Magazine Article | June 26, 2012

5 Essential Questions To Ask Before Deploying Enterprise Apps

Source: ClickSoftware

By Gil Bouhnick, director of mobility, ClickSoftware,

Don’t move forward with a software investment until you know the answer to these five questions.

There are thousands of stand-alone mobile business apps, yet when it comes to building a longterm mobile strategy, enterprise companies need to ask themselves five critical questions.

1. What’s The Mobile Functionality?
Mobile functionality is expanding every day; more people are using mobile devices to be more productive at work. In most industries, people are taking on new roles that take them out of the office, continually switching from their desktops to tablets and smartphones. These devices keep getting smarter, and users are expected to do more and, as the technology keeps up, will do even more with their devices. These devices are simply getting more functional, and we’re using smartphones to communicate, collaborate, consume content, manage to-do lists, and much more. Field workers and executives alike expect efficiency when it comes to accessing enterprise-related data and functionality.

2. What Devices Does The Solution Support?
Bring your own device (BYOD) is a given — employees have devices that do amazing things, and they want to use them for their work. Organizations must accept that they have to deal with employees using more than one mobile operating system — and sometimes more than one device! According to Forrester, 74% of employees are using two devices or more, and over 50% are using three devices or more. There will always be the manager who wants to use an iPad and the IT guy who wants to use his Android smartphone. Enterprise apps should run on different devices, different form factors, and different screen sizes. Without a “device-agnostic” strategy, companies face risks and limitations, especially when looking at the near-term addition of Microsoft’s Windows 8 and the next generations of Windows phones.

3. How Flexibile Is The Solution?
Every organization has unique requirements. This is one of the reasons why mobile projects in the enterprise were never as simple as it seemed. Ten years ago, companies were developing their own homegrown solutions, and flexibility didn’t matter since the bottom line was thousands of code-lines, bugs, and hard-coded assumptions. The result was zero flexibility. If anyone wanted to add a field of code, they had to call the developer. Change a procedure? You had to initiate a project. Over the years, mobile platforms have evolved, allowing flexibility and configurability of the functionality so ongoing changes were easier to implement. Some MEAPs (mobile enterpise application platforms) still required software developers for those changes, but other vendors have focused on visual configuration tools, code-free editors, business oriented wizards, etc. As the industry returns to smaller niche business apps, there is a risk of losing the flexibility again. When examining business apps, the amount of control over the functionality, the amount of flexibility, and configuration points must be examined.

4. How Will Back End Integration Work?
Mobile business apps cannot operate as stand-alone apps. The data needs to come from the right place at the right time and get to the right person. Data generated from the field should find a way back to the right back end system, be it enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer resource management (CRM), HR, etc. Integration is a challenge for mobile implementations. When companies explore mobile apps, they must think of how the data will be shared or be passed back to the back end.

5. Are Apps Interconnected?
One of the bothersome things with the dominance of iOS apps is that they do not communicate with each other. You can ask Siri, the iOS voice-activated search tool, to do something for you, but once it has launched an app, it loses the context. Returning to Siri, even a few seconds later, will require starting the process all over again. In enterprise apps, it is often required that multiple apps will share mutual data, workflows, and processes. Document management, time reporting, and activities reports are often related to ongoing tasks done in other apps. Interconnected apps can streamline the work on the move and therefore increase the efficiency of the users. Enterprise app stores and business apps are becoming popular as the business world is getting closer to the consumer world: It’s the consumerization of IT. Organizations researching ways to better use their mobile workforce using smart devices and apps must be aware of the differences between a consumer app and an enterprise one.