There’s an (enterprise) app for that

The drastic behavioural shift induced by the new app economy still has some enterprises struggling to deliver mobile apps to their workforce. It is time to close the app gap.

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It doesn’t seem that long ago but the arrival of the iPhone in January 2007 marks nearly eight years since mobile computing took off in a commanding way. With the first true smartphone, Steve Jobs introduced the world to mobile and took it by storm. The notion of “there’s an app for that” has become an established concept in our daily lives. Living without apps? Inconceivable.

This drastic behavioral shift has not only changed where we compute but also how we access and manage enterprise data – and that certainly includes employees’ expectations, especially those of new entrants into the workplace.

Yet, recent research conducted by Dynamic Markets and salesforce.com found that only one in five of British employees use mobile apps for work-related activity, which raises the question: Why aren’t more employees embracing mobile apps at work?

Too often, the enterprise app user experience is much weaker when compared to the consumer apps that people are now so accustomed to using. The contrast often can be so great that many simply don’t want to use their business apps. In other cases, enterprise apps just don’t help tackle the daily challenges the employees face. And with so many app choices, end users don’t always know which apps will both get the job done and be secure.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our partners and enterprise customers about avoiding the pitfalls of enterprise app development and successfully closing the workplace app gap.

Design for mobile only

Firstly, it’s critical that businesses don’t approach user workflow and user experience (UX) for mobile in the same way as desktop. In the past few years we’ve witnessed consumer app developers designing and building apps from the ground up as mobile apps, while enterprise mobile development teams have typically treated mobile apps as extensions of their desktop apps. This needs to change.

In the age of mobile, the enterprise app experience needs to be seamless with a mobile experience, so that it rivals that of consumer apps. This means taking full advantage of mobile features such as taking photos, location tagging, audio recording, social sharing, and so on. Simply being able to view and edit documents is not enough and doesn’t provide a convincing enough use case for enterprise mobile apps. In addition, the data must easily synchronise with, and be able to update, existing corporate data.

Another mistake that we commonly see is enterprise mobile teams trying to “boil the ocean” as they develop their apps. They try to build the biggest, most feature-rich apps they can. But that’s not the best way to win at mobile. What is really converting employees into app fans is providing a great experience that solves a problem – yes, sometimes just one problem – for the user. Most users will only want to engage with these apps for a micro-moment to get something done quickly.

Some of the best consumer apps your workers use are spectacular at solving a single item: consider Shazam, Evernote, MyFitnessPal, most Weather apps, Swarm, Pandora… and the list goes on. In mobile, it’s about solving something very well. It’s not about taking complex desktop apps and porting them to a smartphone, which is what many enterprise app developers do in the beginning.

Build it, and they will come

Building a great app doesn’t support the business if no employee uses it. IT managers are still faced with the challenge of getting the right apps into the hands of end users across the enterprise. In the consumer world, downloading an app is simple – go to an app store from a phone or laptop, tap the “install” button and, in a matter of seconds, the app is on the device and available to use.

In the enterprise, before employees can even install an app, they must first check to see if the app is supported. They then need to log a ticket with IT, wait for access and, on top of that, remember multiple passwords to access all the apps that get installed. To help end users and employees make sense of the confusion, companies recognise that they need a single place to consolidate and showcase apps so they can be instantly distributed to employees, across any device, providing them with access to the apps they need.

This is why more enterprises are taking a page from the consumer app playbook and creating enterprise app stores. Not all apps need to be available to everyone, though; IT managers can restrict access to apps on a department, device, or user-level. This not only helps employees to find the apps they really need but also prevents them from using uncertified apps at work and breaching governance.

However, implementing an enterprise app store doesn’t automatically guarantee widespread adoption – it’s the content you offer within that store that really matters. In other words, organisations must focus on delivering a compelling app experience and a certain amount of design flair. If the apps they create are clunky and unattractive and, as a result, aren’t being used, then the enterprise app store won’t be open for business for very long.

Posted by Adam Spearing, VP Platform EMEA, salesforce.com

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