5 things I learned at #EntAppsWorld

I attended the Enterprise Apps World convention in the Grand Hall Kensington Olympia in London. Here’s what I learned:

1. Consumer apps get the glory, but enterprise apps win the war

Where companies invest a lot of money in consumer apps, they don’t often provide as much funding for their less shiny task-oriented apps used within the organisation to streamline processes and increase efficiency.

In her address to this year’s Enterprise Apps World, Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, said the difference between citizens and consumers is one of choice. Consumers can choose if and how to do something, citizens cannot (for example, filing taxes).

If we apply that concept to enterprise apps, it’s fair to say employees are more like citizens — they don’t often have much of a choice on how they do things. So businesses need not spend all that money designing good enterprise apps, right? Wrong.

It is just as important to get enterprise apps right.

As Alan Williams, Director & Chief Technology Officer at BlinkMobile Interactive, said: “Heroes get the glory, but soldiers win the war.

The difference between the two types of app is while consumer apps are all about discovery, enterprise apps are ultimately made for completing tasks.

But it’s likely that most of any workforce already uses consumer apps everyday; it’s important to draw upon this understanding of apps when designing for them an enterprise one.

Technology has changed what work is. It’s no longer a place, and working hours are no longer determined by the factory bell. We login to social media at work and check our work emails at home.

Well designed enterprise apps don’t just make employees more productive during work hours, they also allow people to connect and disconnect outside of work and achieve some semblance of a work-life balance.

2. Design with — not at — the user

Designers start by considering who their user is, and how the system will impact their user’s life — that’s as much the case for enterprise apps as anything else.

Employees are often resistant to change and you can’t assume that they’re all tech savvy. So how do you ensure the enterprise app you’re designing not only works well and makes processes easier but will also actually be used? Constant end-user engagement.

Marc Woods, a Consultant at Transport for London, explained how he turned employees from different positions in the company hierarchy into agents of change. He stressed the importance of involving people who will be using the system in the designing and testing process.

Designing bottom up makes users feel involved and their feedback can inform the design in valuable ways.

3. Fail fast and move on

There’s a well-known phrase in UX circles: “Done is better than perfect.”

With enterprise apps, this just isn’t enough. Minimum viable products are a great way to get a consumer app out there as early as possible and get a lot of feedback from real users in the real world. The worst case scenario is pretty much an initially bad rating on the App Store; but the early release of an enterprise app is more perilous.

Once released, an enterprise app has an immediate impact on work flows. A not-quite-there product could potentially have direct negative impacts on a company’s efficiency and revenue.

On the other hand, there is the risk of implementing too many user suggestions and overloading the app with functions that distract from its actual purpose.

Use all the tools available and strong processes, know best practices, experiment a lot, and most of all: test, test, test.

Rapid prototyping is useful in figuring out UX issues. It is good to fail fast and important to choose actionable metrics instead of vanity metrics set up to confirm what you already think. As Anastasia Semenova, Business Analyst at Barclays, said: “If it won’t change your practices, it’s a bad metric.”

4. Big companies cannot afford to stand still

There has been a fundamental shift in how successful companies do business: They are disruptive.

Enterprises — weighed down by their history — run the risk of standing still, too busy competing with each other that they miss the threat posed by fast, lean startups.

Among the advantages start-ups have are flat hierarchies and agile management. And there’s interdisciplinary collaboration at an early stage of idea development.

I spoke to George from the startup incubator IncuBus, who explained how powerful it is to have developers trained in sales and involved in client-meetings early on — in order to be able to underline arguments from a technological perspective.

5. Never forget: Technology must have a purpose

Enterprise Apps Wold hosted a panel discussion debating the merits of native and hybrid app development — which platform do you design for? The experts agreed there is no definitive answer — “it all depends.”

It depends on a host of factors, some dependent on the user, others dependent on the tech — like whether the app needs real-time data, or push notifications.

It may sound obvious, but good tech can’t just be tech for the sake of it. There’s got to be a reason.

In the end it comes down to: Who? What? Why? Where? and How?

And the fundamentals and best practices of good design are as relevant as ever — the design process needs to be absolutely user-centric.

MP Onwurah nailed what most speakers at the Enterprise Apps World seemed to agree on:

“Technology — on its own — is never the solution.”