Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Zen of Mobile Apps: Six Harmonious Tips to Increase App Shelf Life

The enterprise software market is poised to explode. In a recent Gartner report, the leading analyst house projects spending on enterprise application software to rise 7.5 percent this year to $149.9 billion, and to surpass $201 billion by 2019.

However, developing more mobile apps is not always the best answer. The explosion in mobile apps has created less than harmonious mobile experiences for many enterprise users.

Mobile developers often create an app for each individual feature rather than designing around a user-centric need to make individual work processes more efficient within a specific mobile context (geolocation, motion, time-of-day, and user behavior). Instead of trying to build an app that enables sales representatives to access work documents, it’s a better idea to try to make sales more efficient by improving the sales process. 

Background integration and process orchestration can eliminate busywork and put just the precise information needed in front of the user regardless of which giant enterprise software system it is stored in. By balancing between the overarching purpose and the specific context of the user, enterprise apps are more useful, cohesive and powerful.

Here are six things to keep in mind to ensure harmonious mobile apps that stand the test of time:

1. Avoid “I have an app for that” It’s important to prioritize apps based on the value that they bring rather than churn out one app after the other. Too many apps, especially when some of them have limited value, can result in a disconnected set of solutions that is difficult and costly to maintain, and also create a fragmented and confusing user experience. 

Organizations need to identify the app’s place in their organization’s digital transformation strategy. All new apps should support this strategy with tangible benefits and value. Avoid creating apps that are either too expansive or too limited in scope. Find just the right balance between capability and usability. In general, if two actions always occur in the same process by the same user in the same setting, then they belong in the same app.

2. Be Holistic When transforming a business process, it is important to take across-functional approach that breaks down “stove piped” divisions and focuses on enabling end-to-end processes within an organization. The process for taking and fulfilling an order, for example, may flow across sales, production, shipping, and accounting departments. Make sure apps integrate needed data and processes across all business processes, both internal and external, on-premise or cloud-based. Mobilize the specific functionalities that make sense, even incorporating different functionalities for different users.

3. Wow Your Users Be aware of the users’ device, context and reason for using the app. Include extra functionality and productivity tools that makes users’ lives easier, like Google Maps integration that lets employees in the field find the shortest route to their destinations or see what other clients are in their vicinity. 

Carefully consider the differences between smartphone and tablet uses. Where possible and relevant, managers should be able to see graphical dashboard views of important KPIs. Whenever possible, the context should be used to intelligently present wizard-like options and next steps rather than forcing the user to navigate from screen to screen as in traditional desktop applications.

4. Look Below the Surface Most of the important features of the enterprise app lie below the surface, including security, data accuracy, the ability to update, transform and synchronize data across multiple systems, along with the ability to automatically trigger processes according to specific changes, thresholds or actions. 

Your integration platform must be able to connect the systems you want, the way you want, reliably and in real-time. And your mobile app and server must be able to work in disconnected mode and then synchronize when back online.

5. Monitor Usage and Feedback Whenever possible, make decisions based on usage data and user experience research. Avoid making assumptions about what you think works best. Talk to your users. Gather hard data based on usage patterns and behavior. Prove the business case by calculating man-hours saved and improved productivity and innovation through new capabilities provided, reduced errors and improved speed of processes. Update the app based on all feedback and allow the app to reface itself based on context and behavior.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Abandon an App Act like a nimble start-up company, and don’t have reservations about pivoting your strategy. If you observe several months of low/no usage or results, don’t be afraid to abandon an app, merge apps or break them apart. Invest time reviewing and realigning business processes as well as the user interface and experience.

As enterprise mobility evolves under the greater digital transformation umbrella, there is a natural need to revamp apps and retire those that are no longer useful or relevant. Remember to look at the big picture:  mobile enterprise apps can no longer be isolated functions – they must be facilitators of larger end-to-end processes. With this vision in mind, it is easier to choose the right tools and solutions to support your enterprise app needs for speed, agility, and reliability.

Glenn Johnson is Senior Vice President of Magic Software Enterprises Americas. He is is the author of the award-winning blog Integrate My JDE and contributor to the Business Week Guide to Multimedia Presentations (Osborne-McGraw Hill). He has presented at Collaborate, Interop, COMMON, CIO Logistics Forum and dozens of other user groups and conferences. His interviews on software industry issues have been aired on the NBC Today Show, E! News, Discovery and more.

Originally published in App Developer Magazine

(Photo Credit: TanteTati/Pixabay)