Recent research conducted by Accenture indicates that “67% of CIOs and other IT professionals believe mobility will impact their businesses as much or more than the Internet did in the 1990s”. There is no doubt that organisations are constantly looking for ways to improve their business processes, with many turning to enterprise mobile applications to increase employee productivity or to inform their customers.

 

Mobile applications are everywhere. If organisations don’t stay ahead of the curve, they will risk putting their information in danger as employees use consumer-facing file sharing applications instead of more secure business applications.

More and more organisations are looking to create enterprise mobile applications for their employees and customers. The expectation is that these applications will provide a multitude of benefits across the business. A well thought-out enterprise mobile application can aid employee productivity by making their jobs easier, and in some cases, it can even revolutionise the workforce.

A common misconception is that enterprise mobile applications are indistinguishable from consumer mobile applications and that they only differ according to the target audience. However, it is important to note that enterprise mobility requires a different set of considerations than those associated with consumer-oriented mobile applications.

Enterprise mobile applications organisations should be building

Although mobile applications can deliver a multitude of benefits for organisations, not every aspect of a business is suited to being run over mobile. Imperative to any organisation considering a mobile initiative is the need to spend time thinking about what applications and services can benefit from a mobile application. This will ensure an organisation doesn’t waste time developing something that no one will use. For example, many mid and back-office services will not benefit from a mobile application.

Organisations should focus on developing enterprise mobile applications that:

  • Maximise the reach of an organisation in a niche market
  • Create and leverage an organisation’s brand image
  • Allow organisations to directly interact with customers
  • Enable remote access to business databases
  • Manage company processes, projects and operations plans
  • Improve workflow and processes within an enterprise
  • Provide consolidated access to data to help improve decision-making on-the-fly
  • Decouple people from their traditional workstation to allow increased collaboration with peers and team members
  • Interface with an enterprise’s legacy applications (e.g. time management software)

5 key considerations when creating enterprise mobile applications

When an organisation decides to develop an enterprise mobile application, they will need to indicate whether they will be building the application internally or engaging an external mobile development partner. Either way, to ensure the success of an enterprise mobile application, 5 key things need to be considered:

1. Goals of the mobile application

Before developing an application, an organisation should note the reasons for wanting to develop a mobile application. It is not viable to create an application just for the sake of it. An organisation should spend time to identify a need within the business or industry that can be solved with assistance of the mobile application.

Once the business objectives have been set, research needs to be conducted to ensure that a similar application doesn’t already exist. If an application does exist, a company can just utilise this within the organisation. However, if a new idea has been established, an organisation will then need to document what the mobile application wishes to achieve. This can be done by asking a variety of questions including:

  • What are the business problems that an organisation is attempting to solve?
  • Who are the users being targeted by the mobile application?
  • What will the mobile application do at a very detailed level?
  • What will be the overall architecture of the mobile application?
  • What systems within an organisation will be connected with the mobile application?

2. Framework of the mobile application

When considering which operating systems to optimise the application for, an organisation has a few options: iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Depending on what the mobile application is set to achieve, each operating system has a wide range of features that an organisation can take advantage of.

The next decision to make is whether to create a native application or a web application designed for a mobile device. Native applications are often distributed through App Stores and live on the mobile device of the user. On the other hand, mobile website applications (HTML5 applications) make use of a web browser to access the application. In this case, the user can access the mobile website application as long as they are connected to the internet. In other words, it provides the ability to “build once and deploy to many” and is suitable for organisations looking to target a range of devices.

For the majority of organisations, it is easier, cheaper and faster to develop a HTML5 version of the website designed specifically for mobile. Native applications are often used if an organisation requires specific controls or inputs that are only available on certain devices, such as GPS location data, accelerometer data, camera, and multi-touch screen. For example, if you are pushing reports to your sales force in the field, this can be done with HTML5. If you want to show a map of your sales rep’s customer accounts within a radius to make the experience more interactive, you would need to create a native mobile application.

If a company decides to build native mobile applications, they have the option to build the application for a specific platform or to utilise a cross-platform compiler, such as Titanium, to allow the application to be accessed across the various platforms.

3. Features of the mobile application

Once an organisation has decided on the platform/s, operating system/s and type of application they want to develop, they need to determine which features they want the application to entail. At the forefront of every decision should be the user experience. Every employee or customer that uses the mobile application will have different expectations as to what amounts to a good user experience and ultimately a good application.

To enhance the user experience, standard features of mobile applications should be featured as part of the application. For example, a nice splash page graphic on launch of the mobile application, landscape/portrait orientation on iPads, and pinch and swipe for zoom and pan are standard features often associated with mobile applications. The familiarity of these common features helps to make the user feel comfortable with utilising the application.

Additionally, organisations may wish to utilise in-context based features, i.e. those features that are provided by the actual mobile device. The enterprise mobile application can incorporate various in-device features such as 3G or LTE, camera, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and near field communication sensors. These features can be used in basic situations, for things like reorienting the display if the device is tilted, or for more complex situations, like allowing users to snap a picture and upload it straight into the system, or enabling real-time updates based on location features. An organisation may also choose to integrate third-party applications into the business mobile application such as mapping and traffic information or social media feeds.

A common mistake that organisations make is to copy the interface from a desktop application directly to the mobile application. Doing this often leads to an application that is unintuitive and hard to manage. Mobile devices often exhibit less processing resources and very different input mechanisms and as such, the mobile application should not be a direct copy of the desktop application. It is important to consider the different form factor and screen size provided by mobile devices when developing enterprise mobile applications.

4. Implementation and management of the mobile application

Now that the enterprise mobile application has been created with all the features that an organisation requires, it is ready to be implemented across the organisation. Organisations can either choose to provide the application on a publicly available App Store or on a private App Store using tools such as AirWatch.

Organisations that develop enterprise mobile applications using iOS are able to sign up for Apple’s Enterprise Program which enables them to distribute proprietary applications to employees and other members of the organisation. For organisations deploying the application to more than 100 users, it may be useful to consider using robust tools such as Apperian or AppCentral.

Other things that organisations should consider during the implementation stage include data storage, authentication, authorisation and security. Questions such as the following need to be asked: Will the data be stored locally on the device and encrypted? Who will be able to access the data? How will an organisation control access to the application and the associated sensitive data?

The ease with which mobile devices can be lost or stolen makes security and governance even more imperative when developing a mobile application for an enterprise. The application may provide access to sensitive corporate information so it should be held to the same scrutiny as desktop applications. In some cases, the enterprise mobile application enables access to internal web-services, which places internal information security at risk. Therefore, it is critical for an organisation to establish a strategy for securing the enterprise mobile application, without minimising the security of the overall organisation.

5. Feedback and evaluation of the mobile application

User feedback is paramount throughout the entire mobile application development process. How quickly an organisation reacts to the ever evolving user requirements will play a role in determining the success of the mobile application.

The end-user, whether it be employees or customers, should be involved before, during and after the deployment of an enterprise mobile application. One way to do this is to include a feature within the application that enables the user to report bugs and provide suggestions on how the application can be improved. Involving the user throughout the process is likely to encourage rapid adoption of the mobile application.

In addition to this, the various operating systems release updates on a frequent basis which means the enterprise mobile application may need to be updated and tested on these new versions to ensure compatibility. Continually monitoring and updating the application according to these upgrades, as well as how users react to the mobile application, will enable an organisation’s success in the enterprise mobile development space.

Conclusion

When developing enterprise mobile applications, it is often easy to be consumed in the mobile tech jargon rather than focusing on ensuring the success of the application. First and foremost, it is essential for a business to understand the user’s pain points and how the mobile application will help to resolve these. Conveying this to the user base will assist in faster adoption rates and happier users.

Regardless of the technical decisions around the development of the mobile application, success will depend on how the mobile application is a differentiator for an organisation. The most important thing is to ensure the mobile application meets the needs of the enterprise.

References

Peacock, M., Trends in Enterprise Mobile App Development, 2013 – (CMS Wire)

Kant, A., Making sense of Enterprise Mobility, 2013 – (Telerik Helper)

Quimet, M., Report: Enterprise Mobility will Become $140 Billion Market by 2020, 2013 – (Visage Mobile)

Padir, K., Smart Tips for Enterprise Mobile App Development, 2013 – (Wired)

Peters, E., 3 Misconceptions of Enterprise Mobile App Development, 2012 – (Mendix)

Developing a Mobile Application for Enterprise: Things to Consider, 2012 – (Slideshare)