Consumer applications have created a high bar for mobile user experience, convenience and functionality, yet there is a pervasive belief that enterprise apps should not be held to that bar and that development teams can cut corners on the user experience to get apps out faster. The truth is that employees expect the same great consumer-grade experiences in their enterprise mobile apps, but end up being frustrated or abandoned by clunky apps. On the flip side, enterprise privacy and security concerns have long been established, and now these same concerns also apply to consumer apps. There is no neat user-experience dividing line between mobile experiences for employees or customers.
This is a brave new world for the traditional enterprise, where existing development practices do not place a lot of focus on user-centric design, iterative development approaches or incorporating usage analytics to improve upon the user experience. How can enterprises leverage lessons from consumer-facing applications to create engaging experiences, while appealing to their internal concerns?
Three common themes emerge:
Focus on User Experience and how it can positively impact your users and workflow. Users expect high-quality, high fidelity applications—or “native” experiences. This requires specific mobile expertise, an understanding of multiple device platforms and the unique UX/UI approach of each platform. It is paramount that the application functionality and design requirements drive the technical approach rather than the other way around. Taking shortcuts and using a lowest-common-denominator hybrid approach may quickly result in delivering a less-than-desirable user experience, omitting key functionality or spending an inordinate amount of time shoe-horning code into the solution that breaks the hybrid model approach. Delivering an application that frustrates users with lackluster performance and poor user experience will do more harm than good. As Facebook and LinkedIn notoriously learned from their attempts using a hybrid approach, native mobile app experiences matter. Given the costs associated with mobile development, enterprises need to guarantee their audience will effectively and efficiently access their solution. The less native or responsive your application, the greater the likelihood that your users will simply not use the app, which could cost your business or further complicate the processes you were looking to streamline.
Take on device fragmentation and its impacts on testing, delivery and continued maintenance. The ever-increasing number of devices and operating system versions mean more variability in performance and UI layout, more intensive testing and continuous deployment required for newly released OS updates. Consumer apps must deliver an optimized experience across a spectrum of devices. Enterprises don’t get a free ride here. Most enterprise apps run on the devices employees bring into the workplace. This means that your enterprise apps must be developed and tested for the devices and operating systems prevalent in your user community. Using analytics, MDM statistics or even employee surveys, enterprises can determine the devices and operating systems their employees use and target their development and testing strategies to these devices. Where enterprise apps extend to a larger community, say your business partners, geographical market data can be leveraged to assist you in establishing your target device universe for testing. Using mobile test automation can greatly assist testing and catching cross-platform functional and UI issues and regressions – and ensure your application loads, runs and looks correct on every device in your target market.
Embrace User Analytics and the rich data it can provide to drive future development and application enhancements. Analytics empower organizations to collect real-time information and user trends, providing context for user struggles and the ability to quickly iterate to ease user frustration. Consumer apps are notorious for using data to drive design, assessing user behavior and making frequent, iterative improvements. Releasing a “minimum viable product” that meets the core business objective, tracking user actions and incorporating minor changes allows mobile developers to roll out new releases, updates and bug fixes on a consistent basis rather than requiring a complete re-write due to off-base initial assumptions.
Delivering a quality mobile application is a priority for enterprise organizations in 2015. As consumers engage with businesses from their smartphones and tablets while they’re on the go, your employees are also no longer shackled to their desks.
Creating engaging mobile apps that empower your employees across all divisions and roles while keeping in mind the need for a strong user experience, the devices being used, and the benefits of analytics can be of enormous benefit to your enterprise. The ability to access critical business information, and collaborate on the go, with a powerful mobile app offers significant opportunities to increase your company’s pace of innovation and to enhance customer experience.
About the Author: Steve Hall is director of enterprise mobility, Xamarin.