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.

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Tue, December 20, 2011

CIO — 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.

"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.

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.

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