Friday, March 16, 2012

Hurdling Barriers to Enterprise Mobility

Have you ever tried running hurdles?  It takes practice. In the beginning, you’re so focused on jumping that you forget about running. Even experienced hurdlers can become so focused on hurdling mechanics that they forget the importance of sprinting mechanics.

A similar problem exists in enterprise mobility. We can become so focused on pushing enterprise data to mobile apps that we forget that the apps are mobile. The context of the interaction changes the functional requirements of the entire app. The danger is that we overload the mobile user with screens and data so that they need to scroll, tab and search until they are frustrated. Usage rates fall off, adoption fails and our app fails to become the solution it needs to be. But the issue isn’t just form factor, screen size or input method. It’s the context of the interaction. Mobile app users are typically remoteand on the move.

Context Shift. To hurdle the most important barrier to enterprise mobility, we need to design applications that are aware of this context shift. In the past, the context of most computer automated enterprise business processes was within the confines of a data center, network, or office. The web extended reach to remote locations such as customer sites, home offices and laptops. But smartphones and tablets reflect an even more dramatic context shift.

When a business user chooses to interact with enterprise IT via a mobile device instead of their traditional laptops and desktops there is a reason: they are not simply remote, they are either on the move or so location and time constrained that accessing a traditional enterprise device is impractical. They might be dining with friends or family at the exact moment they are accessing your app to approve a purchase order.  They might even be engaging directly with a customer on-site at the exact moment they are accessing the sales order entry app on a tablet. Interaction with an enterprise mobile app needs to be direct, unequivocal and brief.  Designing apps that reflect the mobile paradigm is all about good business analysis, application architecture and interface design. These issues become even more accentuated with consumer facing branded apps.

BYOD. Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) policies present another barrier to enterprise mobility. BYOD often means some users have BlackBerry, others Android, still others iOS phones and tablets. Each of these devices has an operating system that requires a unique development language and compiler.  With different user devices, comes a different culture of app interaction. An app designed for BlackBerry keyboard control and one designed for an iPad Retina touchscreen are obviously going to be quite different or at least they should be. Some businesses are making the mistake of using HTML5 to sidestep the native development challenge but they end up with unusable apps that are bland, unattractive or simply not functioning properly on certain devices. Overcome this barrier by using a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP). A good MEAP will allow you to tailor your app to any mobile device without requiring you to create a uniform app or making you resort to several different programming languages to finish the job.

Backend Integration. Enterprise mobile apps don’t exist in a vacuum. Very few businesses are run with an IT system that is entirely run on mobile devices. No business of any size is. You have backend systems whose processes and data are usually determinative. The mobile app is supplemental. Your MEAP platform needs to be closely tied to an integration server that can automate integration and business process orchestration with large enterprise systems such as ERP, CRM, Field Service Management and other systems. Information from your eCommerce website, employee SharePoint portal or email server may be equally vital to the overall process. Only an end-to-end view as documented in a well designed use case analysis by your business analysts will get you to where you need to be in terms of required integration processes for mobile apps. And then you need to make sure you have the proper enterprise integration platform to facilitate easy integration of backend systems based on your business rules.

Customization.  A lot of business “apps” are being foisted onto mobile devices by using a technique known as screen scraping where there is a one-to-one correspondence with backend screens in an HTML browser on the mobile device. The more sophisticated ones break the big screen and its multiple fields into several tabs and allow you to scroll down a long list of poorly aligned fields. This approach is not simply ugly, it is foolhardy to think any real long-term adoption will take place. These stopgap measures fail.

Furthermore, the new “mobile apps” from large ERP and CRM vendors are simply too generic. Their one size fits all approach does not accommodate your customizations and it the templates are completely constraining. Cookie cutters are fine for making cookies, but what if your business is not a bakery? Mobile apps need to be customized to deliver the proprietary differentiation your employees and customers need for you to stand out in the marketplace in terms of performance and customer experience. Here again, you business analysts and app developers should take extra care to create apps that reflect the true nature of your industry and your company. A MEAP platform will allow you to create integrated apps that are customized to your business requirements to outperform the competition and deliver outstanding customer experiences.

The barriers to enterprise mobility can be overcome. To do this, create mobile apps that are both enterprise connected and mobile aware.

1 comment:

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