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How to move from Web to mobile business apps

Moving from Web to mobile business apps goes beyond reaching out to customers. Mobile apps extend enterprise application functionality to mobile workers.

Solid mobile business apps offer only a subset of features available in enterprise Web applications. When moving...

from Web to mobile apps, a development team's biggest challenge is deciding which features to develop for mobile apps and how to deliver them. With the right set of functions in place, mobile business apps drive productivity, delight users and easily provide ROI.

It's difficult to create mobile business apps that are useful to users, even after the majority of features are stripped away. It's critical that the mobile application performs basic features -- and the more features it can handle, the better. 

In order to present a mobile option quickly, many corporations attempt to outsource mobile application development. If you choose this road, be sure to explicitly define the requirements. Otherwise, you might find that your mobile business apps lack key functionality.

Determine the five main features required

The first rule of thumb is not to reduce a mobile user's productivity. In other words, figure out which application features customers use or need most in a mobile device. Remember, some features may not translate well, so they may require additional development effort and creativity to provide the most value. 

For example, a mobile version of an electronic health record (EHR) application for hospital physicians needs access to nearly all of the EHR's features. Physicians need the ability to enter and edit patient data, such as current medications, as well as view existing information. Features related to patient insurance, however, may not be as important while doctors are making their rounds.

Determine which features provide the core functionality of the application and reproduce them in the mobile version. Reproducing a full application is unrealistic, so it's critical to pick the application's top functional features.

Include offline features in your mobile app

The ability to work offline is a required feature for many mobile business apps. Mobile connectivity has improved over the years, but it's not perfect. Users may not be able to connect to the network for various reasons. Don't rely on your end users having steady Internet connections -- even for the duration of a single session.

Mobile applications that provide offline features allow users to continue working in the application even though the application is not connected. Users can store work until they are able to reconnect. This is similar to saving work on a laptop, and then connecting to upload or send data to another location.

An example is allowing a physician to create orders for a patient and cache them in a file until they are ready or able to connect and update the record. Users can save email or text documents and place them in "draft" status until they connect. In this manner, users can continue working and save their work to upload for another time.

Provide configuration options

Another consideration when planning to move an application from Web to mobile is how many configuration options to retain. Development design needs to narrow down the available options similar to features. Determine which configuration options customers use the most and which match up with the features selected for the mobile application version. Make sure a feature isn't included without its configuration options. 

Similar to features, not all configuration options are necessary. However, to avoid reducing the mobile application's usefulness, it is critical to include configuration settings related to the included features. Providing useful and valuable features is essential for the success of mobile business apps

Streamline the user experience

The user experience on a mobile device is different than Web applications. But it's not just because the screen is smaller. Without proper planning, smaller screen sizes can force users to scroll excessively or click through too many screens -- both of which are distractions to avoid.

More importantly, mobile business apps need to be simple to understand and learn. Try to keep the mobile version visually similar to the original Web version, using consistent wording and iconography. Try to keep menu options in the same order to prevent users from having to go on a treasure hunt to find them. The simpler it is for the end user, the more productive they will be.

If a software development team needs to move an application from Web to mobile, it's valuable to take the time and determine which application features need to be present in the mobile version, and then create a development plan and timeline. Keep the end users in mind and how they plan to use the mobile version. Many times, slapping together a mobile version that only allows users to view data or records is not useful enough. Build what the application customers need rather than being restricted by available development time. The essential mobile application must be feature rich, function in similar ways to the Web app, and -- above all -- not create additional work or negatively affect a user's productivity. 

Next Steps

Deploying mobile business apps

Little demand for complex mobile apps

This was last published in July 2015

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