3 Essentials for Enterprise Mobility
Since launching our first mobile app to customers ten years ago, mobile app stores have grown from 100,000 apps to around 2.5 million today. However, while app development technologies and practices have matured, these app stores are still riddled with apps that deliver poor user experiences or, worse, invade the users’ privacy. And within an enterprise context, there are additional considerations that remain challenging, such as protecting intellectual property while allowing associates to use their own devices without locking those down. In this article, I will reflect on a decade of mobile app development within our enterprise and pitch my three “essentials” that — when managed appropriately — will increase your enterprise mobility success.
Essential 1. Design your user experience
Although smartphones had been around since the late ‘90s, it wasn’t until the release of the iPhone that we started seeing drastic changes in the presentation of apps on mobile phones. Apps were to become extensions to our everyday lives, enabled by devices with easy-to-use controls and an always-on Internet connection.
To help you define where your app should fit in, start by plotting the typical journeys your users make (for instance, “build my shopping list”) and highlighting key moments along those journeys where your app could provide task support or inspiration. Develop and validate your ideas, put them on a list and prioritize them (a backlog), and then try to define the minimal subset of ideas that — when combined — will make a meaningful first version of your app: the minimum viable product (MVP). Go to market with this MVP, listen to user feedback, and evolve your app iteratively.
The look-and-feel of your app is another essential aspect since it will impact user adoption and engagement. Bring in user experience (UX) design professionals that also understand your brand, and don’t let your developers design the UX — these are different skill sets. However, do make sure that your technology professionals are involved throughout the design process so that the technical feasibility of creative ideas is taken into account.
Essential 2. Unlock your systems and data
As you add new features to your app, the need for integration with other systems and data sources will quickly arise. While your MVP might have allowed you to take some shortcuts, soon after, you will have to start taking a more holistic and sustainable approach to app integration.
By being intentional about user experience, incorporating relevant features and data, and taking technology considerations seriously, you will be able to deliver apps that are both exciting to your users as well as being sustainable within your enterprise
To support this exercise, revisit your user journeys and identify during which steps external systems and data sources could be used to enrich the experience. For instance, we wanted to make it easy for our customers to see which of their previous purchases are currently on offer. And in another app, we wanted to equip our associates with improved product location information while they are picking orders for our customers. Through collaboration across product and technology teams, develop a blueprint that describes how these scenarios can be implemented by unlocking your enterprise systems and data sources through loosely-coupled application programming interfaces (APIs).
Try to offset integration costs with the value that will be unlocked: if your new feature leads to a higher conversion rate, then the investment may be quickly repaid. And by empowering your associates with more efficient tools, they can spend more time on value-adding tasks.
Essential 3. Manage your technology decisions
The ecosystem of mobile app development tools and technologies is extensive and can be rather intimidating. To help you navigate the spectrum, define a balanced set of evaluation criteria with key representatives from your product, UX, architecture, development, and operations teams. How good is the support for native device features, such as the camera, sensors, and gestures? How easy is it to share code and UI elements across different mobile platforms, and across web and mobile? How quickly can you publish app updates to your users? And how important are these aspects to you?
Develop a target architecture that reflects the outcomes of this evaluation, and that describes additional aspects, such as how you will deal with local and cloud data storage and how you will optimize content for mobile use. And if your app is targeted at associates, be sure to have an explicit strategy for mobile device and app management, network access, and integration with security solutions.
Finally, baseline the target architecture, disseminate it to your teams and use it as a starting point for all app development initiatives. By doing so, you will reduce the risk of duplication and technical diversity in your technology landscape and facilitate shared learning across teams. Govern your mobile architecture and standards through some forum or guild and periodically review them so that they remain relevant.
With most of today’s Internet traffic coming from mobile devices, the importance for companies to provide a robust mobile experience is unmistakable. By being intentional about user experience, incorporating relevant features and data, and taking technology considerations seriously, you will be able to deliver apps that are both exciting to your users as well as being sustainable within your enterprise.