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Strategies for developing business mobile apps

Everyone wants mobile applications that improve productivity in the enterprise. Here's what you need to think about before developing business mobile apps.

It's the Holy Grail for enterprises: developing business mobile apps that actually increase employee productivity...

while also helping grow the business. It can be done, but it has to be thoughtful and process-driven. Developing mobile apps can be a big win for an enterprise if the right investments in time and money are made and, of course, employees are trained to take advantage of them.

Because it's not a straightforward process, it's tempting to take the easy way out by paying a third party to create a simple viewer tool to appease customers and employees until the real deal can be designed and produced. Is a viewer worth the investment? Can viewing provide a satisfactory experience that will keep customers and employees happy and productive? Probably not, but it depends on the need.

For example, if a physician order entry application provided its user base with a mobile application to view patient information, that might be sufficient. It would be useful and valuable to view patient data on a mobile phone, but if a doctor can't order a lab test or an X-ray at the same time, it might not be useful enough. Viewers don't improve, reduce or make a physician's workflow more effective or efficient.

For a different perspective, think about an investment trader in charge of an active fund. A mobile app lets a trader view a customer's investments, email and the latest trading statistics. Again, yes, the app is useful, but without being able to take action directly is it valuable enough? If there's a problem, the investor has to get back to a Web or desktop connection in order to take any action to correct the situation. Same thing with our physician user: Do we really want to wait until a physician can connect to a desktop device to take any action?

Access is where it's at

Useful business mobile apps must allow users to be able to do something in order to be valuable. Users need actual, actionable access to business functionality in order to get tasks done. Providing a data viewer is not enough. Developing business mobile apps at this level takes time and it may be impossible to provide a fully functioning application in this format. A business needs to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine which functions are critical for use in a mobile application.

An important consideration with access is what functionality is usable when there is no active connection. It's important to sift through and decide which actions a user can take and have that data saved on the device until a physical connection is made. The ability to upload and download is critical, as is the ability to save large files either on the device or to a connected cloud space. Another concern is security. How much security do you need? It's often more than you suspect. Spend the time to fully flesh out the design considerations and develop robust security that keeps your application, its data and its users protected.

Productivity matters to end users

The whole point of providing a functional enterprise business application is to improve productivity significantly. In order to boost productivity, users need actionable functions, secure access and a high-quality product. Quality issues or defects frequently cause end users to create workarounds that require time away from business tasks or add time to business tasks. Sometimes defects actually cause duplicate work efforts. The result is not improving productivity but rather providing a mobile application for show that's not truly useful.

Testing mobile applications is an inherent part of development and improving productivity. Plan time to test mobile applications on various devices, platforms and build levels. Consider testing back at least one release in order to ensure functionality is not lost when mobile device companies release new versions. It's critical for end users to not go backwards. As end users, we expect to go forward and, in the mobile age, we aren't particularly tolerant of non-compliance. When developing mobile apps, provide the functionality that offers the greatest value for end users so they remain productive.

Developing business mobile apps with long-term value

Mobile applications will be most valuable if they make users more productive. And it all works together -- great apps help create and support a stable user base and there is a greater incentive to steadily improve the application's functionality. Plan the functionality in a manner that supports long-term development and application growth so users stay interested in the application. They will stay interested only if the application provides useful functionality.

It's not good business to tie users' hands and make them unable to perform basic functions in a mobile application. Design and timeline discussions with developers and testers can give you a realistic vision of how long it will take to provide key features. It is a vital business decision: Do we create a viewer or do we spend the time to create a mobile application that does more than view data? I vote for providing actionable functionality, any day. Users don't like being denied action or access. Grow the business by developing mobile apps that provide meaningful functionality users need in a quality manner with as few defects as possible. Provide functions that work when the device is not connected so users can remain productive. Spend the time to develop business mobile apps that are useful and productive.

Next Steps

Moving from Web to mobile business apps

Tips for mobile app deployment

This was last published in July 2015

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How do you ensure your mobile business apps offer required functionality?
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We indentify the scope of mobile situation inside the whole process that is related to it. Then we filter out the only needed information and built a UX around it. Focusing on mobile UX, that is the key finally.
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We don't build apps, but we use and recommend them; in fact many are at the core of our business. We review, we select, we use. Then we get user feedback. It's an ongoing process that delivers great results.
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Overall, the only way to ensure that your apps are meeting the need is to continuously ask "are our apps meeting your needs?" It's not enough to just ask is the functionality there, but it is easy to use, can workflows be accomplished efficiently, and are we taking advantage of new insights as we learn them?
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