Mobility

How to build an enterprise app that employees will love

Companies are racing to mobile, but some don't know what they will do once they get there. Here are some tips to help you build an enterprise app and drive internal adoption.

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Image: iStockphoto/DragonImages

Mobile apps have quickly moved from a "nice to have" add-on to a mission critical tool in many organizations. According to a white paper on IBM Worklight, 75% of Fortune 500 companies are taking steps to deploy HTML5 mobile apps.

Deploying a mobile app within your business, whether SMB or enterprise, is a difficult process to navigate. Building out a feature set and deciding on an implementation strategy can be frustrating, and there is no guarantee of success.

However, there are some best practices that can help you in your journey to mobility. Here are some tips to make your app deployment a little easier.

Involve your people

One of the first decisions to make is who exactly is going to build your app. Regardless of whether you build it internally or partner with an external vendor, it is important to involve your organization's people at every step, especially when working on the feature set.

"The process of designing the features should involve a key team of users who you need on board for adoption," said Czarina Walker, CEO of InfiniEDGE Software. "Determine who your power users are - they should be involved in the process of reviewing wireframes and features in the new product. If this application replaces an older application the power users participating in the design process need to feel empowered to participate and make the product not just what they have now but even better. Not only does this provide the users with some comfort about this application but it also helps to provide additional features that provide incentives for users to embrace the new app."

Collecting feedback, even if it is negative, and taking that feedback into account shows that you cared enough to have user participation. It will increase ownership of the project and could provide you with some internal advocates of the app, which will help with implementation and adoption later on.

Most companies don't have the resources to build an app themselves. If you do end up outsourcing the app's development, however, make sure you encourage collaboration with your IT department from the start. If possible, Walker said, have your team complete the data layer and the processing requirements.

"If you are outsourcing, institute weekly code reviews by your internal team to ensure that things are being designed in line with your team's best practices. [In other words] don't wait until the app is complete to try and compile another team's code that your team is going to have to support on your own servers," Walker said.

Start with user experience

One of the major mistakes that businesses make when setting out to build and deploy an app is compromising user experience. Employees are expecting the same world-class user experiences they get out of their B2C apps.

Good UX is not only critical to adoption, but it is critical to your app actually becoming a usable tool. Burley Kawasaki, senior vice president of platform for Kony, said that his company has conducted internal studies of mobile development projects and found that 80% of defects in a typical project are due to issues around the UX.

"Subsequently, employees expect to use enterprise apps that make them more efficient and productive with their daily tasks and they also expect the same quality of interaction with their apps that they receive with their desktop web or client/server apps," Kawasaki said. "This means that enterprise apps must have flawless integration and security to backend systems such as SAP, Oracle, Sharepoint, etc...to name a few, so that employees can leverage and optimize device capabilities in order to always produce and accomplish tasks, no matter where they are."

Users should also be able to accomplish tasks regardless of the device they are using. Ashish Toshniwal, the CEO of Y Media Labs, calls this maintaining continuity. If possible, build an app that end users can operate on their desktop or laptop, as well as their mobile devices.

"Users should have the ability to start a task on one device and finish on another," Toshniwal said. "This level of continuity should highly increase productivity as well as user adoption."

Incentivize

The most difficult part of any app building project, and where most fall flat, is adoption. A tool won't help anyone be more productive if no one is willing to use it. Some organizations have to make adoption mandatory, but it isn't always the best choice. If you have the option, you should incentivize users to adopt the app.

"I would never recommend making the enterprise app a requirement as a first step," Walker said. "Users do not like to be forced to use something. They want to make that choice on their own based on it being a better choice. You have to think of how to incentivize (with features and benefits) the use of the enterprise app for the users."

Your adoption strategy should not begin after you have built the app. It must begin during the build process. The app's features must be an incentive themselves, making it easier to get things done. Toshniwal said that building an app that incentivizes its own adoption often involves fewer features than you think.

"Research suggests that for 80 percent of all business software applications, users engage with only four or five key functions," Toshniwal said. "When creating an enterprise mobile app, the job is to identify those functions and design for them alone. In short: limiting the features and functionalities will increase chances of adoption."

Building an app that doesn't make your employees' lives easier will only get in the way. Focus on building an app that makes a difference in the workflow. Robert Armstrong, CEO of Appstem, notes that it is also important to follow up after the initial launch and stay engaged with users.

"A lot of companies focus on the development of the app and launching it but need to think about how to support the app once it's released," Armstrong said. "Furthermore, how to track the app with analytics or [an] APM (application performance management) tool to track app performance and crashes."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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