Growth continues in smartphone apps that keep your employees connected to their business
Consumer trends in the use of mobile devices — especially smartphones — have intensified interest in enterprise mobility to record levels. As with every business challenge, leadership discipline will be required to form an effective mobile strategy that does not bust the budget of the average midmarket enterprise but at the same time delivers on the expectations of the savvy user.
Smartphone apps have been hugely successful in the consumer market. The typical iPhone user has about 50 apps downloaded to his phone, and 70 percent of iPhone users access apps daily. Android users are not far behind with an average of 35 apps per user and 60 percent daily access. In fact, a recent survey by comScore suggests that two-thirds of all smartphone owners engaged in shopping activities using their phones in one month alone. “Enterprise mobility” is the term applied to business use of mobile devices. Interest in mobile enterprise apps is rapidly catching up to interest in consumer apps thanks to new breakthrough capabilities in mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs).
It’s one thing to be connected via your mobile phone to relevant information 24/7, and it is quite another to be able to doanything about it. The difference between information and action is the difference between e-mail and apps. However, taking action without proper access to the relevant information can be dangerous. The solution is enterprise mobile mashups . A mashup pulls raw data from multiple back office systems and other sources and combines that data to create discrete capabilities with usable information for the mobile business user.
Mashups are not a new concept. Google Maps is a good example of an application that combines location information and maps with search term results to create a satisfying mashup of geographic data with business directory information. Go to Google and type in the term “doughnuts” or “pizza” to see an example of your directory search being mashed up with location information.
Mobility is making the idea of a mashup even more appealing. Many business leaders and their employees want to use smartphones to access key information from multiple systems and interact with that information from any device, in any location and at any time. To accomplish this, a mobile enterprise application platform with strong integration capabilities will be required to support the different mobile platforms.
Gartner has suggested that as much as 50 percent of the workforce will use mobile devices for business by the end of 2013. Business applications and IT departments are struggling to catch up with that emerging reality. I am not one who suggests that you can throw your desktops away. But you will need to think carefully about empowering employees with useful applications, integrating existing systems and greatly simplifying the process whereby mobile business applications are created and used in a seamless way throughout the enterprise. Mobility is not only interesting for service organizations and traditional mobile enterprises. Mobility is as crucial for manufacturing, financial, retail, logistics and other sectors that need to leverage their remote or out–of-office workforce. Mobility is a commodity; it is a true work tool, and a smartphone is no longer a luxury item or an executive toy.
One manufacturer with whom I am familiar uses smartphones to pull inventory from warehouse shelves through a live connection to automated racking systems. Instead of the warehouse worker going to the part, the part comes to him, greatly reducing the time involved in picking an order and yet allowing the employee to roam free in the warehouse rather than being tied to a particular workstation. But this is only one fairly traditional example.
Every business should be thinking about how to simplify the process of creating customer-facing, partner-facing or even vendor-facing business apps across a wide spectrum of business processes. Smartphone users who interact with your company expect a different kind of experience. Building apps with native look and feel of the customers’ preferred devices is only part of the challenge. Decisions need to be made about gamification, which is the process of adding gaming principles to company interactions to create an overall satisfying consumer experience. In addition, viral marketing is based on your company’s ability to create a “wow factor” that goes beyond simple forms and submit buttons. For business applications facing the consumer, the user experience, app design, interactivity, social dimension, freshness and appeal of the content are all becoming more relevant.
Expectations set at the consumer level impact the design of applications intended strictly for internal business audiences as well. The attention span of a mobile device user versus a desktop PC user drops significantly from two to three minutes to about one minute. All of this is leading to the consumerization of IT.
Since the business mobile user is paying attention for a shorter period of time, he urgently needs accurate data streaming to his device and the ability to act on that information. This may be by providing an approval, submitting an order, updating a location and hundreds of other tasks. True enterprise mobile mashup capabilities require the round-trip capability to pull information from enterprise systems, display information in mobile apps, take action from the mobile device and update the backend systems. And with user preferences and loyalties to a wide variety of devices — BlackBerry, Android, iPhone and Windows Mobile — there is a need to provide enterprise mobile mashup via cross-platform, cross-device mobile enterprise application platforms that allow core application logic to be used on any mobile smartphone.
Tablet devices are also entering the picture, and integration to backend ERP, eCommerce and CRM systems is required to make such a tablet application meaningful and efficient in high-pressure and fast-paced selling environments.
The pressure on IT departments to create, deploy and maintain these business applications for a wide variety of devices in the rapidly changing mobile market will intensify over the next two years. The only way to cope with such pressure is to ensure that old methods are not being applied to new problems. A true development solution must be cross-platform and deliver device-specific functionality. This means you should be able to develop an application once and then deploy it natively to each type of smartphone.
The IT manager and the CIO will have to select a development platform that automates programming so that tedious manipulation of line-by-line code is not required. Smart executives will spend the time to discipline their IT organizations into seeking out more productive approaches to mobile app development and leave older approaches behind.
Regev Yativ is president and CEO of Magic Software Enterprises Americas . He is responsible for the company’s business operations in the Americas (North America, Canada and Latin America), and is based in the U.S. Before this he served as Magic Software’s managing director in Europe and Japan, significantly growing those regions. Yativ holds a bachelor’s degree from Israel’s Tel Aviv University.
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