Take out your smartphone and start scrolling through your apps. You see a bunch of well designed, functional apps that deliver what you expect. Your workout app tells you exactly how many calories your walk burned, lets you report it to your friends on social media, and reminds you to take another one tomorrow. Now, what happens when you run a regression with your workout data and your cholesterol results over the past two years? I’ll save you the trouble of checking. You can’t do that.
One of the significant differences between business apps and consumer apps is that business apps need to be integrated into daily business practices, while consumer apps tend to be standalone. After all, an enterprise is a collection of interactive business processes. The data and processes in a mobile enterprise app don’t live in isolation. While a mobile business app may serve a discrete function such as expense reporting, purchase order approval or sales discount authorization, these apps need to work together as part of your overall business through integration to backend systems. Enterprise mobile apps must integrate securely to external data sources, whether they are located on premise or in the cloud.
Another difference between consumer and enterprise mobile apps is that many consumer apps are custom developed for one or more operating systems. Developing separate native apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile can be extremely expensive and time consuming. While consumers have come to expect native experiences, many enterprises can’t justify the cost of developing and maintaining separate custom apps for each OS and device type. (I don’t know about you, but I can hear the cash register ringing in my head as I think about all the upcoming efforts required to upgrade custom iOS 6 apps to iOS 7.) Even if one were to focus on development for only one platform, such as Android, the various Android operating system versions known by names such as Ice Cream Sandwich and Key Lime Pie require separate native development if you don’t use a platform designed to target multiple deployment environments.
In light of the BYOD trend, businesses need to deploy mobile enterprise apps on multiple platforms, but they need to do it in a cost-effective manner. This is why a cross-platform enterprise application platform approach is ideal. It lets you create apps for a variety of mobile devices and operating systems with a single development effort. And if the platform handles all the complexities behind the scenes and lets the user concentrate on the business process, the apps can be created more quickly. The app can still employ native device features and functionality and what’s more, it doesn’t need to be fully rewritten every time the device features change or the OS is updated.
Consumer and business apps also differ in go-to-market requirements. Consumer apps usually only have one chance with users. If they don’t launch with all the desired features and a beautiful user experience, they won’t be given a second chance. However, businesses are typically working with a captive audience. Sometimes applications in a corporate environment need to be “quick and dirty” to realize immediate and significant benefits in productivity and profitability. These apps need to have only one or two functions, such as purchase order approvals or customer record and order updating. They need to be attractive, with an easy-to-use GUI, because that is what employees expect after their experience with consumer applications. If they aren’t user-friendly, they won’t be used.
Ultimately, integration is the most critical requirement to receiving any sort of ROI from an enterprise application. Once your purchasing manager has approved a PO, for example, it needs to automatically be fed into the accounting or ERP systems, as well as being sent back to the requesting manager with an approval notice. The updated information also needs to be fed into the supply chain management system, which may be on-premise or on the cloud, and into the fulfillment system. A 2012 MGI Research Report states that, “the integration with backend systems …presents the biggest challenge and consumes the largest share of time and budget” for mobile enterprise apps. They estimate that the integration costs for mobile enterprise apps typically account for 70% of the overall mobile enterprise app solution. Therefore, it makes sense for businesses to consider an integration platform that is closely tied to their mobile app development process.
Process analysis, application design, development, and integration need to go hand-in-hand when creating enterprise apps. You need to ask yourself the following: What business processes make sense on mobile? How can the apps be designed to be user-friendly, efficient, and attractive while leveraging both native features for individual devices and creating app uniformity across devices? What business systems do they need to be connected to, and how is this most easily done? By working smarter and collaborating with those experienced in mobile business app integration, your enterprise mobile apps will deliver exactly what you need them to do at a reasonable development budget.