iPad app need to break new ground, exploring ways for users to navigate around the app and deciding what data to present on the 10-inch screen. The options are endless.

"We creeped the scope a couple of times," Kershaw admits. "It's the hardest part of the project. We just had to be really careful."

Kershaw relied on structured gate reviews during the development of the app to defuse scope creep. Moreover, PowerSource was built on the Antenna mobility platform, or AMP, and Antenna has made strides to lessen the chance of scope creep in the development of mobile apps.

"The most important thing is to get the right set of functionality when deploying [the app] into the hands of new users, and then continue to add on functionality from there," says Antenna CEO Jim Hemmer. "We used Agile development methodology, where you have the ability to do rapid releases and updates."

Business Champion for the iPad

With PowerSource, Kershaw was upending the way Eaton hydraulics products were traditionally being sold. For example, the app now starts a sales discussion with a visualization of the product rather than with a product's specifications.

This actually saves a step since a potential customer trying to replace a broken piece of equipment can see the replacement part and immediately know that the salesperson is talking about the right product. Matching specs becomes a simple process. Three-dimensional modeling visualizations also add some luster to the start of a sales cycle.

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Stories of failed IT projects, though, usually share the same pitfall: IT tries to change a tried-and-true business process without a business champion speaking for the end-user community. This leads to disconnect between IT's efforts and the realities of the business world.

In Eaton's case, a vice president and general manager at Eaton became heavily involved during the development of PowerSource, Kershaw says. He, in turn, got his salespeople involved. They gave feedback about ways of navigating around the app and using various features; CIOs developing a mobile app will be spending an inordinate amount of time on usability, Kershaw says, more so than an ERP project.

"The GM's expectations are high, and at times he was very critical of us," Kershaw says. "He's also our number one advocate for us across the business."

It was also important that much of the product data reside locally on the iPad. In manufacturing, the product catalog has to be available offline, Hemmer says. Contrast this with other iPad enterprise strongholds such as financial services and healthcare, where regulations require that there be little to no data stored locally on the device.

The iPad: A Deal Closer

Today, Eaton's PowerSource runs on some 300 distributor-owned iPads, as well as iPads for a small group of internal salespeople. Over the next three years, Kershaw expects 3,000 iPads running PowerSource, or more than half of its U.S. channel. "We're just really rolling it out," he says.

So far, PowerSource is showing solid returns.

Kershaw measures return on investment, or ROI, by monitoring the order intake rate of a salesperson before and after the iPad and the length of the sales cycle—that is, the time starting from the opportunity to quote to the actual quote to the order. "That used to take days and weeks in the legacy process, and now we're down to hours and minutes," he says.

Then there are actual sales attributed to the iPad and PowerSource.

Kershaw claims salespeople closed several significant sales recently because they were in the right place at the right time with the iPad. These salespeople told Kershaw that they might have lost those sales because it would have taken them longer on the legacy path of selling.

"Based on early returns of the performance of the app, every bit of our ROI is going to be achieved and exceeded," Kershaw says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkanshige@cio.com

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