1. Make mobile part of your DNA
“If any CEO took a walk through their office right now, they’d see their employees using mobile devices while sitting at their desks,” Adam Spearing, Salesforce vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, points out. “This generation moves seamlessly from mobile device to mobile device – if you don’t unlock that, you’re not unlocking the latent talent of your workforce.”
Almost 90 per cent of senior executives believe mobile apps are valuable for business, according to an Accenture survey in September, but fewer than half had any kind of mobile-based technology in their own company.
Senior management should be considering how existing processes can become mobile-first. An app combining geo-location and camera on mobile phones can snap a picture of a defective product, tag it with the location and submit it the incident management system with the tap of a finger, for example. Meanwhile, shop-floor staff can call up customer details or stock availability mid-conversation.
2. Understand business value
“Talk to your staff at the sharp end and make sure you understand how things are, rather than how they should be,” advises Martin Gale, mobile chief technology officer for IBM UK and Ireland. “Their managers will tell you one version, tech people another – only your sales team or field engineers themselves will give you the truth.
Don’t send the IT department off to sort it out – make sure you know yourself. You want your people working with your tech, not fighting against it.”
Having employees involved in design and testing brings a greater chance of acceptance and success, says Mr Gale. The chances are that mobile apps will have to target different groups in and across different departments and different levels of functionality. Gaining a clear view of what’s needed by each group and what data should be accessed by each set of users helps ensure apps cater for the entire business.
Understanding simple things – does every store have the wi-fi capacity to handle the surge in devices, for instance – means the difference between a useful system and an enormous problem.
3. Choose in-house or outsource
When it comes to designing and building mobile apps, IT departments may be keen to learn new skills and there’s a security temptation when it comes to developing internally. Accenture’s September survey found security concerns are very high for almost half of all senior managers.
Gartner principle research analyst Adrian Leow warns, however, that by the end of 2017, market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organisations’ capacity to deliver them.
Mr Gale adds: “Security is important to everyone, but it’s relatively easy for in-house or partners to solve if they are involved in every step. The trickier aspects include support – what if an engineer’s iPad breaks down in the field? – ensure that sort of problem can be fixed before it arrives.”
Mr Leow recommends what he calls a “bimodal solution” of restructuring internally while working with external partners. Only 26 per cent of organisations are adopting an in-house-only development approach, according to Gartner’s most recent research, while 55 per cent are using mixed sourcing. Choosing the right outsource partner and retaining control of the whole process is vital.
4. Get the user experience right
“We’ve all got HD TVs, smartphones and tablets at home,” says Michael Hobbs, UK lead at Accenture Mobility. “For millennials especially, having them go to work and be underwhelmed by the technology on offer isn’t a good way to retain and engage your workforce.”
This goes hand in hand with user experience. Good mobile apps should be a joy to use, blending ease of use with modern design and making it possible to be productive even when on a crowded bus. One screen should give enough information to make a decision and one thumb tap should be all it takes to act. It’s also key to remember that one app doesn’t rule them all – Android users don’t expect the same as Apple.
Mr Hobbs recommends extensive user-testing at every stage, including long after rollout. “You need to keep adding new apps and keep deleting zombie apps,” he says. “Every phone has a bunch of apps optimistically downloaded, but never used; every business will too.”
5. Keep your eye on the ball
In the old days, IT spec could take six months to devise and 12 months to arrive. That’s no longer good enough in the rapidly evolving mobile world. Companies need to stay agile, using a so-called iterative approach of design, beta test, rollout, test, modify design and so on. It’s a state of permanent revolution.
There’s a common misconception that once the app has been completed, then most of the work is done, warns Matt Hunt, chief executive at enterprise app developer Apadmi. It’s only through staff training, maintaining and updating that any mobile app can be a long-term business tool.