When the Mobile App is Included: Five Things to Consider

Mike Baca, Director, DX/Mobility Solutions, AmerisourceBergen
Mike Baca, Director, DX/Mobility Solutions, AmerisourceBergen

Mike Baca, Director, DX/Mobility Solutions, AmerisourceBergen

Recently, a decidedly non-technical relative of mine told me about a great deal she got from her wireless carrier. For signing up for a long-term deal, she received a “free” Android tablet (for a required $10 monthly data plan over two years). This deal was too good to pass up, she thought, as she wanted to upgrade her iPhone and was renewing her contract anyway. And to boot, she had been considering buying an iPad as well, so the cheaper tablet would save her a ton of money.

What’s not to like?

Trying not to burst her bubble (but doing so anyway), I politely asked her a few questions. What will you use the tablet for? Are you planning on sharing content between your tablet and phone? You’ve only ever used an iPhone—How do you feel about learning to use an Android device? And, do you even need a data plan for your tablet?

With each question, the bright expression on her face faded a notch and by the end she saw where I was going. To make a long story short, she ended up selling the tablet and buying an iPad mini (sans unnecessary data plan) that synched apps and media content with her iPhone and required no relearning. The point of this anecdote is not to knock Android (or even my relative), but the experience parallels a trend that I’ve seen regarding enterprise software platforms in recent years: “Buy our software platform, and we’ll throw in the mobile app for free.”

 Knowing your specific mobility use case and the capabilities of the solution in question will ensure that you are truly solving the problem at hand  

What’s not to like?

Maybe everything, maybe nothing, but below are some key points to consider before telling your relatives (or worse yet, your users) about your great deal.

Mobile First?

Understand the importance of mobility to your use case. How will the value and efficiency of the platform best be realized, via the mobile channel or the web channel? What percentage of your users will engage the platform away from the office? Essentially, you need to determine if the solution should be designed with a “mobile first” perspective where the functionality and user experience is highly optimized for mobility. Generally speaking, some platform vendors consider their mobile app an afterthought where their primary goal is to present a mobile, but less-than-ideal, representation of their web application.

Architecture Matters

With a little HTML5 and javascript, developers can create web-based experiences that run on both desktop and smartphone browsers thereby providing engagement on two channels for the price of one. While cost-effective, this approach will likely not be sufficient for cases where mobile users require a different engagement than your desktop users. HTML5 has come a long way over the years, and the native device feature-set it supports is growing. With an app-wrapping framework like PhoneGap, developers can create seemingly “native” mobile apps that approach the “real thing”. However, advanced exploitation of native features (such as advanced barcode scanning and BLE support) and a fast, highly-responsive user interface still require native coding. Architecture matters, and you need to understand how your vendor’s mobile app is constructed to ensure it supports what you’re trying to achieve both now and in the future.

One Size Fits…One

One obvious advantage of enterprise software platforms is their standard implementation and corresponding low cost. Software as a service is essentially mass production in a virtual world. The flip side of this efficiency is that it is critical for the vendor to maintain one standard code base that can be of value across all their customers. Their product roadmap is key to their profitability and growth, and as a result, they will pick the features to implement and the timeline. Need customization? Sure, as soon as marketing ascertains whether it will add value to our base product. What about taking advantage of the cool new feature released in the latest mobile OS? Uh, third quarter next year. Maybe.

To Brand or Not To Brand

Branding elements such as logos, icons, colors and fonts not only give your app an identity but provide the user with a sense of who owns—or takes responsibility for—the app and its value. Thoughtful branding gives your users a sense of familiarity and comfort, know that your company or department’s reputation is on the line every time they use the app. So, yes, the ability to brand or customize the look and feel of an app is a plus. However, it goes without saying to be careful about advertising ownership of a solution over which you might have little or no control.

Measure for Success

One of the great opportunities available with a mobile app is the ability to gather and aggregate a wide array of metadata about the app, its usage, and (by association) its user. Where are the users located when they use your app? What device models are they using? What functions are used most heavily, or more importantly, which ones are NOT being used? The success of mobility does not end with the initial deployment. Knowing who, what, when, where and how the app is being used is critical in assessing its value, making adjustments and growing adoption over the life of the solution.

Getting that off-the-shelf “included” mobile app might be a very good deal and fit your needs nicely. However, knowing your specific mobility use case and the capabilities of the solution in question will ensure that you are truly solving the problem at hand and not just checking the box that says “yes, we have a mobile app too”. Perhaps most importantly, you might just avoid a lecture from a skeptical relative.

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