I had a chance the other day to participate in a Twitter chat focused on the mobile business (#mobilebizchat). The topic of the chat was focused on Enterprise Mobile Apps. A bunch of questions were asked such as what are the barriers to deploying an enterprise mobile app, what are some of the benefits of enterprise mobile apps, biggest hindrances of them and does BYOD help or hurt when it comes to enterprise mobile apps.
The major issue here though, was no one had bothered to define what an enterprise mobile app was and it made the conversation awfully difficult. There were lots of proffered answers when I asked what people defined as an enterprise mobile app but in many cases they were missing the point. An enterprise app is any app (public or internally built) that enables users to operate in the biz ecosystem productively. What’s important here is I removed the word mobile. We spend so much time concentrating on mobile and mobility that we sometimes forget the whole reason we built these apps in the first place. The whole point of an enterprise app is to be able to get your work done and enable the business to function and hopefully grow and profit.
When we throw mobile in the mix – we are talking about enabling the user to access the data that they need, whenever & wherever they need it on a device to get work done. We are talking about enabling the user to work on a phone or tablet and make their office wherever they happen to be. It removes the shackles that ties your workers to their desks and lets them do the work when and where it needs to be done.
This doesn’t mean that people don’t work at their desks. It just means that for some of them, that desk does not have to be in the corporate office. For others though, it actually simplifies their workflow and allows them to be more efficient and productive with their day. If you’re a salesperson, you may be doing your presentation on your tablet while on the run (ever done that with a laptop, painful), and then flip over to your digital signature app. You zap your expenses while paying for the bill. None of this requires waiting until you get back to the office. For the factory worker it may mean getting rid of paper and pencil and then entering the numbers in a computer, instead, doing it right then and there on the mobile device, maybe with actual instrument connections and feeding that into the system. In all these cases, the user was operating in the business environment productively.
One of the comments that came up was about developing enterprise mobile apps and how different it was from a desktop app. This highlights many of the issues that people see when they look at enterprise apps today. They see a monolithic app that does a lot of things and they have no idea how to scale it down for a mobile platform. They forget that the users on the desktops/laptops don’t like the monolithic app either.
When the whole point of an enterprise app is to make people productive, you have to use what many people refer to as a mobile first strategy. It doesn’t mean that you develop for mobile only, or that the app is vastly different on the mobile device versus the desktop device (functionality wise), it means you stick to the principles that seem to be moving to the forefront due to the capabilities of a mobile device.
The mobile first strategy for developing an app means focusing on the information a user needs when they need it and where they need it. An app is no longer monolithic, but does a specific function or two or three. A pharmaceutical salesperson that sells only one line of drugs shouldn’t be seeing the entire drug catalog in their sample app. It only makes it more difficult to do their job.
An app that is developed by focusing on the user and what they need to do and meets the business needs (many people forget this part, you must Know the Why!) should work on a mobile device. It should also work on the desktop. It doesn’t mean that you get rid of the monolithic app, but you are now giving your desktop users the same flexibility as when they are on a mobile device and chances are that at least 80% of the time they will use the smaller focused app. The fact that they can be more efficient and productive while at the same time not beating their head against a wall due to a well written monolithic app (they are all well written aren’t they?) also raises morale.
As I have discussed before – you don’t have a mobile strategy, you have a strategy that has mobile as a component, you don’t have enterprise mobile apps, you just have enterprise apps. A rose by any other name will smell just as sweet but it will still confuse the heck out of you.