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Enterprise app success doesn’t require building everything from scratch

March 05, 2015

Enterprise app success doesn’t require building everything from scratch

An effective mobile app strategy is essential for today’s enterprise. Effective mobile enterprise apps aren’t simply desktop apps plopped onto a smartphone or tablet. They take a business process or common task and reimagine it in a way that drives productivity, employee satisfaction, and quantifiable value.

When planning an apps strategy, it’s important to have a win right out of the gate. A success positions you as an innovation partner and trusted advisor, helps ensure funding for future app initiatives, and shows that your team can work directly with line of business managers and individual employees to enable mobile workers.

This can make designing an apps strategy seem daunting. That many enterprise apps are desktop-focused, have been around for years or even decades, and tend to be either custom built or heavily customized for an organization only adds to the sense that this is a massive undertaking. And, truthfully, it is a major endeavor.

Look at what you can buy (and already have) before assuming you need to build

One effective way to get stated with an apps strategy is to realize that you don’t need to build or reinvent everything from scratch.

Almost every organization will have some legacy apps or business processes that require reimagining and rebuilding from the ground up for mobile. With well over a billion apps in both the iOS App Store and Google Play, however, there’s a good chance that some processes can be mobilized using off the shelf apps. In fact, you may discover that your users are already using publicly available apps to accomplish business tasks.

As I’ve mentioned previously, this is one of the areas where shadow IT can be a useful learning and engagement tool. Understanding the apps that workers within your company are already using – as well as how and why they’re using them – helps you make informed choices about the tools that you opt to provide for them. You can even consider shadow IT as essentially a list of specs or requirements.

This is the essence of an enterprise app store. Yes, it contains apps that you develop i n house, but it also allows you to recommend, procure, deploy, and manage apps from public sources. If there is something out there that does the job, it’s almost certainly going to be more cost effective to buy it than it is to build a custom version of it. The other advantage is that apps that have already proven themselves in a public marketplace are likely to be polished and ready for prime time.

Another important point to consider is that you may already have access to a number of enterprise apps without realizing it.  If you have already migrated business functions to the cloud, there’s a good chance that your cloud service providers already offer one or more mobile apps.

The obvious example of mobile apps from cloud providers relate to storage – Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. – though some also provide productivity apps linked to storage like Google’s Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps.  Another example is Office 365, which includes access to the various Office apps for mobile. Beyond that, specialized business services like, ADP, Salesforce, and Webex offer employee-facing mobile apps that link to enterprise systems employees use every day.

In beginning an apps initiative, it is worth doing an inventory of the products and services already being used within your organization to determine what apps that link to key systems are already available.

Deploying those apps can be an easy and excellent first step. Looking at what you can buy in addition to that, while focusing on user needs and experience as well as integration with existing enterprise solutions, is an excellent second step. Both offer you quick and easy deployment options and can serve as a solid early win for your overall strategy.

Gauging success

Whether you buy publicly available apps, use apps you already have thanks to service providers, or build apps in house, it’s critical to ensure that you can accurately assess the success of your strategy. This isn’t as simple as it may seem. The easiest metric, how many people of installed a given app, doesn’t provide a truly good indicator of success.

In the consumer space, sheer download numbers and the revenue they bring in can be a measure of success. It’s important to consider, however, that as consumers, we’ve all downloaded apps and then deleted them after realizing they didn’t meet our needs or expectations. Likewise, we all have apps on our devices that we’ve downloaded and yet rarely use.

In the enterprise, simply having an app on every employee’s phone or tablet doesn’t guarantee success, particularly if IT has automatically pushed that app out onto managed devices.

A much more accurate measure of success is how many workers actually use the app once it’s installed (automatically or through an enterprise app store) and how frequently they use it.  You can gauge this with analytics built into the app itself, the service(s) to which it connects, or based on network traffic associated with specific app communication. If you are replacing an app that was commonly used under shadow IT, you can also monitor traffic associated with the app that you’re replacing (and its prevalence in device inventories) since your ideal goal is to minimize its use.

Although usage data can help you gauge the success of an enterprise app, it is still indirect data. People may me using an app because they don’t feel there’s any alternative rather than because they think it provides a good experience. The best and most direct way to measure success is simply to ask users for feedback. This allows you to see exactly what works well and what doesn’t. It also offers an opportunity to listen to and address concerns or dissatisfaction.

The act of being engaged with users after an app is rolled out also gives you direct feedback to improve future app selection and deployment. Additionally, it illustrates that you and your team are focused on delivering a success with every app that you deploy. That sense of partnership is ultimately critical to a successful apps strategy – and even a successful mobile or overall technology strategy – over the long term. 

Ryan Faas

Ryan Faas,

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