You’ve decided to open up your organization to BYOD — so what’s next? Along with mobile devices comes the need for mobile apps.
One question that constantly arises: Which of our business applications should be made available on a mobile platform? While common apps that employees use every day (like CRM) are solid contenders, not every app will – or should – be available as an app. Think about the practicality of filling out a timesheet spreadsheet on a smartphone.“There are apps that help you with the day-to-day business, like CRM, tracking and ordering — ones that you want to get into the hands of your ever-increasing mobile workforce,” said Doug Sekus, director of business development for servers and virtualization with Softchoice.
There are other apps to consider too – like those that get you closer to customers and employees. “Because of the proliferation of mobile devices, smart companies are leveraging mobility in more creative ways, not just putting apps into a mobile format,” said Sekus.
While there’s often a misperception that apps can simply be extended to a mobile format, it’s not quite that easy. They likely need to be re-written or built from the ground up for a new form factor, potentially across several operating systems (depending on the company’s BYOD strategy).
If a company has its own development team, re-writing those apps or build new ones is one option. If an organization doesn’t have the internal resources or know-how, hiring a company specializing in this area is the best option.
There’s more than one approach to developing mobile apps. One is to develop brand-new apps that are specifically targeted to mobile devices. “If you develop apps that run on an iPhone, the advantage is you have a lot of control — you can develop for the device itself and leverage features such as GPS, Compass and Address Book,” said Sekus.
Sekus does caution that while this allows you to build a richer user experience, it also means you’re developing for a single device, which could lead to higher development costs — and may not fit in with your BYOD policy.
Web technologies like HTML5 have matured to the point where you can create meaningful apps just by pointing the mobile device at a web browser, said Sekus.
For the most part, companies are taking a cross-development approach that includes any mobile platform, whether that’s iOS, Android, Windows or BlackBerry — though this can also drive up development costs.
“One of the most important aspects of mobility is the user experience,” said Sekus. “Mobile users have very little patience — if you don’t offer a good user experience people will abandon the app.” Employees and customers alike will bypass the investment you’ve made in your brand because another app is simply easier to use.
“When developing an app for mobile devices, it has to be simple, it has to be purpose-built and it has to be limited in functionality,” he said. “Most business apps are too complicated.”
Developers should consider what they’re trying to accomplish. “Are you going to offer your users something they actually want and is there real value in delivering that mobile solution?” said Sekus. A CRM app, for example, offers myriad capabilities. On a mobile device, however, an employee might only need it to access customer information while they’re on the road.
“Taking the full functionality of an app to a mobile device is a flawed strategy,” said Sekus. “Consider the pieces of that app you’d like to take out to a mobile device, and then optimize that content from a viewing and performance perspective.” This may require writing new apps based on those pieces, he added.
That doesn’t mean you can’t offer users a rich, meaningful experience — you can keep it simple, but integrate maps, video, GPS, NFC or other tools to build a richer user experience.
The key to success is to solicit feedback from the people who use those mobile apps and to keep evolving them. “Once you’ve figured out why you want to do this, then you can put measurement criteria around it to see if you’re succeeding,” said Sekus. “The outcome is tied to why you’re doing this in the first place.”