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Forrester VP says enterprise mobile applications miss the mark

Building an enterprise mobile application may not be the right focus for today's enterprise application development teams.

In his keynote address at EclipseCon last week, Forrester VP Jeffrey Hammond told application development pros that for the enterprise, "mobile applications are missing the point." In Hammond's view, the focus on getting enterprise applications to work on a mobile platform (such as iOS or Android) is short-sighted. Organizations should be focused on meeting the needs of today's users. And that means focusing on the intersection of engagement, operations and data (or systems of record, as Hammond called it).

Image goes here  Jeffrey Hammond,
principal analyst, Forrester

As Forrester's principal analyst serving application development and delivery pros, Hammond has experience with many different enterprise application development shops. He explained that the operations and data sides are well understood in most organizations, but knowledge about user engagement lags behind. Enterprise organizations need to ramp up their collection and analysis of user feedback to further application development efforts toward the best user engagement.

There's a shift in lifecycle focus, according to Hammond, and not everyone in the enterprise is focused on the same things. For operations folks, the lifecycle focus is on reducing time to safety -- we want to be sure the systems we've built will not fail, the airplanes will stay in the sky, the trains will not derail, and Facebook will let me watch funny cat videos from the safety of my couch. For the systems of records, the lifecycle focus is on reducing time to certainty -- we want to know the data will be there when and where we expect it. For user engagement, the lifecycle focus is on reducing time to user feedback -- we want to know, as soon as we put it out there, what users think of our applications and what we need to do to keep users engaged.

Addressing these goals, according to Hammond, means implementing Agile principles and employing solid design principles. Hammond recommended building user personas and drawing out journey maps from the feedback developers collect -- or should be collecting -- from end users.

User engagement tips for enterprise mobile applications

Focus on user feedback over specific requirements. It's not just hard to come up with every single software requirement during the design phases and get them all right, according to Hammond; it's actually impossible. Get the software out to users right away and focus on the new requirements their feedback generates.

Build user personas to drive insight into who the users are and what they do with the application. We have to know the user in order to tailor applications to their actual user experience. From there, Hammond suggested building journey maps that follow users along their interactions with the software, which allows project managers to focus developer attention where it's really needed.

Wireframes and prototypes help project managers develop a feedback loop with users, Hammond said. He related a project where considerable time was spent between developers, project managers and users. The developers produced wireframes and prototypes that real users were able to see and interact with. Then, the users have concrete examples to explain their needs to project managers, who can in turn guarantee that the developers are actually developing the product that end users need.

It's also important to keep collecting more user feedback and continue to direct new development efforts with it. Hammond expressed his approval for organizations that are continuing to test in production. There's only so much testing that can be done before runtime. Now, applications are being deployed via cloud resources, they're being deployed for mobile devices, and there is a plethora of possible embedded clients that might access applications via the internet.

Hammond said application developers don't have insight into or control over those last-mile issues. It's nearly impossible to replicate actual runtime conditions for all those sources in the lab. Project managers should get their applications in production and then quickly in front of testers who represent the target users and can reproduce real-world conditions. These testers will be able to find the bugs that hide in the lab.

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