Let's turn this into an app!

  • January 22, 2018
NTT DATA Services Mobility blog post

How many times have been faced with this: “Let’s turn this into an app!”? Building mobile apps is fun and exciting until you realize some enterprise apps are neither fun nor exciting. Enterprise apps are frustratingly different from millions of apps in public app stores in so many ways:

  • They are never a single feature product.
  • End users don’t pay for them.
  • They could be mission critical.
  • They are measured on ROI and not user gratification.
  • They handle super sensitive data.
  • The supporting infrastructure is complex.

For example, a typical banking application interacts with an active directory, a host, a CRM system, a third-party customer verification system and then a document management system before it can serve a customer request to change an address.

So, what do you do?

Watch out for typical pitfalls …

Feature fatigue — Traditionally, an enterprise solution is built with a large set of business functions in mind, so a single product is born for the entire line of business. The number of functions determines the form of the app, which is either overly complex or just plain ugly. This leads to fatigue, hours of training, instruction manuals, and user guides, but the end user is still unproductive. For example, the bank’s teller doesn’t need sales analytics when servicing a change of address request, but these functions are often intertwined.

Taking too long — Brad Rucker at NTT DATA Services has said, " ... digital time is to real-time like dog years are to human years." Plentiful features and too many stakeholders can increase the time to get the app out to the users. One of the biggest risks for a product in the digital era is its depleting purposefulness. The ideas on which the mobile product was built might be stale by the end of its development lifecycle. It is important to scope the product so that it is out on the road quickly. Speedy delivery helps companies gather feedback and continuously deliver a better app.

Security being an afterthought — Often, an enterprise app holds sensitive data. Traditionally, both the application and the servers supporting it are protected by firewalls. This is no longer true. More companies are encouraging their employees to Bring [their] Own Devices (BYOD). Employees can install apps on their own. They can use the app on an unsecured public network. Therefore, it is important to think of security strategies such as encryption for data at rest, hashing of PII data, data transfer over SSL, biometric scanning, and other measures.

… and how to avoid them

User journey mapping — Typically, a mobile app is not used from inside an office cube. They are used while in transit, in front of customers, in coffee shops, etc. Therefore it’s necessary to understand where in their journey the user is most likely to use the app. This exercise helps separate functions relevant for mobile delivery. For example, customer engagement services are helpful when on the road, but an operator sitting by a desk can fulfill customer service requests. Understanding mobile employees’ daily activities and pain points can help make the app the best assistant for them.

Divide and conquer — User journey mapping helps isolate the business functions, but architecturally we are still looking at an ocean of middleware. Learn how micro-services and cloud-based solutions can help reduce this complexity. As an example, separate the business services into individual REST-based web-services, which can independently serve the requests from any app. Security is a big concern but it can be easily solved by implementing a central on-premise or cloud-based identity provider.

Remember it is a mobile device — Mobile devices can know users’ current locations, read their contacts, messages, receive their calls, use their Bluetooth, take pictures and even capture fingerprints. Many legacy features were developed without giving a thought to the future. Don't forget about them. Help stakeholders and designers learn about these capabilities.

Know the stakeholders — Enterprise apps, though intended for the end user, are paid for by the business. Determining the strategic ROI is a collective decision rather than an individual's. Acknowledging who the stakeholders are, and what they are looking for up-front, helps.

User analytics — One cannot emphasize enough the importance of gathering feedback. No software is perfect and lack of a feedback loop can drive a user mad and blindside stakeholders. Develop meaningful metrics to measure user engagement and productivity. Conduct A/B testing of competing ideas. Build a dashboard so that data is easily accessible to all the stakeholders. Such real-time feedback and usage statistics help determine the true ROI of the product and also drive future development.

In conclusion, enterprise solutions are feature-full but not all should go mobile. Security is a huge concern on mobile apps. Most of the transactions are outside the company’s firewall and on personal mobile devices. Delays in time-to-market and lack of insight, not only hurt the end users, but also hamper the ROI for stakeholders. This insight will help underscore greater need to re-imagine the user's journey, re-architect the backend services and re-establish security infrastructure to help transition the business to the digital era.

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Saurabh Gupta
Saurabh Gupta

Saurabh Gupta is an experienced mobile architect and solutions developer. Having helped a business launch their very first iOS mobile app in 2010 to building an enterprise-grade mobile solution on the Windows 10 platform, he has built keen insights in enterprise app development. Saurabh had his beginnings with a summer break project developing a web-portal and to this date, web technologies still excite him. In his spare time, Saurabh catches up on machine learning and block-chain technologies.

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