A growing trend: Recycling mobile apps for new business areas

Companies are looking to modify and recycle consumer and business apps to help suit their own business needs. Credit: reduse.org

Sometimes modifying an existing product is better than starting from scratch.

That's an idea that recently caught the attention of Bruce Labovitz, the managing director of ADR Software. The company offers its flagship service, Workforce Monitor, to construction companies to help them keep track of the many workers who staff large construction sites.

The monitoring service uses RFID tags, large on-site walk-through RFID readers, and broadband networks to track the constantly changing personnel on construction sites. The monitoring is needed so that contractors can be sure that they have enough workers onsite to get their projects completed on time, and to help them manage their personnel day to day. Tracking personnel also helps construction companies prove they're meeting contract requirements, document safety standards, and meet other legal requirements.

"About 40 to 60 percent of all costs in construction are labor, and labor today is still managed with pencils and clipboards," said Labovitz. "At any time, you can have people from 10 to 30 companies working on your site, with different numbers of people."

It's a solid product. Yet the company is always looking for ways to improve it.

That's where a mobile app aimed at law enforcement got Labovitz thinking. He wondered whether some of its compelling features could be brought over for use in the construction management field.

DragonForce is a law enforcement mobile app from Drakontas Collaboration Tools that allows police officers to know what's happening in a live, dangerous crime scene -- its main feature is live maps that show the location of other officers to prevent friendly fire. DragonForce also includes collaborative whiteboards and situation reports that can be used by the officers during the emergency, as well as text messaging, shared file storage, and reporting capabilities that can be called in after the tense situation is over. It's used by beat cops, SWAT teams, K-9 teams, bomb squads, Hazardous Materials personnel and other emergency responders.

The person who built DragonForce, James Sim, was a childhood friend, and the app got Labovitz thinking -- especially its built-in collaborative tools and its real-time situational awareness features. Those capabilities, he thought, could  make Workforce Monitor even more powerful.

"We want to make it more of a tool to add workflow and show productivity of the construction workers," said Labovitz. "That's where the Drakontas tool sounded interesting to me. It's in a law enforcement environment, in a particular situation where a law enforcement team needs to be able to collaborate and simplify the workflow of managing a situation. But it also functions in environments where static infrastructure doesn't necessarily exist, where they don't have to tap into Ethernet or have power," just like a construction site requires.

"It would be interesting for construction workers to be able to use such tools to collaborate with an architect in one place and a builder in another place, getting them together to avoid delays."

Labovitz has had some discussions with Sim, and they continue to work to see if there are ways of adapting DragonForce for ADR's needs. "I have looked at different ways to apply bits and pieces of their technology," said Labovitz. "We're in that process. It's not a core need, so it's a slow process. Drakontas has so much functionality in DragonForce that anybody could look at it and come up with something they could do with it."

Sim told CITEworld that the DragonForce law enforcement app itself came out of earlier work his company did for the United States Department of Defense to equip soldiers with mobile networks and situational awareness tools in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

IBM and a wedding pics app

Another app developer, Justin Miller, the co-founder of WedPics.com, said his company has had similar experiences where business users have come to them to ask if they can morph his product into something that would work for other companies.

WedPics is an app that collects all of the smartphone photos taken by wedding guests and compiles them for a newlywed couple in a free account. Guests can download the app and log all photos into the newlywed couple's account, ensuring that the photos are collected into the right place.

WedPics itself morphed out of an earlier project called DejaMi, which was a location-based and  event-based photo and video sharing app that allowed users to crowd-source their images when attending the same events or being in the same place, said Miller.

IBM liked the technology and had the company use it in pilots for three worldwide conferences for IBM in 2011 and 2012, said Miller. "They used it as a single platform where all of the conference attendees could capture all of their photos and videos in a single portal. A lot of the attendees didn't know each other, but they were in the same place together."

DejaMi was morphed into WedPics after competitor Instagram began dominating the shared image market, said Miller. It was a move to differentiate WedPics in a crowded field.

So far, WedPics has stuck with the weddings market, but interest to use the technology has also come in from other industries, he said. "We knew there was potential outside the wedding vertical, but we knew the wedding community had a tremendous potential for us. The idea was to succeed there and move out to other verticals."

Other companies, including General Mills, have asked about ways in which the WedPics app could be adapted to their own desires, said Miller. "People are reaching out to us but we haven't fully addressed it yet. In the wedding space, you have a constantly replenishing customer base. To go into the enterprise space, we would have to bring in marketing and have to scale it. That's a much bigger mountain to climb."

That could happen, though, somewhere in the future, said Miller. "We built WedPics with the mindset that we could port it over for other things and that we will port it over. But it's not yet the time to do that."

These examples of the DragonForce and WedPics apps and how their planned uses can find new markets is great evidence that apps developers shouldn't be too hasty in pigeon-holing and possibly limiting the markets for their products, said ADR's Labovitz. "Developers need to look at their products as not only sellable in their totality, but in their components as well."

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