Enterprise mobile apps: best practice tips and common mistakes to avoid
Analysts are predicting strong growth in enterprise mobile apps as businesses focus on “mobilizing” their workforces to improve productivity, business efficiency and customer service.
The pundits have been forecasting growth in enterprise mobile app market for some time. But surveys (CSS Insight) over the last year suggest real interest in business mobility driven by employees and business lines, rather than IT departments.
And this demand is growing five times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them (Gartner).
This column will examine what developing enterprise mobile apps involves, what types of businesses can benefit and what has been holding businesses back.
We also share some best practice tips from practitioners and the top 10 common mistakes made by enterprise apps developers.
Enterprise mobile apps are developed by companies to be used by employees, particularly employees in the field, including sales, delivery or maintenance personnel.
Such apps are also developed for business partners, such as suppliers, distributors, retailers, advisors and maintenance providers. These apps are not intended for customer use, but may impact customer service, directly or indirectly.
The purpose is to allow people to perform all the tasks they need to, digitally, while away from the office, via a mobile device. The goal is to improve productivity, communication, access to information and automation. The user may be in the car, at home, or at a customer, supplier or retailer site.
There are three types of enterprise app:
At present 50% of apps fall into the first category, according to Nicholas McQuire,VP, enterprise research, CCS Insight.
The remaining 50% are bespoke corporate apps, falling largely into the second category. CCS research finds that mobile access to back end systems grew 40% in 2015.
Clearly, in the latter two cases, there is a lot more to this than building a few mobile apps. This process – often referred to as “mobilization” of business or “enterprise mobility” – can require considerable changes to IT systems and business operations.
Enterprise mobile apps are being adopted by large businesses, such as Ottawa Hospital, which allows doctors to access and update patient records from the bedside (see: case study), but are equally applicable to small businesses.
London beauty stylist Blow LTD has a mobile-based booking system that takes orders from clients for a hair, nail or make-up appointment, via the client app, then automatically allocates the job to the appropriate stylist, according to their skills, availability and location.
Ned Hasovic, Interim CTO (via interim.team), Blow LTD explains:
Our approved and vetted stylists use our Stylist App to set their availability date & time and set their skills and qualifications (which we approve). All significant stylist activity is managed in the app, such as reporting to us that they are ‘Out to Serve’ when they are on their way to customer.
We use the notification services of iOS and Android devices to alert the relevantly skilled stylists, leading to the job approval screen where they see all the details they need. Most of the time the customer services do not need to interact at all with any stylist or customer, as everything is automated and pre-empted regarding matching stylist to a customer and getting the job done.
Before you start:
On design, Blow’s Hasovic offers six best practice tips:
And on deployment, Steven A Watt, chief information officer at University of St Andrews, Scotland, based on his experience of deploying a mobile app to allow field workers access to job management system:
The number of enterprise mobile apps will double over the next two years predicts McQuire at CCS Insight. This growth is being driven by employees and business lines, rather than IT.
80% of employees surveyed by CCS in February 2015 said mobile technology was critical to getting their job done and 41% of employees said mobile apps had changed how they work.
However the lack of suitable apps available from employers means employees commonly use packaged consumer or SAAS (software as a service) apps, including the file-sharing app Dropbox.
Employees using Dropbox for work has contributed to it becoming home to 35 billion Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, according to company.
Despite their keenness to use of mobile apps at work, 80% of employees have never requested their IT department for an app, according to the CCS survey. The majority expect the IT department to ignore or refuse the request if they did submit one.
Investment in bespoke enterprise apps is often driven by business departments, on a case-by-case basis, rather than as a corporate wide mobility initiative, led by IT, or a focused digital transformation or mobile team.
69% of company spending on mobility is funded from outside IT departments, coming from the marketing/customer service, sales and operations budget, according to another CCS survey.
This business focus can sometimes cause a problem for app performance and thus adoption, explains Martin Wrigley, executive director, App Quality Alliance (AQuA), an industry body that organization offers free testing criteria for mobile apps.
Often when people are developing a solution for a mobile device, the people doing it are experts in that particularly expertise, e.g. salesforce management, or coding core functions, such as getting the weather or stock prices; but not necessarily in the mobility or the behavior of mobile devices.
They’re very good at testing the functionality – i.e. that it gets the weather updates or the stock prices in a nanosecond, or gets the mileage calculation right, but they can forget that it is running on a mobile device in a shared environment with a restricted resources. The typical failings that people forget is what happens when you have an incoming phone call or text or what happens when you lose connectivity.
According to AQuA, the same quality assurance problems come up time and again for enterprise apps – regardless of app type, of development method (native, hybrid or browser-based):
The enterprise mobile app is a misleading amalgamation of two terms: enterprise applications – the monolithic software systems that run the finance, planning, sales, human resources etc. of large companies – and mobile apps – the small (usually) consumer-orientated software tools for smartphones. But there are important differences from both.
Enterprise applications are used for multiple tasks, by multiple types of user; while enterprise mobile apps are usually designed for one or a few specific purposes (like a consumer app).
Enterprise applications are usually server-based accessed via a fixed network from a desktop, while enterprise mobile apps need to be able to operate semi-independently, so they continue to work if the mobile connection become unavailable.
Consumer mobile apps are often standalone (with the notable exception, such as commerce apps) with little integration into backend systems; while enterprise mobile apps often require more extensive integration, involving adaptation of middleware and opening up of APIs (application programming interfaces) into corporate systems.
As employees and partners have diverse requirements, companies may need to develop considerably more enterprise mobile apps than they have consumer apps or enterprise applications.
Phil Buckellew, vice president of enterprise mobile at IBM explains:
The key difference between consumer and enterprise apps is that most businesses typically only have a single mobile app for consumers. Think about a mobile app for an airline. The consumer sees a single app that allows them to check in, change seats and book a flight.
That same airline would have many more internal enterprise mobile apps each with a specific function to streamline productivity such as airplane maintenance, supply chain, baggage tracking and selling items to passengers on board.
CCS’ McQuire identifies four challenges holding development of enterprise apps:
Todd Anglin, chief evangelist, VP technology & developer relations, Telerik:
One of the most costly mistakes is building the wrong app. Studies suggest that most enterprise apps fail because users never open them. The apps don’t solve the real problems users have in the context of their device, will end-up in the growing app “dust bin” we all have on our phones and tablets.
This is Part 14 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.
Here are the recent ones: