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Where do mobile apps fit in the world of enterprise software?

Sure, launching a hundred apps to tens of thousands of employees might sound like an impressive achievement, but a recent study that looked into mobile apps shows that smaller and targeted might be a better deployment strategy – especially for companies that may have written off enterprise app development as too expensive. 

Those are some of the findings in the recently released Deploying Mobile Apps That Matter: 2015 Enterprise Mobile App Trend Report from Apperian Inc., which analyzed app data from nearly two million enterprise app deployments across hundreds of thousands of enterprise users. 

They found some no-brainers, such as the fact that technology companies are leaders in mobile enterprise apps, and that apps enabling workers in the field for sales and marketing are also popular. But they also found that some of the most successful launches and deployments were from companies that released only one or two apps to a small group of employees, turning the idea of a blockbuster app on its head. 

Where the apps are

There’s no doubt that technology companies are charging ahead with mobility apps, though. The study found that they account for 25 percent of companies with mobility programs. They were followed by IT services and consulting organizations (11 percent), public sector (11 percent), financial services (8.4 percent), healthcare (7.4 percent) and communications (6.3), with the remainder comprising the nebulous "other" category. 

Most apps were developed for mobile-oriented roles like sales and marketing (17.7 percent) and field services (15.3 percent), followed by company-wide apps like those for HR (14 percent), office productivity (11.8 percent) and IT utilities (11.5 percent). 

Rolling out an enterprise mobile app program also lead to … well, more apps. In the study the mean number of apps companies deployed was about 35 with median number of 13. According to Apperian, the difference in those numbers means that some companies have very large app portfolios of more than100. 

[Related: The 7 best project management mobile apps of 2015] 

A big fat portfolio doesn't necessarily mean success, though, says Mark Lorion, chief marketing and product officer for Apperian. Some of the most successful launches they found were by companies that released only one or two apps that enabled 100 to 150 people. 

Those successful launches, says Lorion, "scored off the charts with ROI. It has so much to do with functionality of the app and alignment with the customer base." That says a lot about targeting apps. 

[Related: When it comes to mobile apps, IT is ‘slow, poor and weak’] 

"It's fascinating to see how these smaller deployments have built apps that were really delivering profound value to those set of users," he says. "I hope these kinds of comments became really motivating to IT people because it's a shame to think that if they can't enable 2,500 users or 25,000 users that they're not going to embark on a mobility project." 

Where the apps are going

The lowered cost of app development is changing what's made, for whom and how long they'll be used, says Rebecca Wetteman, vice president of research, enterprise applications at Nucleus Research. This also brought about the "concept of the disposable app," she says, which she expects to continue into 2016. 

"The lowering cost barriers to deploying mobile apps means that I can spin up one for a particular event, a promotion, a project because there's a much lower cost and risk than we've had to go through to traditionally create these apps," she says. 

Another trend she expects for 2016: the focus on tablet apps as more companies are enabling their on the road employees with tablets that will replace the need to lug around a laptop. 

Greg Collins, founder and principle analyst at Exact Ventures, sees apps changing within themselves, too, and expects more "embedded communications … extending voice, video, messaging," he says. For 2016 he sees that – and apps exclusively dedicated to employee communication and productivity – continuing. 

"There will still be a lot of momentum around the productivity and communication application. It speaks to how workers are going about their work these days in a lot of different applications in a lot of different locations and accessing a lot of different databases and datasources," he says. 

Apps for all! Or else …

While all this nitty gritty data is helpful – and fascinating – Lorion of Apperian says that mobile apps are becoming almost mandatory for a company to have. "When you look at the spectrum of industries that are rolling out apps, it touches every industry of note under the sun," he says. "No CIO can afford to not think about how to enable their workers."

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