Extra Fizz: Lessons From Coca-Cola For Building Mobile Workforce Apps

Soft drink giant Coca-Cola is increasingly relying on mobile apps to manage its supply chain and interact with customers. These are some of the key lessons it has learned during that process.

Picture: Getty Images/Aaron Davidson

Coca-Cola's rollout of tablet and phone apps for its workforce was one of the main examples cited during the keynote at the Salesforce World Tour customer event in Melbourne today. As well as customer-facing apps designed to promote its products, Coke also uses apps for its sales reps to interact with individual store owners and distributors and plan for future needs. "They've created an entire app ecosystem around what they do," said senior vice president Leyla Seka.

Coca-Cola's scale is unusually large and complex: as well as the parent organisation, there are five major bottling organisations worldwide, each of which has its own complex technology requirements. However, the lessons it has learned in developing new apps are applicable to a much wider range of businesses.

Centralise your data and diversify your apps Building a "one size fits all" app doesn't make sense. The needs of an on-road marketing rep are very different from a regional manager, and different again from a delivery truck driver. Building specific apps designed for each of those use cases makes more sense — and in Coca-Cola's case, each of those groups has sufficient scale to justify the investment.

Conversely, having a common repository for the business and customer data (in this case Salesforce One) ensures consistency in how information is stored and accessed. Building independent apps shouldn't mean hiding information away in silos.

Reuse existing components whenever possible It's much faster to roll out mobile apps if you use existing technologies to provide core capabilities. For instance, Coca-Cola uses DocuSign to manage sign-offs for deliveries and changes from individual customers — that eliminates the need to build an entire tracking system and the associated security.

Take advantage of hardware platforms Utilise existing technologies sensibly. For example, one of the apps used by sales reps is designed for "auditing" specific store locations, and assigning a "red score" based on their marketing effectiveness.

The app includes augmented reality capabilities that allow (for example) cafe owners to visualise what a new Coke-branded fridge might look like positioned in their existing premises. That takes advantage of the built-in camera found on tablets and smartphones. "It's a real partnership between Coke and the store owners," said Derek Laney, Salesforce head of product marketing.

Use cloud to scale up Building an independent back-end for an app used by thousands of people is a waste of effort even for large enterprises. Using a hosted platform shifts that issue somewhere else — you'll have to pay for capacity but you won't have to manage it. "Coke's scale is enormous. That's why we have Heroku," said Laney.

Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Salesforce.


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