The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has prompted businesses to look at ways to harness the potential of mobile terminals. This has resulted in a major shift in the way people work.
ICT is able to achieve significant administrative efficiencies. In particular, it is able to enhance service provision through improved access to information from a range of sources, which in turn promotes regional economic growth. This is the approach that is currently being trialed in Hiroshima Prefecture.
This article looks at how the Hiroshima Prefectural Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry has adopted an innovative new tablet-based approach for providing on-site consulting services at client premises.
Promoting Regional Economic Growth by Identifying Key Issues on the Ground and Helping Businesses to Work More Efficiently
Through its 34 members, the Hiroshima Prefectural Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry is working to stimulate and promote economic growth throughout the region via a range of initiatives. These includebusiness advice and support services, local stimulus programs at the town and village level, assistance with business startups and restructuring, partnering on IT projects, and mutual aid schemes.
A major component of the services provided by the federation involves sending out management consultants to provide advice and assistance to small businesses that belong to local chambers of commerce. Providing member businesses with useful information, advice and suggestions can help even the smallest business to thrive and prosper.
However, there were a number of issues that needed to be addressedin the way that consultants visited businesses to provide advice and assistance.
"The consultants would generallywork independently of one another in providing advice on location," notes Hiroaki Sasai, Director of the Hiroshima Prefectural Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "There were limitationsin terms of consistency, sharing of information and ideas, and ensuring that the advice provided to members was tailored to their needs and circumstances."
The quality of the advice provided was dependent largely on the expertise and experience of the consultant, so it was very difficult for consistently high standards to be achieved. Also, consultants would often jot down details of the member business without properly documenting the information so that it could be made available to other consultants. As a result, it was often difficult to get an accurate and up-to-date picture of how each business operated and how well it was doing.
Furthermore, consultants were mainly using printed documents that they took with them on visits. During a consultation, it would often turn out that theconsultant didnot have the necessary document to hand. They would then either have to go back to the office to get it or arrange another visit. Also,the practice of writing up meeting outcomes back in the office was considered an inefficient use of time, and key information was often found to be missing, especially if the consultant had neglected to complete the write-up.
Fujitsu has been able to resolve all of these issues without imposing any major changes on the role of the consultant, simply by getting them to change the way they were working. With tablets, consultants are able to do the same work much more efficiently using the latest technology.
TabletsProvide Access to a Variety of Information, Allowing Consultants to Provide More Effective Advice and Support
The mobile consulting system developed specifically for the Hiroshima Prefectural Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industryis based onacloud platform infrastructure for tablets called FUJITSU Cloud Service MobileSUITE®together with the FUJITSU Business Application CRMate CRM solution.
When a consultant goes out on a site visit, the tablet uses GPS to display a list of businesses at the current location. The consultant then selects the relevant member to access information about their business. The tablet automatically records the time and date of the visit andthe name of the contact person.
Just a touch of the screen allows the consultant to automatically upload to a cloud database information such asthe type of advice provided, the status of the business and the document access history. The database retains a full history of consultations provided to each member. This historical data provides a good indication of members' needs and expectations. It improves the consistency of advice provided and enables more efficient collaboration between consultants.
The mobile consulting system provides an easy way for consultants to enter details on members and consultation visits, whichthey previously recorded by hand. Since the data is instantly logged in the system, consultants no longer have to go back to the office to write up meeting reports on a computer. This frees up more time for them to work with members, thereby ensuring a higher standard of service.
All the documents that a consultant requires are stored on the tablet, eliminating the need to carry around bulky documents. This also allows the consultant to answer a range of questions and queries with the right information at their fingertips. The result is more efficient and effective outcomes.
"The mobile consulting system has made everything so much more efficient," enthuses Mr. Sasai. "We can provide a much better service to a much greater proportion of our membership."
Basic information and analysis results for individual member businesses is stored securely in the cloud and it is impossible to access it without the appropriate authorization.A consultant who is planning to visit somewhere with limited or no Internet reception, such as up in the mountains or underground, candownload the necessary data onto the tablet beforehand,thus ensuring that the data is always available.
A Service More Tailored to the Individual Member, with Instant Communication Channels and Constant Information Updates
The mobile consulting system has not only produced more efficient and effective consultations, it has significantly improved communication with member businesses.
After every consultation, the member is automatically sent a short survey via email. Feedback from members is used to inform the consulting practices, while the survey process itself provides a direct communication channel with members, which in turn can be used to improve service standards.
The Chamber of Commerce smartphone app provides members with instant access to information about upcoming events and seminars at any time, as well as the regular newsletter of the local Chamber of Commerce. Surveys are commonly used to identify particular areas of interest among the membership. This information is used to develop services that are more closely tailored to demand.
"The tablets allow us to bring together information from a wide range of sources," notes Kuni-ichi Matsumoto. "Our members can use the dedicated app to provide instant feedback, which was a real issue for us before. Through the mobile consulting system we have been able to incorporate the benefits of ICT without any disruption to normal operations. The system has eliminated many inefficiencies and, by allowing us to provide a better standard of service to members, is contributing to regional economic growth and expansion."
Shingo Fujii, Business Advisor and Senior Consultant at the Kita-Hiroshima-choChamber of Commerce, meets regularly with members in the northern Hiroshima region to provide advice and assistance. He is impressed with the efficiencies generated through this tablet-based mobile consulting system, which he feels delivers genuine benefits to members.
"It's great for collaboration and information sharing in the workplace," says Mr. Fujii, "and it makes it much easier to explain ideas and proposals that we think will benefit our members. It has also speeded up the administrative processes involved in providing consultations. And because we are now in closer contact with members, we have a better understanding of their needs while they have a better appreciation of how we can help. All of this means that we are able to provide a better level of service. I feel that these tablets are a great benefit and I hope we can continue to use them."
The Enormous Potential in Data: Better Access to Data Translates to a Higher Standard of Service for Members
Highly valuable direct feedback collected by consultants during discussions with members can be utilized in a Big Data approach to contribute to economic growth for the region as a whole.
"The efficiencies generated by the new system allow us to gather more data than we ever could before," explains Mr. Sasai. "We can then use this data to tailor our consulting services more effectively to the needs of members. And we can share our unique insights and analyses with affiliated groups to extract maximum value from the data. As we continue gathering data, we will eventually reach the Big Data stage, and this will provide us with new insights that we can use to stimulate regional economic development."
The new mobile consulting system has improved the quality and quantity of efficient and tailored support and consulting services, and also provides a structure for gathering data that can be used to contribute to regional economic development, thereby improving quality of lifeboth in the home and at the workplace.
Fujitsu is committed to using ICT as a means of promoting new ways of working while contributing to local economic development.
Note: Position descriptions current as of September 2015.