The Challenge of Enterprise Mobile Apps - Finding Hard Dollar ROI!

This article explores how and why mobile enterprise apps should be built and coded to improve usability in a volatile mobile device market, future–proofing them to prevent unnecessary, timely and costly updates.

Remember when BlackBerry was the icon of successful businessmen? Suits, ties, briefcases and BlackBerrys were synonymous. Fast-forward, and today more than 70% of US businesses are on iPhones. However, today the smartphone is just not about email: business apps that deliver fundamental productivity gains are becoming a corporate focus. At leading IT industry analyst firm Gartner, Enterprise Mobility has been their highest area of inquiry for the past 18 months. But how can your company invest in business apps when the operating system and device market is so volatile? How can you ensure that your investment has a shelf life of more than nine months?

The challenge becomes more complex when you add in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) phenomenon. Smartphones not only vary in operating system choice but also in size, so apps need to consider screen real estate and operating system variances if they are to achieve broad end-user acceptance.  

Also, companies deploying mobile enterprise applications need to reflect their own workflow in addition to conducting specified industry tasks, such as completing safety inspections or drafting compliance documents. The issue then becomes that off the shelf apps regularly do not fit. This is in sharp contrast to traditional ERP and CRM environments where standard applications dominate, but it is understandable; mobile field workers are often where companies differentiate their practices from their competitors – it’s how your services are delivered to the market.

To improve the longevity of your investment against the backdrop of a volatile device market, enterprise mobile applications need to be built with the following two things in mind:

Fit for Purpose Architecture

The native vs. HTML5 debate continues and many people have taken sides. Now, it’s more important to consider which architecture is fit for purpose when you are looking at a project.

If your app is to simply improve access to standard corporate administration, like time off requests, you will find that the return on investment is normally non-existent. So using HTML5 for a fast and cheap deployment is great. Most importantly, the shortcomings of HTML5 don’t get in the way; by example its dependency on network coverage means that time off requests may sometimes not be available, but is that really a problem?

Native applications lend themselves to a richer user experience with enhanced feature sets and functionality. For enterprises, ensuring an employee experiences an intuitive workflow coupled with compliance enforcement is important when revenue or core services are delivered. Importantly, the app needs to be fast, work out of coverage, and have assisted in-field recovery if anything goes askew.

The technology has also moved along so today it is possible to build a native app on a mobile application platform that runs across all mobile operating systems. The important selection criteria here is to choose one where all work is done in the IDE to ensure a low cost of development, both initially and over the life of the app.

Getting Started

The issue for IT departments is delivering to the myriad of mobile needs in their companies in a timeframe that keeps their response relevant. Also, the end users are unsure about their need, so using a traditional requirements-gathering approach, a company would regularly see over a 100 change requests against a solution for field service techs or field quality controllers.

However, fast prototyping is often an answer. In our environment for example, we can give the project owner a prototype in 3 to 5 days allowing them to then start the internal discussion. The great thing about this approach is that it is highly responsive and moves the debate from laundry lists of requirements to more fruitful discussions of workflow, practices and usability.

Finally, if the queue for mobile projects in your company is long, you need to rank them by ROI. Starting on the easy ones, which are generally around administration systems of record, may give you some experience but don’t make the difference to your bottom line or help your company’s competitive positioning.

Time to get started with the apps that make the difference.


Mary Brittain-White is CEO of Retriever Communications