This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2012 issue of Next Gen Mobility.
In today’s enterprise technology environment, it’s about finding new ways to drive business value in the mobile space while keeping up with the rapid pace of change – and for many companies that means developing and deploying enterprise applications. Sometimes, enterprise app development initiatives are right on target.
But in other cases, new app development is either unnecessary or misaligned with legitimate enterprise needs.
So when it comes to enterprise apps, the focus has to be on innovating information in a way that adheres to best practices and delivers the highest possible value to the organization.
Tips for Enterprise Apps
Successful apps redefine workflows, even in non-tech industries, and vastly improve employee productivity. Over the years, I’ve found the most successful enterprise apps, at a minimum, should be capable of delivering a return on app (ROA) investment of at least $5,000 per user through increased efficiency, added revenue or both – in addition to a cumulative value of at least $5 million.
How can you recognize an app that will produce this level of ROA?
Understand the Mobile App Landscape
A recent study found one in five mobile users would rather give up their shoes than their cell phones. Along the same lines, a successful app enhances personal attachment to mobile devices because it genuinely makes life easier for users without complicated features or a high learning curve.
Before you begin developing any mobile app, you must have a thorough knowledge of the marketplace and how current apps are, or falling short of, streamlining complex tasks through mobile. With a solid understanding of what’s out there, you also gain better insight into what’s coming. It would be disappointing, to say the least, to waste valuable time and resources developing an app internally to find out later it already exists.
This doesn’t have to be difficult – test apps, do research, see what is out there to give you a better idea of what you need.
Look Outside Your Industry
An analysis of cross-industry apps can be just as important as the evaluation of enterprise apps that have been developed by your competitors. By incorporating other industry experiences, organizations can dramatically improve the functional capabilities and overall success of mobile apps. For example, using real-time video can deliver mountains of valuable data across multiple industries. In the agriculture industry, drivers use an app with video capabilities to transfer grain from silos to truck, reducing labor requirements by 50 percent.
This central idea can be applied in a number of other scenarios in completely different industries.
Have a Plan
In general, the more the organization invests in upfront planning and strategy, the more successful the app will be when it is deployed to mobile users.
Before jumping into an app, start out by laying out the details and direction of your strategy. Process is everything in enterprise app development. Identify inefficiencies and gaps in business processes that need improvement.
Also, developers must understand the data around existing workflows and back-end systems at your particular organization in order to design the app to communicate with existing technical infrastructure. Many developers don’t know how to do this and as a result, overlook a key step in the planning phase.
Above all, understand the ins and outs of your potential app and its impact before the first line of code is ever written.
Identify Opportunities in Existing Workflows
Identifying unique business processes that will benefit from mobile apps can be quite a challenge on its own right because many are often overlooked. Watch for signs of clogged up paperwork or inundated processes. Any workflows that depend on clipboards, binders, paper forms or specialized hardware (e.g. warehouse inventory or PoS systems) are excellent candidates to be replaced by mobile.
Likewise, workflows that present opportunities for the delivery of more complete information, shareable data, and remote VPN access are all strong candidates for apps provided the apps can deliver improved efficiency and business outcomes.
Companies with self-serve kiosks or information points of access, as well as functions that would be significantly improved by visuals and enhanced person-to-person interaction, like in sales, marketing, or at the cash register in a store, could all benefit with the introduction of mobile. Interestingly, these types of apps often reduce employee turnover.
Qualify Candidate Applications
Once you identify the areas of your organization that mobile apps could enhance, qualify potential app candidates and determine the business strategy the app will address, narrow down the target audience, and develop a marketing plan to promote the app. In addition, establish minimum security levels required to sustain and protect the information contained within the app and measurement tools that will assess the app’s success.
It’s common for enterprises to launch the app development process by asking if there are specific features of a Web application that should be mobile. However, as a rule you can only transfer 5 percent of a desktop application experience onto a mobile platform – a reminder that qualifying questions should produce answers that set realistic parameters for the app project.
Every organization is unique, and the case for the creation of a new app in one enterprise might not hold true in others, even for companies in the enterprise’s direct competitive set. But by strategically analyzing the intended purpose of the app and applying a handful of best practices, enterprises can maximize the ROA they achieve from their mobile applications.
Alex Bratton is CEO and founder of Lextech Global Services (www.lextech.com), a mobile application strategy and development firm with a special focus on the mobile workforce.
Edited by Braden Becker