by Robin Wirz (guest author), Computerworld of July 18, 2014
First the internet gave us the home office. Now the cloud is catapulting us into a brand-new dimension of mobility: The workplace is becoming independent of time and place. What does this mean for business applications?
Employees working on the go can use their time optimally and thus have the potential to be more productive than other, stationary workers. This brings economic advantages for the company. However, before that this means lots of work for the IT department, since they first have to make it possible for employees to enjoy this new kind of flexibility by mobilizing business applications. During this process, it is important to take into account the various aspects, such as user experience or the number of different devices.
Mobile workers want to be able to work anytime, anywhere, whether it’s on the way to work, on a (business) trip or in the hallway between two meetings. This is what makes efficient, location-independent work possible. Thanks to modern smartphones, mobile email has become a common and natural part of life. But this is just the first step. The next step is all about granting mobile access to business systems and data, while preparing them for interaction on various mobile devices.
Challenges for IT
There are indeed many applications that could be mobilized. It is essential, however, to first focus on making the core systems, which are most important for the work of a particular group of employees, available for mobile use . The mobilization of business applications presents the company with a number of very new challenges. The diversity of mobile devices used is one of these challenges. According to a study done by the Gartner Group, the “mobile worker” doesn’t want to be limited to using a certain device, but rather prefers to use different devices depending on the situation. These range from smartphones through to the tablet and laptop – in the near future there may be smart watches or other devices coming onto the market as well. Gartner estimates that by 2016, mobile workers will be using three to five different devices.
The combined diversity of devices and systems challenges companies to mobilize their business applications in an corresponding diverse manner. This process is not only about providing access through the most varied of devices, but also about visually and functionally adapting how content is displayed in each situation.
User Experience & Consumerization
Mobile workers aren’t just expecting mobile access to company systems and data. They are also expecting to hereby have a first-class user experience (UX). It is generally known that the user experience is decisive for the success or failure of an app. It is therefore no wonder that it also plays a central role in mobile business applications. The keyword is “consumerization”. Employees are used to using mobile apps that are extraordinarily user-friendly in their everyday private life, since Apple & Co. have always placed great value on usability. As a consequence, they now also expect the same level of user-friendliness from company apps.
The times when complex applications and ugly user interfaces could be forced upon employees are long gone. The same high standards held for customers’ user experience nowadays also apply to employees. If the user experience of mobile business applications isn’t right, employees will just not use them and the hoped productivity increase for mobile work will fail to materialize.
“Everything Everywhere” is wrong
Even with an attractive interface design, there is still more that must be done: In order to make an attractive user experience possible on each of the various devices – with different screen sizes and interaction options – company systems must be adapted for mobile activity. This isn’t just about the quality of the mobile access (such as being able to function pleasantly fast even if the internet connection is slow), but rather about adapting the system for the characteristics of the various mobile devices.
“Everything Everywhere” is the wrong approach for this, since it lumps everything together instead of splitting up the often complex systems and tailoring to the different devices and the respective usage behavior of employees. It is much better to prepare and distribute a business application in the form of multiple apps: an alert on the smartwatch, a vacation or budget approval on the smartphone, a dashboard on the tablet, or the entire system on the laptop.
For this it is also important to provide for mobile employees accessing the same system alternately with different devices. They expect that the system will know what they did previously on another device. This reduces redundancies and provides for a unified user experience. In addition, the apps should also self-adapt to the respective conditions and context – location, usage history, settings, etc. This, too, increases operation comfort and enhances the user experience.
The existing company systems will still be needed in the future, but they will be split into smaller pieces for mobilization, outfitted with additional functions, and delivered in different ways.
This requires of course also an appropriate mobile infrastructure. On the one hand, this will take care of the typical mobile challenges such as slow or missing internet connections (through synchronization) and device diversity (issued in different formats and variations). On the other, it provides the capability to make content and functions available to users in a personalized, context-based way. The mobile infrastructure also guarantees a consistent user experience across various devices and generally serves as an intermediary between the back end systems and mobile users.
This infrastructure also has to support agile development processes. With the constant release of new devices, technologies, and options, the extreme dynamics of the mobile world generally demand a very agile process. It is also important for the user experience to be dynamically developed and constantly optimized, as it is the only way to stay in tune with what users want. It’s crucial to constantly analyze user behavior in order to optimize effectively.
This makes mobile experience management (MXM) a strategic component of mobile work. Apps and changes made to them must be launched quickly enough and their success must be efficiently analyzed. Powerful, detailed analysis capabilities and A/B testing tools are essential for this purpose.
Mobilizing Is Worth It
The mobilization of the business and its systems is doubtless a demanding undertaking. Companies that engage in such a change, however, will be rewarded with the many advantages: The productivity and satisfaction of employees, who can now work flexibly where and when they want, will increase considerably. Various studies assume an increase in productivity of 10 to 20 percent. Yet in reality, companies no longer have a choice, since employees increasingly expect exactly this kind of mobile working. Anyone competing for the best talent just can’t get around the mobilization of business and its systems.
Original article/Source (in German): www.computerworld.ch