Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Developer’s Guide to Mobile Order Tracking Apps

Developing Mobile Order Tracking apps for deployment across multiple mobile platforms? When designing your app it is important to keep in mind the differences between order tracking and simple shipment tracking.

With a shipment tracking app we start with a tracking number and have a simple question in mind: where’s my package? These apps are very easy to build because you can simply pass the tracking number to the shipping company web service as a request and receive back shipment information from the shipping company web service. For a company like FedEx that ships 9 billion packages per day, there’s a lot of big data integration taking place behind the scenes of that simple Web Service request, but as the mobile app developer, you don’t need to worry about that.

As the developer of an order tracking app, you suddenly have taken on a much more complex task. Order tracking differs from shipment tracking in the following ways:

Multiple Shippers.  In many businesses, an order may be shipped by a variety of different carriers. Not only FedEx, UPS, DHL, USPS and other well known small package delivery companies, each of which offers Web Services for package delivery and tracking information, but also other carriers such as CEVA Logistics, DAMCO, and literally thousands of trucking, common carriers, sea cargo, air cargo, rail, freight and freight forwarding companies.

Multiple Shipment Methods. In addition to tracking multiple shippers, an order being tracked may have a variety of different shipment methods associated to it. In addition to common designations such as same day, next day, 2-day air, etc. you may also have alternate methods such as will call, in-store pickup, download, digital delivery, license keys and hold for further instructions.

Order Information. In a simple shipment tracking app, all you have is the tracking number and perhaps weight and dimensional information. You don’t necessarily have any information about the order itself: quantity, item number, name, description, price, etc. An order tracking app will typically have all of this information available as well. From an app design standpoint this becomes problematic because you obviously don’t have the screen real estate for all of this information. So even though your app spans a broader range of related information regarding the order information, you’ll want that information on a separate tab.

Multiple Orders and Order Status. Since you may be tracking multiple orders, you’ll want an easy way to find and display orders, usually by order number, date, or keyword search. The home screen for an order tracking app may indeed be a list of order numbers with most recent open orders first and oldest delivered orders last. Color or bold text on the order number can be used to clearly identify open orders versus closed orders. Partial order logic will need to be considered as well as this is a common scenario in many businesses.

Payment Information. Another tab to track payments related to orders may be desirable as well. As payment methods will vary, so will payment status and the way that payments are applied.  In some businesses, payment methods may fail after an order has placed. Such as a delayed credit card rejection. In these scenarios, you may want to highlight these orders that need payment attention on the home screen and also provide mechanism to the customer and/or salesperson to cancel orders in accordance with your business rules. When customers have terms and make payments after the fact, credit status may affect the status of an order. For example, an order may be accepted but not processed until a payment is made to return the credit status to normal. This is common in many industries and may need to be accommodated in your app as a business rule.

Salesperson’s Tools. Salespeople and sales management may also need mobile order tracking apps, since they deal with multiple customers, they may need to have an ability to see orders in a variety of ways: by date, by product or product type, by customer, by salesperson, etc. From the home screen, the salesperson or sales manager should be able to apply filters so that they see only such orders. User rights for salespeople, sales managers, warehouse and logistics personnel and customers will all vary. Keep role based rights and security in mind when creating your app.

Summary. In summary, an order tracking app will begin with a home screen that allows the user, based on rights, to see relevant orders. Drilling down on an order will normally display the shipment status on the tracking information tab along with the desired shipment tracking details. If information on the order details is desired, clicking on the order number in a shipment status tab will open the order tab containing order details, clicking on the order amount can display the payment/credit status information. Here again, color coding the payment amount green, red, etc. can help identify payment status at a glance without the need to click on the amount to open the tab. Depending on your business rules and user desires, a mobile order tracking app can be developed with any number of options. Fortunately, the Magic xpa Application Platform makes the creation of these apps straightforward and allows you to deploy them across multiplemobile OS including iOS, BlackBerry and Android. Then the Magic xpi IntegrationPlatform can handle back-end enterprise integration to shippers’ Web Services and your own ERP system for up-to-date information.

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