The ubiquity of apps – on smartphones, in-browser and in wearable devices – has forever altered the way people live and it’s also changing the way they work. As a consequence, today’s employees who are managing and living their personal lives with swipes, clicks and voice recognition now expect the same or similar capabilities to get their work done.
Businesses that once focused on strict bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies are recognizing the need to leverage consumer-style apps to gain greater value from their workforce. Progressive companies now even have their own enterprise app stores, similar to the public app stores available from Apple and Google.
Adam Fingerman, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at ArcTouch and a leading expert on custom mobile app development, recently joined me on The New Builders podcast to talk about how consumer app preferences can influence enterprise application development.
What Consumerization of Apps Means for Enterprise Developers
The consumerization of enterprise apps represents a huge opportunity for developers looking to broaden their skills and tackle new challenges. The career advancement possibilities are enormous – mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) app development are two of the most sought-after technology skills in the workforce today.
On the podcast, we discussed a number of the key technologies, skill sets and methodologies that will enable enterprise developers to build apps with the same functionality and ease of use that characterize many public-facing apps. Following are some key takeaways based on my interview with Fingerman and other best practices learned from the IBM Cloud Data Services developer advocacy team:
- Know your customer: Internal users are your customers, so they should be treated as such. That means listening to their needs, getting to know their pain points and understanding the use case for the app they are requesting. Fingerman recommends that developers not look at app development as fulfilling an IT director’s request or work order – but instead, view it as solving a customer problem.
- Keep it simple: Fingerman advises determining the core functionalities for the MVP, or minimal viable product, early on. That means knowing with certainty the most important things the app needs to do perfectly, and starting from there. Complexity can lead to an unsatisfactory user experience, undermined by poor performance and stoppages.
- The user experience is paramount: In the world of mobile apps, the look, feel and navigation of an app are just as important as its functionality. Fingerman suggests becoming familiar with Google and Apple UI guidelines. Remember that touchscreen capabilities – swiping, enlarging and collapsing images, for example – are part of the app experience that users take for granted and do instinctively. You should consider other common features your users may benefit from, such as side drawer menus and push notifications.
- Strike a balance between data being secure and accessible: Simply making cached data viewable is not sufficient. Fingerman stresses the importance of giving employees the same near-real-time access to live data on their devices as they have from their desktops. Here at IBM Cloud Data Services, we hold by the offline-first methodology, which means architecting apps so that their core functionality works offline. For employees in remote locations, ensure that data can be accessed offline and automatically synced when the employee is able to get online.
- “Whenever you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, don’t”: As Fingerman notes, embrace open source to the extent your company will allow. Not only do you gain access to readily available source code that you can modify to suit your app, you become part of a community that answers questions and shares best practices. Although some companies have a “no open source” policy, many more companies are taking advantage of its time and cost-saving benefits.
- Adopt a systems of engagement (SoE) mentality: Today’s apps require developers to think about SMAC—social networking, mobile, analytics and cloud computing. These systems of engagement (SoE) are all about interactivity and collaboration, while traditional systems of record (SoR) are about collecting, storing and viewing static data. Developing apps for an SoE requires a different skill set and way of thinking from SoR app development.
- Work closely with the IT organization to maintain security and data privacy: Learn and understand the strengths and limitations of protective measures like mobile device management (MDM) platforms and containerization, which separate personal and work data. Have the security administrator test and ensure that connections to the middle layers and back ends are properly hardened, as Fingerman notes.
- Cross-platform or bust: With a variety of mobile platforms, operating systems and disparate data sources, and as the IoT becomes pervasive, cross-platform development is critical. Connectivity to a broader array of data sources means a proliferation of APIs. There are a variety of tools to help in this area, so specialization on a single platform is not always necessary.
To learn more about the increasing role of consumer-style apps in the enterprise, you can listen to episode 18 of The New Builders podcast, “Building Enterprise Apps with Consumer Care” featuring Adam Fingerman, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at ArcTouch.