Mobile apps are set to revolutionise business

Mobile apps have changed the way we shop, travel, eat and entertain ourselves – now they are transforming the way we work

Enterprise apps used in the workplace are set to explode over the next few years when smartphones replace the desktop computer as the ultimate office management tool.

While businesses have on average five to ten apps at present, this is expected to increase to more than a hundred in a few years.

From apps to manage simple tasks such as e-mail, calendars and contacts to more complex areas such as sales support, internal communications and productivity, there will be an app for everything.

Mobile transformation raising questions

With the launch of 5G expected in 2020 and the arrival of the internet of things controlled via smartphones, business processes will be revolutionised in a few short years.

This raises a host of questions. Are business leaders ready for the changes in corporate culture that “mobilisation” will trigger? Once every employee is working via mobile apps, they will no longer need to be tied to their desks and will be free to roam wherever they are needed. Should workers download apps on to their own devices or only use those provided by the company? With crucial company data accessed from the cloud, how can systems be made secure?

With the launch of 5G expected in 2020 and the arrival of the internet of things controlled via smartphones, business processes will be revolutionised in a few short years

And who will supervise the mobile transformation? There is currently a struggle between chief information officers (CIOs) and chief marketers for control over mobile budgets, and the marketers seem to be winning. Gartner predicts marketers will spend more next year on digital investment than CIOs.

Some businesses are slow in adapting to mobile’s workplace revolution. Research by enterprise mobility specialist Kony shows 54 per cent of UK organisations built no apps between 2012 and 2014. According to Gartner, the average number of apps deployed on the most popular business platform, iOS, is 6.3. A quarter of organisations have built no apps for iPhones, while nearly a third have created none for Android phones.

Creating a sophisticated app strategy is a huge challenge for businesses. But this will become crucial to attract staff, especially twenty-something millennials, says Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer at mobile consultancy Somo.

“The millennials think, ‘If I can do this with Uber, why can’t I do it with my sales data?’” he says. “This is how they run their lives; they do all these things on mobile. If businesses don’t get that because they haven’t provided the right environment, it’s a big problem.”

Mobile transformation is becoming easier, with mobile device management systems available that carry out the hard work, such as providing all the right levels of security and access. And when an employee leaves the company, their enterprise apps are automatically erased from their phones.

“Those types of mobile device management systems have now come of age and we are in a position where you can have an internal mobile app store,” says Mr Sleight. “You could have hundreds of apps, with ten applicable to a specific role, all provisioned by the internal app store. Some of those apps are custom built, some are off the shelf or customised.”

Second-wave apps

Mobile technology is moving on to a second wave, according to Oracle’s director of mobility for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Martin Cookson. The first wave was driven by marketing, but many of the early apps were little more than a web page or a piece of data wrapped in an app.

Second-wave apps are sophisticated and blend different data sources in real time, such as customer, sales and human resources data. They also integrate with internet sources such as Google Maps. With so many apps being used by an enterprise, there is a danger that an organisation can become fragmented, so there must be co-ordinated oversight of mobile strategy, says Mr Cookson.

The second-wave apps use new hybrid technologies such as Javascript and the cloud, while APIs (application program interfaces) and micro-services, which allow developers to work with different apps, are also crucial. “Enterprises want to take charge of their own mobile strategy, to in-source mobile app development and to be in charge of their mobile app life cycle,” he says.

He predicts that enterprise apps will become increasingly specialised, and points to a distinction made by research firm Ovum between “hero apps” and “soldier apps”. The hero apps are used frequently by many employees. They could include communication apps such as WhatsApp or Slack. The soldier apps are very specific and are used to solve particular problems. There will be many of these and this is an area where businesses need to focus their firepower, as they will provide solutions across the organisation.

Computing giant Salesforce offers customer relationship management technology and a variety of other solutions for businesses via mobile apps. EMEA assistant vice president for app cloud Adam Spearing gives the example of Coca-Cola, which uses Salesforce mobile apps across its supply chain.

Coca-Cola’s workforce travel all over Europe visiting clients and suppliers. The schedule of appointments is available through the mobile app and, as they arrive for a meeting, they can look at the client’s previous ordering history and any issues they have raised. “There is full transparency of what’s going on,” says Mr Spearing.