Enterprising apps: Managing the business of mobile applications

Matt Hunt of Apadmi urges IT leaders to take control of their mobile strategies, or risk being caught out in the forthcoming explosion of enterprise apps.

The opportunities surrounding mobile business applications and their potential to be a disruptive force in the enterprise space has been talked about for as long as consumer apps have been on the go.

However, as with BYOD and fully unified communications programmes, the actual number of purely commissioned and deployed apps for enterprise are few – but this is changing.

Gartner has predicted that a quarter of organisations will have an enterprise app store by 2017.  Plus, while we’ve been developing enterprise solutions for many years, the share of apps for business versus consumer has increased considerably over the last 12 months.

I believe that 2014 heralds the start of the mainstream adoption of applications that will address a range of business functions, placing organisational strategy firmly in the court of the CIO.

There are a number of catalysts involved in this upturn. BYOD and a general rise in the use of mobile devices, rather than desktop, are generating the need to create applications that put business processes on mobile platforms.

Apps in the BYOD space fall into two categories – either the need to manage BYOD or exploit it. Other drivers of adoption are increased productivity, improved customer service (internal and external) and the convergence and streamlining of data, communications and processes.

Apps are being commissioned across the organisation, with marketing teams generally focussing on external facing deployments such as sales presentations, process management and order taking, and CIOs, IT and Ops looking to address and improve a range of internal functions.

The best of the bunch understand how mobile can complement their existing IT infrastructure and add value, rather than those looking for ‘me too’ solutions to keep up with the competition.

Made-to-measure vs off-the-rack

Off-the-rack apps generally support existing products and services, such as Salesforce and Skype, and are useful for managing general business processes – but any app that needs to meet a specific organisational requirement will need a customised approach to development.

Some of the apps that we’re working on involve workflow management, such as the creation and approval of content for newsletters and brochures, KPI or data dashboard overviews, or financial services applications, which range from solutions designed for fast trading in large institutions to billing platforms across multiple business sectors. Cloud and CRM apps also rank highly in demand, enabling information and content sharing across internal and external stakeholders.

Unified communications programmes call for application development to support mobile working and communication. One of our recent projects with our partner Panaram, has involved a Private GSM hospital deployment that will see mobile devices replacing pagers to deliver real-time, mission-critical communication on smartphones. This is already underpinned with MDM (mobile device management) with advanced technologies such as real-time video streaming and in-building location services planned for the future.

Integration with a wide range of technologies, such as real-time data, VoIP and other IP based systems, will produce apps that tap into and exploit the full repository of data within the company.

Designing apps for business

Application development in a business environment must have a consumer approach to the end user experience. Employees bring their expectations and experiences of using apps to their professional lives and will quickly get frustrated and turned off by those that don’t live up to the ones they use in their private lives.

There are a number of poorly-designed apps out there in the enterprise world that have been developed by IT companies or internal IT functions who don’t understand or have the experience in how to design, develop and test for mobile.

This not only gives business apps a bad reputation, it can also limit uptake and ultimately result in spending money on an app that no one will use because it has been badly designed and engineered, with server requirements often ignored. Overlooking this and relying on APIs designed for PCs and laptops means technical difficulties and a poor mobile experience.

As well as being engaging, easy to use and successful at addressing a specific business need, apps developed for the enterprise space must be mindful of the impact on support and resource. Will the app influence, or need to take into account BYOD policies, or the types of devices owned by the organisation?

The up-front specifications should cover which OS, which device and which language the app should support. Working to common standards, such as those for design and navigation, as well as a tight brief will lessen the support burden, provide a unified approach and experience, and help to control development costs.

Managing apps

Launching an enterprise app isn’t just about development.

Organisations have the opportunity to put processes in place now that will help to control and manage how apps are developed, launched and used in the future. There’s a raft of considerations that must be addressed now, before there’s an unregulated explosion of apps across the business.

From brand guidelines through to authentication, security, testing and approval, without a structured framework in place and a central point of governance, businesses run the risk of losing control of their IT strategy and wasting money on apps that aren’t fit for purpose.

Security presents one of the biggest requirements and challenges for the IT function. How will in-app data be secured and what happens if a device is lost or if an employee on a BYOD scheme leaves the company? How do businesses know if their app is secure and how is this verified?

Organisations should look to their security policies and be honest about whether they cover mobile apps and have the knowledge to write fit-for-purpose mobile security policies. If not, get the experts in. Having the rules and policies in place ahead of launching an enterprise app will avoid damaging data breaches and confusion.

The IT function must take the initiative now and set the future strategy for app management.

Today’s IT leaders understand the importance of moving from the mind-set of being a support function, to operating as a business partner or enabler with the insight and the capability to shape their business’s strategy. Enterprise apps are a key tool for the CIO and are at the heart of empowering IT to be able to drive down costs and increase organisational capabilities.

We have a window of opportunity to lay the foundations of how apps will be integrated and managed within enterprise environments. But to take full advantage of this, businesses need to seek independent, informed advice, plan carefully and be honest and realistic about what they want to, and can achieve.