Enterprise mobility is taking businesses to the next level. Customer service improves dramatically when employees at every stage of the sales cycle have convenient and immediate access to corporate data anytime, anywhere. However, developing enterprise mobile apps also opens a new set of challenges. To truly unlock the full potential of enterprise mobility, IT needs to develop mobile apps that are attractive and easy to use while providing the functionality users need.
Magic Software held a roundtable with mobility experts from around the world to discuss common characteristics of successful mobile apps. Participants included a senior analyst and mobile blogger, a CEO of an award-winning design agency, a leading usability and user experience consultant along with the senior vice president of Magic’s Americas branch.
Here is a summary of their conclusions.
- Leverage device capabilities that add value. Including features that make day-to-day tasks easier is critical for winning over users. Benny Oberlender, vice president at Puzzlehead UX consultancy stated, “Developers should consider the technical capabilities of the mobile device that can increase business efficiency including maps, GPS, camera, phone calls, scanning and the like. In addition [to] being simple, easy and fun to use, the mobile app should anticipate my needs and add value in new ways I don’t expect.” Developers should understand the intent of the user and the context of use. Context sensitivity delivers the full mobile experience with voice, GPS, sensors, cameras and every other capability of the device engaged. Kevin Benedict, mobile blogger and Senior Analyst for Digital Transformation at Cognizant explained, “Ideally the application should be aware of my Code Halo (personal data, roles, responsibilities, assigned tasks, etc.). Rather than wait for a request, I want the app to predict my needs based on its understanding of me.”
- Ensure satisfactory performance. While some participants thought user interface and performance were equally important, others put greater emphasis on performance. "The visual design of the app affects the level of trust in the system and raises the degree of pleasure users get from it over time. But in order to prevent user frustration, it is important to have an app that performs well and is responsive, works offline and is always available,” explained Benny Oberlender. Responsiveness and offline mode are essential foundations. Without back-end server performance, what good is design? Without an offline mode, what good is your app if users lose their connection? On the other hand, I can have a speedy server and an offline mode, but without an intuitive user experience, I will not have anyone using my app. Idit Mishan, CEO at the award-winning design agency Dogma and Yangrin added, “You either create an app that works well AND looks good, or don’t develop the app at all.”
- Maintain flexible development options. The Native v. HTML5 debate isn’t over. While everyone agreed that using native development technologies can result in a more natural and intuitive user experience, HTML5 development and multi-platform app development tools can be more resource efficient. Idit Mishan commented, “I can’t say it is mandatory to use native clients; there are companies who innovate and create new usage patterns. But sometimes, it’s a good decision to follow an already-existing structure … and use native elements for a better user experience and for a better chance of a successful app.” Kevin Benedict mentioned the importance of considering development costs, “The amount of value you receive from developing in a native environment v. HTML5 should be considered against the far higher total cost of ownership of developing the same mobile app in a native environment for three different operating systems.” It isn’t an either/or scenario. Tools like Magic’s multi-channel application platform make it economical to create and maintain native applications as well as hybrid HTML5 applications.
- Plan for integration with back-office systems. This shouldn’t be an afterthought. How an app lets users implement processes is an important part of the user experience. “It is imperative to consider data feeds and queries that are impacted by backend systems and integrations,” commented Kevin Benedict. “All of the features have an important influence on performance and contribute to the user experience.” User experience includes everything that happens behind the scenes: integration, reliability, security, and authentication.
- Deliver a strong ROI. Time-to-market, updating and maintenance costs need to factor into the ROI calculation. “A positive ROI cannot be reached with small numbers of users if too much time and money is spent on design,” commented Kevin Benedict. “You should deliver the best mobile app and experience as possible given the numbers of users involved.” Mobile apps need to be updated frequently due to the fast pace of change in mobile technology. Organizations that don’t keep up with that are putting their apps in danger of being labelled as out of touch.
Apps that are deemed a success bring value, utilize the device features users are familiar with, and can respond rapidly to dynamic business processes and changes in technology. Successful mobile apps not only deliver ROI based on increased efficiencies, but they also create strong user loyalty and enthusiasm for the value that IT brings.
Bill Swinslow's article about how CIOs should be looking at mobile as a business opportunity.
Glenn Johnson is Senior Vice President of Magic Software Enterprises Americas. Mr. Johnson is the author of the award-winning blog "Integrate My JDE" on ittoolbox.com 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.