ClickSoftware is offering a Library of more than 500 APIs that can be used as part of its ClickButler service, enabling businesses to create automated productivity workflows for remote staff and field service workers. Gil Bouhnick, vice president of mobility at ClickSoftware, spoke with ProgrammableWeb about the future of business use of localization and contextual data.
While there is much hype, localization services and the use of contextual data in app design is still in its infancy. There is some use in transport planning and traffic congestion, and at times overly creepy social media and advertising content convergence.
But much of the vision about what will be made possible from mixing data on personal interests with data on the location of the user still veers towards a future world where a mobile phone user will be offered personalized promotional deals right as they pass a particular shop store. Even AT&T’s recent partnership with Sabre - while enabling the convergence of timely personal data for app users while they are traveling - is still couched less in terms of updating flight information and more about giving travelers details about airport store sales deals.
ClickSoftware is bypassing the end consumer market altogether to focus on what information and data a mobile workforce would need to access on their devices as they move through their day and their workload. But ClickSoftware's vision around building new data services for its customers' staff could spark new ideas for a broader field of B2B and B2C API developers who are looking to create meaningful products from contextual, real-time data.
“Two years ago, we launched a tool called the ClickButler to provide a personal assistant to all employees using our ClickMobile product,” said Bouhnick.
ClickButler has been adopted by a variety of users, including insurance agents, sales staff, telecommunications and repair workers, and home care nurses. Some are using apps on top of ClickMobile and some are using apps tailor-made by their own companies, he said.
"We wanted to make a personal assistant service that will be able to offer support," he said. "For example, if you are running late, ClickButler might ask, 'Do you want to send an SMS alerting your customer of your new timeframe?' Or if the system knows that you are going to be in the one area for three hours, it may suggest you park in a central location to all of your appointments. Or if it recognizes you are missing a part you need, it can connect you with another repairer in the area who might have that part. Many of these examples are actual customer requests.”
The ClickSoftware Butler service seeks to manage three pressures inherent in mobile contextual data apps:
- To ensure a user-friendly interface that encourages use
- To balance what information is needed in a mobile device (on the client side)
- To manage appropriate data on the back end (the server side)
Much thought was given to ensuring that the application did not becoming annoying, like some applications we know, Bouhnick said.
“We wanted ClickButler to be deployed in a way that doesn't annoy the user," he said. "Remember how the Microsoft Office paperclip assistant [Clippy] would always pop up, and no one liked to use it? Now that staff are being asked to use ClickMobile, we wanted to avoid being the bad guy in that story. Staff may be being reminded to fill in forms or register where they are, so we wanted to be useful and be used in a user-friendly way that doesn't create an ugly popup that blocks how staff are using their mobile devices at the time.
Bouhnick points to many industries where time management is controlled not just in order to optimize staff rostering, but because industry regulations mandate standard break times. ClickButler apps are being used in these instances to remind staff to take a break at specific times, but Bouhnick sees this as an opportunity to create a beneficial end- User Experience: “Say there is a notification that the next assignment was pushed 15 minutes ahead. Since the task was moved, the system wants me to take a lunch break earlier. So here, the butler can appear and push a notification to suggest taking a break now, and maybe even recommend local restaurants or takeaway outlets nearby,” he says.
Client-side contextual mashups
ClickButler developers had to make sure that the service would be available in both offline and online modes.
“In our world, much of what we provide is client-side. ... Every butler must be able to work offline,” says Bouhnick. “If you look at a single user’s own data, that is easy, but when you take a bigger approach, and when one user needs to back up another user, then a client-side architecture won’t work. So we went with a duality approach, where as a developer you can decide whether to go with a server-side or client-side service.
APIs are key to addressing this issue, Bouhnick says.
"To enable this, ClickMobile includes around 500 APIs and events—everything you develop or configure is available by API,” he says.
Server side data management
“Eventually, all of this [the client-side data and the data drawn from API integrations] is configured as one app. But on the server side, we give an extensive choice of layers and agents. For example, we might want to create a notification that will identify when a VIP customer complains that a cable guy is late. On the server side, a developer can identify any event where this is the case. The developer sets up the ability to listen to an event, and, in many cases, when that event happens, the object is updated. When that object is updated, the butler is notified. Then you can use our APIs to create a new butler service."
There are three opportunities in server-side app creation for the developer, according to Bouhnick:
- Out-of-the-box app templates already created
- Configuration of layers and agents
- Code libraries and code snippets
Configuring workflows and business processes in ClickButler
Bouhnick notes that about 75% of the mobile apps being created by businesses using ClickButler are sending notifications to staff as reminders to complete specific administrative duties or tasks mandated by regulations. “For example, if the worker is stuck in traffic, the notification can either suggest a map or bring up the customer details so they can call and send an update to the customer.”
In most cases, business customers are already coming to ClickSoftware with clear ideas of their need for contextual data to flow into an organizational process.
“My experience is that business customers are very strict [about what they need], and they want to dictate the flows,” says Bouhnick. “Typically, they know what they want. For example, one customer said that if you have a few jobs in the same location, you need to park in the middle of the site, with a long parking time. Another company came up with an Excel spreadsheet with about 20 rows, with each row showing that staff must take a break at least two hours after clock-in but not more than two and a half hours after clock-in.”
The 'composable enterprise' meets context
ClickSoftware believes that its product model will grow as more businesses and enterprises grapple with the reality of making the "composable enterprise" a reality. The composable enterprise is an overarching business paradigm where many organizations are reorienting their data, functionalities and product/service capabilities into discrete units that can be composed into new business workflows by customers or internally to take advantage of new market opportunities.
“Most importantly, we needed the ClickButler service to be smart," Bouhnick says. "We have created a logic that is on both the server and client side, and that has API connectors to external world events—like weather, traffic jams, etc. And it is built in a way that starts very simply but is modular, so more and more butler elements can be added. In a few years from now, we expect a lot of the logic to be available in a library, like Lego bricks.”
Bouhnick insists that developers will be able to create contextual data apps effectively using the resources ClickSoftware provides. “We have official Documentation for all of our APIs. It is not as powerful as, say, Google APIs documentation, but we do have developer forum, we do have some documentation. The click app store where the butler APIs will be has two aspects: One is for businesspeople who want to know what they can do, so our app store has a catalog that can show some of the areas. Then, in the developer section, we have SDKs and code samples that developers can know what can be done.”
By Mark Boyd. Mark is a freelance writer focusing on how we use technology to connect and interact. He writes regularly about API business models, open data, smart cities, Quantified Self and e-commerce. He can be contacted via email, on Twitter or on Google+.