Where Do Mobile Apps Fit in the World of Enterprise Software?

To answer this question, I’ll start by defining enterprise software In plain English, enterprise software is software you use to do your job, supplied by your employer and installed on the devices that you’re provided with (traditionally, but not always, a PC).

Historically this software would be accessed from standalone desktop applications — though there has been a recent move to access more applications through web browsers, due to the ease of which such software can be deployed to users.

Enterprise applications often impact or support most users in an organisation. Naturally, this means they become a critical part of the business that be frequently updated. Unfortunately, they rarely are.

In my experience, this means applications rarely offer the features or user experience which are in-line with modern consumer apps.

The Importance of Mobile Applications

Based on the definition above, mobile applications have already earnt their place in the arena of enterprise applications. They easily fit the criteria: software on a device provided by your employer that you use to do your job. And many employees receive company phones as part of their job which include (at the very least) email, calendar and contact management applications.

The proliferation of company provided devices has given rise to extended mobile application use.

As well as the time-saving element, mobile applications offer a number of additional advantages over more traditional enterprise software deployment. Applications running on mobile devices can offer features and advantages such as:

  • The capability to work offline, or with intermittent connectivity
  • The device location, which can be accessed passively. This can used for reporting purposes or to drive the process a user is following, such as executing an action at a particular location.
  • A camera to capture richer data and reduce the reliance on manual data entry
  • An accelerometer to detect movement, such as driving speeds of couriers
  • Additional Portability and accessibility (i.e. mobile devices are typically within reach and can be customised to work for the user based on input preference)

In contrast to enterprise software, mobile applications generally include a touch friendly interface which maximises screen real estate and prioritises ease of use. They are updated regularly to offer new features and have open systems for users to provide feedback to developers. Additional benefits include:

  • Providing near real-time data to the business, thus driving operational efficiencies
  • Providing reliable & accurate data to both users and the business to reduce errors
  • Minimising the amount of work required by the user to increase productivity

The Risks of Mobile Apps

With so many benefits to mobile applications — why isn’t all enterprise software mobile? Aside from the practicality, there are a number of drawbacks and risks to consider also.

The desire to capture information about users, such as location, can elicit concerns from affected users about what data is being captured and what it is used for and whether it will only be used for its intended purpose.

There are also security risks to consider — as both expensive devices and the data they store are regularly targeted.

Additionally, mobile applications and their host operating systems must be updated on a regular basis.This needs to be managed through new deployment methods such as Mobile Device Management (MDM) software, as well as through employee awareness training. Any breakdown in this process can lead to issues of compatibility, security and efficiency.

Public-facing applications present yet another challenge.The opportunity for users to provide reviews in public app stores opens a channel of communication from end users which historically hasn’t been there. Though reviews have their place in ensuring regular and effective software updates — negative reviews can also negatively impact app viewability.

Public enterprise apps are held to high standards due to the impact of reviews on viewability.

Finally,there is the consideration of shadow IT — where apps are driven into the business from the bottom up, without full consideration for the risks. These are non-approved channels of communication or data sharing that have the potential to cause privacy & security security.

Mobile Apps as Enterprise Software

Mobile applications commonly complement or extend the capability of an existing enterprise application. They are integrated to take advantage of the benefits of mobile devices, or to provide new capability that the application could not previously offer.

Mobile applications are best suited to exposing data from back end systems to end-users, often aggregating from multiple systems to the most coherent user experience possible. Enhancements involve capturing new data from mobile users, in a streamlined and user friendly way.

This approach not only offers the benefits of mobile, but also provides an extended return on investment for the enterprise software that the mobile applications are integrated with.

In some cases, mobile applications can add new value to an organisation where there is a gap in traditional enterprise software.There are fewer examples of this, but a recent project I was involved in highlighted an effective use case.

The organisation in question wanted to gather feedback from staff in order to record wellbeing, with the goal of introducing measures that could improve the score over time. By developing this system as a mobile application, the organisation was able to focus on simplifying the user interface,maximising adoption.

The app also allows users to record their mood at different times — even whilst not at work. This non-real time feedback mechanism removes the fear of shoulder-surfers affecting whether an honest response is provided.

This is just one example of how mobile applications can become enterprise software solutions in their own right. To answer whether your organisation needs to develop separate systems or a mobile extension of existing software — you must start with an comprehensive audit. Though the answer tohow mobile fits into enterprise software strategy will never be the same for two organisation, it is clear that it can. Moreover, the benefits offer a number of real opportunities to engage employees, users and consumers alike.