Feature Article

February 25, 2014

Mobile Strategy: Seven Secrets of Building Mobile Apps That Matter

The power of mobile devices is incredibly alluring. The smartphones and tablets that we carry have the potential to transform the way enterprises do business. They can empower instant communications and collaboration, enable employees and customers to securely access vital information at any time and place and extend mission critical business processes far beyond the boundaries of the enterprise.

Harnessing the potential of a smartphone or tablet, however, requires a critical ingredient: mobile applications. There’s a huge difference between trivial apps that go unused or fall short of their potential and the mobile “Apps that Matter” - apps that truly engage customers, empower employees and securely integrate with your enterprise data and systems to deliver real business impact.

Secret #1: Consider the Full Scope of the Project and Assemble a Winning Team

It is exciting to build an innovative app that extends a business process to a mobile user, or your brand to a customer in a new way. Diving in without considering the big picture and planning to do the job right can lead to real disappointment, resulting in apps that don’t do what they should, contain serious security flaws, can’t be maintained or are ignored by your customers.

To avoid these pitfalls and build an App that Matters, consider the full scope of the project, from strategy to design, through development, testing and distribution, to analytics and management. Determine whether your organization has the skills in-house or if you should look for a partner to assist in the process.

When evaluating third party solution developers, consider the benefits of working with an organization that knows your industry and your customers. Look for a developer who can partner with you to deliver an engaging user experience that seamlessly integrates with your legacy applications and data. You’ll need this to deliver the rich functionality that will set your app apart.

Your team should have proven experience across the following:

  • Strategy/Concept: Determine objectives, target audience, strategy, platforms and concepts. Develop clear use cases that define user behavior and functionality.

  • UE/Design: Create wireframes, user journeys and designs optimized for the targeted mobile devices.

  • Development: Choose technology and security approaches, including architectural requirements for back-end and social media integration, and develop the mobile apps/site across targeted platforms in iterations, allowing for testing throughout the process.
  • QA/Test: Test the mobile app/site across the target devices with planned use cases.
  • Distribution: Launch and submit the app to your own enterprise app store. Promote the app appropriately to drive adoption.
  • Operations and Analytics: Monitor the performance of the app/site, maintain and update based on user feedback.
  • Management and Enhancement: Securely manage and monitor app access and use, apply security patches and upgrades as needed. Respond to security threats by locking, disabling or deleting apps and related data.

Secret #2: Keep Your Development Agile

Mobile app development can, and should, be far more nimble than typical enterprise application development projects. Ease of use is at the heart of a successful mobile app, and it is impossible to capture it comprehensively at the requirement definition stage. An iterative approach will enable you to repeatedly refine functionality and user experience to arrive at a result that is more seamless, functional and fun than an app with a more structured, monolithic approach.

A key to an agile development approach is to agree with stakeholders on core functionality as early as possible and do early customer road testing. Once this step is done, secondary functions can be developed. It’s essential to maintain a continuous, transparent dialog between the development team and stakeholders, discussing the actual product, not just specifications. This process enables the development team to deliver the right product at the right time with exceptional quality.

  • Product Backlog: The development process begins with an initial Product Backlog - a set of features and functionality to be delivered in the app.

  • Sprint Planning Meeting: With the Product Backlog in hand, the development team proceeds in a series of sprints. In a Sprint Planning Meeting, the development team meets briefly to plan the steps and responsibilities for developing the first set of functionality.

  • Daily Work Cycle: The team establishes a daily work cycle that enables daily reviews of app functionality and design. This ongoing involvement prevents development from going off course and often leads to joint discovery of user experience enhancements.
  • Product Increment: The app is developed in increments. Each increment produces a new set of features, functionality or design that can be reviewed by the project owner.

  • Sprint Review: Here the development team demonstrates the work that has been completed and the functionality and design achieved, gathering feedback from the project owner and stakeholders.
  • Sprint Retrospective: After the Sprint Review, the development team conducts a brief Sprint Retrospective meeting to learn from the Sprint and avoid repeating mistakes. The meeting ends with a list of action items that have been agreed upon and will be implemented. Those changes may be added to the Product Backlog.

Secret #3: Keep it Secure

Keeping vital information safe and private data out of unauthorized hands when it’s everywhere is a daunting challenge. The mobile environment adds real complexity, and while mobile security is a larger topic than mobile app security, some guidance in this area is in order:

  • Start with the understanding that one size does not fit all: Different organizations, business functions and users have different mobile security requirements.
  • Address the whole environment: For apps that handle sensitive information, security needs to be considered and applied pervasively. Infrastructure, devices, user authentication, network access, apps, app stores, physical security, device provisioning, management, the soft aspects of security policy and governance all need to be considered.
  • Deploy the solutions that are right for your environment: A broad spectrum of protections can be applied to mobile apps. Multi–factor authentication, secure containers, mobile VPNs and more are used to protect sensitive information.
  • Make it practical: Making your mobile app security manageable, practical and effective is important. Making it easy to monitor and enforce security policies, update configurations and profiles and seamlessly re-provision devices is essential for security that actually works.

Secret #4: If the User Experience Isn’t Right, Nothing is Right

At its highest level, the team’s project approach needs to combine a clear understanding of project objectives and use cases, with elegant, attractive design and iterative development. Developing your app will require a broad set of skills and roles, all of which are critical. However, it’s the design aspect of building successful mobile apps that is often beyond the experience and capabilities of most internal development teams.

In the mobile context, your organization’s apps will compete with tens of thousands of beautifully designed consumer applications. These attractive consumer apps have set high user expectations for apps that are fun to use, intuitive and seamless. “Clunky” enterprise apps quickly give rise to user exasperation and abandonment.

Secret #5: Beauty Can’t Only Be Skin Deep

To be really useful, most mobile apps need to access enterprise data on demand from your back-end systems. Laying out a strategy to work seamlessly with back-end applications and data is essential. This method could have different implications depending on what the application is being used for.

However, many scenarios require significant back-end integration that needs to be thought through and planned accordingly. Depending on architectural design, the implementation approach can have important implications from a user experience perspective. Furthermore, social media integration, which was once a consideration only for consumer apps, is now an important feature for many enterprise apps.

Secret #6: Track It
Once you’ve built your app, how will you know if it matters? Understanding the performance of the app/site (downloads, active users, time spent, etc.) is key to understanding progress against the project objectives and to the improvement of application performance.

Online tools for live tracking normally include:

  • Downloads and usage demographics (country, operator, device, etc.)
  • Usage by feature/function within the app
  • Trends in time and behavior
  • And more…

Secret #7: Manage, Support and Upgrade

Now you’ve successfully designed, developed and deployed your mobile app. You’ve tested it thoroughly across multiple platforms and OS’s. But nothing is going to stay static. Platforms and devices are continuously being updated and upgraded. Users, who have varying skills and familiarity with mobile devices, may need support. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How will you provide the right level of post-deployment support?
  • Do you have the right organization with the right breadth of skills to support and train the users?
  • What about app enhancements?
  • Depending on how your app is used, you may want to include a feedback mechanism for enhancement requests and other feedback.
 

Finally

You can be sure that your first enterprise mobile app will not be your last. As mobile devices continue to grow in popularity and functionality, more enterprise mobile apps will need to be built. If you haven’t already, you may want to consider building a services-oriented enterprise architecture and a mobile middleware strategy that makes it easy-to-use and re-use enterprise data in multiple mobile apps.

Sam Ganga, Executive Vice President, Commercial Division, DMI. Under Mr. Ganga’s leadership, DMI’s Commercial Division has developed the world’s most comprehensive set of Mobile Enterprise Solutions, including mobile strategy, mobile managed services, mobile app solutions and integrated vertical solutions for retail, financial services and healthcare. The group has more than 500,000 mobile devices under management, and has developed more than 400 mobile applications in the last 12 months. DMI Commercial Division also offers Big Data Insights solutions that provide better insight, for better decisions, and better performance to leading Fortune 500 companies. Prior to joining DMI, Ganga was the founder and President of Leverent Consulting, a professional services company that provided technology solutions to commercial and government clients.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi


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