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An Employee-Tracking App to Manage a Mobile Workforce

September 15, 2011
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220313

TeleNav

Managing employees in the field has always been a challenge, especially for small businesses offering delivery or in-home services. Mobile devices provide employers with ever-expanding options for tracking and checking on the status of employees. But the be-everywhere-your-employees-are ethic raises issues about Big Brother in the workplace. Even tiny shops can integrate complex location data with their existing technology -- and must master the eerie art of finessing employee mobile privacy.

When it comes to "mobile management," you'll have to decide on how tight the electronic leash should be.

A third-party mobile app available on AT&T devices, including multiple BlackBerry, Motorola, HTC and Samsung smartphones, called TeleNav Track promises to provide even small businesses some fresh options for managing a mobile workforce. TeleNav Track is a location-based service that runs as an app on employee smartphones and is administered by a manager from a browser-based Web tool. Simply put, in addition to other features like time tracking and fleet logistics, TeleNav Track will tell you where your employees are, where they’ve been and where they should be next. The goal is to make businesses more efficient through smarter dispatching, which should hopefully mean faster driving routes, better customer service and fuel savings. And yes, to also help businesses keep tabs on employee productivity.

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TeleNav Track joins a growing field of fleet-management tools, including GPS Commander and Safefreight, both of which use GPS devices. What’s unique about TeleNav Track is that it’s offered and billed through AT&T as a smartphone app, which means small businesses can take advantage of this complex tool by going through their cell phone provider rather than dealing with yet another tech company.

We’ve installed the service on several phones in my small business and used it for about two weeks, here's my take on it.

What it is: TeleNav Track, which is billed through AT&T but administered by TeleNav, lets business owners manage out-of-office workers with a third-party app installed on employee smartphones. The app sends data back to a firm’s manager, who can monitor and record employee activities through a Web-based browser page. Managers can see individual data for each employee such as location, speed and what routes employees are taking. This data also can be used to generate different activity reports that analyze that data. Employees can even use their phones to clock in or clock out for time-card purposes, receive instructions, directions for their next job and access wireless business forms.

Pricing for the service starts at $19.99 per month for tracking location only and includes data. The full-featured premium service is $21.99 per month with data usage purchased separately through your AT&T data plan.

What you might like: You’ll know exactly, and we mean exactly, what your people are doing.

TeleNav Track brings employee data well past the micro level. The service provided simply remarkable transparency to our mobile work team. Deploy it right, and you can track hours and location for everybody and create reports detailed enough to satisfy many regulatory and insurance compliance issues. Telenav also offers the ability to push messages, jobs and simple online forms to employees. And even basic tasks like reporting expenses or getting signatures from clients are possible.

The mobile app can also function as a basic fleet logistics tool with turn-by-turn directions. TeleNav will even write software, for an extra charge potentially, that connect this app to many popular business software tools, including ADP and QuickBooks.

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Properly configured, this is a powerful, near-enterprise-level remote work-monitoring tool.

What you might not like: It can be rough on you. And rough on your people. Deploying this service poses two unilateral risks. One is retrofitting this new data into your existing IT infrastructure, which is time-consuming, expensive and more complex than it first appears. For example, if you run your expenses through the tool, how would you audit them?

And the other potential risk is what senior marketing manager for TeleNav Keith Halasy called the potential for “highly caustic deployments.” In other words, some employees could revolt if they feel as if they're given too short a leash. Having the most minute details of your employee’s work day available for general company consumption is powerful, dicey stuff indeed. Plan on your people having to be sold on such geo-tracking services. You will need, at the very least, a strict privacy policy, procedures on who can see what and when, and the means to enforce any new policy.

The other big drawback we found is the unstable cell network doesn’t always provide the best data. Going indoors, for example, tends to throw the location service off track. One of us was shown to be flying a quirky zigzag pattern all over his Tucson, Ariz., neighborhood when he was actually sitting comfortably at his desk.

Bottom line: Deploying a location-based service of this power is likely to require a major effort. But roll it out right -- with some major trust-building with the troops -- and TeleNav Track can provide a profitable solution to a host of different business problems, all in one mobile package.