Context is King
As the issue of enterprise mobility moves higher up the corporate agenda, both organisations and developers need to act now to ensure applications that are built in-house are designed with context and the user in mind. This means taking into account all the different devices being used across a network, and, most importantly, knowing how they are being used in both business-to-employee (B2E) and customer environments.
Crucially, this doesn’t mean scaling down apps to different screen sizes and replicating across different devices, as recently suggested by Android boss Andy Rubin, who said: “I don’t think there should be apps specific to a Tablet… if someone makes an app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on Tablets”. Quite the contrary, each device and operating system must be taken on its own merits and features, with apps designed to optimise the inherent benefits of the mobile device.
There are, of course, some limitations to the level of data that can be absorbed and viewed on the screens of smartphones and Tablets. Equally, however, there are a host of features, from the camera, to the GPS, Augmented Reality or barcode scanning, which can open up new possibilities and deliver a more productive user experience.
A truly effective enterprise mobility strategy requires the developer to think about the specifics of the form factor and the context in which it is used. It is then when applications are designed around the input and the unique features of the device itself, that users will truly embrace and get maximum use from their mobile device as a business tool. In this new era of mobility, context is king.
Developing with mobility in mind
Trying to re-create the desktop experience on the mobile device is a sure route to failure, because the ways in which we use mobiles and PCs is fundamentally different. With the PC, we can move between different screens quickly to access data from different sources, easily flipping between email clients, CRM, ERP or finance systems. Typically, we have a longer attention span when working at the PC, and a greater range of vision and motion. This is in stark contrast to a mobile device, where the screen size is limited, and flipping between different screens and multi-tasking just isn’t possible. Any process on the mobile device which requires in-depth exploration similar to that of a PC can result in lack of adoption.
By its nature, the mobile device requires an instant response, before the user’s attention span dwindles. This has a huge impact on the way in which any mobile applications are used and therefore should be designed. On mobile devices, we need all the relevant information at our fingertips, and so applications must be digested into as few processes and screens as possible.
Fundamentally, application design should focus on individual processes, regardless of where the data resides. For example, tasks on a mobile device must be designed with a simple front end interface, which allows the user to have all the information from multiple sources on one screen, allowing for business processes to be presented logically. This means taking data from different sources so that the relevant information can be presented at the click of a button, in one application, rather than forcing users to move from one application to another.
This approach requires a new way of developing. Far from shrinking the possibilities, however, the device's capabilities can open up new opportunities for more streamlined processes, more innovation and creativity, and better potential for smarter ways of working. The key principle here is to work with the form factor and built-in features of each device in mind. Smartphones, for example, offer a host of technology - from built-in scanning features to GPS technology - which can be used to deliver real business benefits.
The GPS function can provide greater flexibility for executives who are out in the field. Whether it’s a sales representative looking up clients or suppliers in the local area, or the tracking of packages from the depot to the end user, the GPS function can provide real-time map locations for many industry tasks. This ability enables an instant response, whereas before, time would have been wasted returning to the office to create a new agenda.
If the enterprise is to truly reap the benefits of mobility, we must embrace the shift and, at the same time, elevate the way we think about application design and development.
David Akka is UK MD at Magic Software