It used to be the case that employees would use whatever desktop applications they were given to fulfil their role. That was the norm. Lengthy training programs were often required for new starters and for existing employees after significant updates. Those who had mobile devices had a BlackBerry or PDA, and used it for email and their calendar, that was it. The consumerisation of IT has turned all of this on its head. As people have become more reliant on technology and applications in their daily lives, so demand has increased for simple, easy-to-use enterprise applications that help employees to do things faster, whenever and wherever.
According to Appcelerator’s State of the Mobile Enterprise report, 86% of respondents agree that user experience matters as much in enterprise apps as it does in consumer apps. The way to achieve the highest ROI from enterprise applications is to use something off-the-shelf or build something bespoke that will make life easier for the user. If apps aren’t intuitive, the uptake in usage won’t be as high and businesses risk employees returning to the old methods they were using before.
This is why it’s so important to understand the user and business requirements right from the beginning. There are a number of things that need to be considered to ensure enterprise apps are as engaging and functional as they can be for their users.
Firstly, involving users at the start of a project. It sounds obvious but too often apps are scoped out by management teams without engaging the end users at the very early stages. Functionality should always come before design, and therefore key to ensuring a good user experience is to make sure the functionality of any application fulfils the specific requirements of the end users. This also includes considering the profile of the end users. If English is not the first language of the employees using this application, or if it is going to be translated into multiple languages where some words might be very long, then an icon heavy application might be more suitable for example.
You could even consider involving employees to make suggestions for enterprise apps in the first place. Genentech, a biotechnology company based in the U.S., has developed a crowd sourcing portal that enables every employee to submit ideas for applications. You have 10 words in which to describe your app idea, everyone then has a number of votes per month and the top application is then built.
Secondly, user testing is a key part in ensuring the app is going to meet user expectations and achieve the desired ROI. We often recommend prototyping to our clients as this gives businesses a chance to put a draft of the application into the hands of the users for instant feedback. There are various methods for prototyping, and it can also be done at different stages within the process, but the key is to get end user feedback before coding of the application begins. Once developers have started to code an application, even changes that seem small can take a significant amount of time. Collating feedback using a prototype means that changes can be made to the design of an app, which is much faster and easier to do.
Thirdly, do not just take an existing desktop solution and make it mobile. Mobile is radically different to desktop in terms of context but also opportunity. Mobile brings with it a whole realm of new opportunities due to the functionality on the device. Consider how much more powerful an app could be through using something as simple as GPS, the camera, video and any other sensor it has already built in. It’s also important to consider the information that is required in certain scenarios. A sales person on the road is unlikely to want to read every single CRM entry about a customer they’re about to visit, but they might want some key pieces of information and a recent history for example. Some information makes more sense on a desktop, some on a mobile. It’s not about transferring a desktop system to mobile but reengineering the solution and picking out the core functionality to create an entirely new solution for mobile.
Fourth, integrating analytics into all apps, including enterprise apps, is absolutely essential. It helps businesses to understand how their employees are using mobile apps – are they visiting all of the sections in the app for example? If not, why not? Are they searching for something that isn’t included but that should be? Are people all exiting the app at one point? This could be a good thing and mean people have completed their task, or it could need investigating. How much time are people spending within the app compared to the previous desktop solution? The list goes on. By analysing how employees are using the app, businesses can understand learnings across the user base and find out how the app is being used and ways to continuously improve it based on user behaviour.
Lastly, businesses should consider the long term roadmap of the applications they are building. The more a business can consider future iterations in the early scoping stages, the more the designers and developers can consider these future iterations in the initial design and build of an app. An app that saves status updates of an engineer’s progress on a job for example, could then be used to give the customer the ability to view the status updates of the job in another app. All of these future requirements should be considered in the roadmapping stage in order to make future development of projects more streamlined.
Before long, it’ll be all employees using some sort of smart device to help them with their day-to-day tasks. We’re already seeing mission-critical apps breaking new ground in sectors including healthcare, utilities and logistics. The design of mobile enterprise apps that serve these types of organisations require a balance between functionality and form, while not forgetting the end user.
By Hannah Tempest, Creative Director