Advocating a design-led approach to enterprise app engineering By Yad JauraMarch 25, 2015
“Mobile apps – what’s in it for me?”
If it goes unanswered, that challenging question posed by field workers asked to adopt a new mobile app will surely find expression in their later behaviour – especially if the answer is “Erm, to be honest not very much.”
To suggest that user acceptance is all when it comes to mobile apps is almost to understate the case. As countless companies have discovered to their bottom line cost, gripping the issues of mobile device management and security on their own do not a rounded enterprise mobility management (EMM) strategy make. EMM provides only the foundation.
Apps are what make the strategy work and what generate bottom line returns…or they should do. Generic apps such as email or notes are not the problem. Apps that support the specific needs of vertical business sector are. They require custom development, and therein lies the problem.
It seems that a lot of organisations understand that apps are the way they will generate real returns from their EMM strategy, but they are falling down on execution, expecting staff to use poorly designed custom enterprise apps that take little or no account of the totally different platforms, physical surroundings and distractions implicit in the mobile world. Pure function is the name of the game. Why bother with user appeal when users don’t have a choice?
Actually, they do have a choice. IDC’s latest Enterprise Software Survey found that in practise almost one in three mobile application projects in the UK and the US fail – and by far and away the most common reason for the failure is lack of user acceptance. By definition, a field application has to be 100% accepted because there’s no desktop or Web alternative to fall back upon. All it takes is one unhappy employee and the time and money spent has been wasted.
Mobile apps have to work both for the enterprise and for the staff. And clunky ‘it’s close enough’ code simply will not do. The consumer market is ahead of the business market and today’s workers are used to personal apps that use the best of contemporary graphic design and which exploit the advanced abilities of mobile platforms to the maximum in order to deliver an unparalleled quality of user experience and engagement.
With over a million apps to choose from in the Apple app store alone, users have high expectations and a low tolerance for poorly designed software. They download an app, try it and if it doesn’t click with them simply delete it and go on the hunt for alternatives. Enterprise apps have the same acceptance hurdle: around 30 seconds to win the user over or they have failed.
Avoiding the bear trap of failed app design means getting everything right about both the user interface (UI) and the user experience (UX). Enter design-led app engineering – a concept favoured by Globo.
Piotr Gajos is chief innovation officer and an Apple Design Award winner. He has some crisp words of wisdom for enterprises seeking to get mobile app design right.
“Enterprise software targeted for employees is under heavy pressure from the increasing quality of consumer software,” he explains. “Employees are bringing their iPhones or Android phones into the office, and they expect that the company apps they are obliged to use will not make their lives more difficult.
“Both Apple and third-party developers are raising the bar with every iOS update and every app released. Enterprise software cannot sit idle anymore, it needs to catch up.”
Really? Isn’t this simply a work-creation scheme for under-employed coders with delusions of grandeur? Gajos sees app design in a wider context. “A brand must present itself properly to its employees in order to tighten the bonds of loyalty, increase morale, and instigate virality. If employees know how great their company is, they are proud of their work. They will work harder and they will brag to their friends about their jobs. They will also become closer as peers and form strong communities, which benefits the execution of their work even further. An integrated team is much more effective than a group of strangers. Great design delivers all of those benefits by enhancing employee perception of your brand.”
Doesn’t this sound rather fluffy and, well, arty? Gajos is unrepentant: “I believe this stems from a couple of misconceptions and most importantly, a lack of understanding of what design is and how it can be executed with incredible discipline. Design is often misunderstood as flimsy, never-ending, basically a non-process. It’s seen as something very close to a common perception of art, which doesn’t lead to any results – something which, by the way, is also false.
“But despite these challenges, a design-led approach can be executed successfully. It’s possible to incorporate design culture into the enterprise product creation process and maintain efficiency, speed, and scalability. Properly executed design actually increases the effectiveness of these aspects. I believe that we have cracked the challenge of driving engineering with design at every stage of development.”
Gajos defines engineering as a set of activities, processes, and technical solutions that bring design to life. Design without engineering doesn’t make any sense, but neither does engineering without design. The goal of engineering is to make design actionable and enable people to make effective use of an app. Engineering is the confirmation and realisation of design induced quality, and successful engineering takes great design to the next level. It gives birth to tools that help people operate in the world.
This is beginning to sound worryingly expensive. Surely, to paraphrase a line from Field of Dreams, ‘if you build it they will come’.
Well, no. As IDC’s research shows, that’s not how it works. Throw it together and people don’t come; in fact you risk enough of them walking away to jeopardise the investment you’ve made in the whole project.
Take a design-led approach and the results can be rather different. It costs less to pursue a design-led approach to app building than it does to do it the old way.
At first view the figures don’t support that contention. Globo’s work with multiple enterprises that tried the function-led approach and then sought an alternative route point to the following generic illustration. A function-led app design project might cost £100,000 but a design-led approach to delivering the same core functionality might cost £150,000. However, factor in the per-user cost and the balance changes. The function-led process leads to a cost per-user cost of £100 while the design-led process comes out at just £30. The difference in per-user cost is explained by the take-up: just 1,000 regular users for the former, 5,000 for the latter.
As Gajos points out, there’s more too than the simple division of overall cost by user numbers.
Bad design costs the enterprise even more because those employees who do use a poorly designed new app are less efficient. They are frustrated by the hard to use software and that in turn decreases work satisfaction. Don’t expect great references for your company in the gym or the coffee bar. Worse, they’ll likely apologise to customers. “Sorry I’m so slow. This app really sucks.”
And then, as if that’s not enough negatives, a poorly built app will result in increased technical support costs. In other words functional app design simply shifts the cost burden to back-loaded technical support costs. But look on the bright side. You’ll have fewer users to support since a number of employees will simply have given up with the new app and simply refused to use it.
One example of a successful enterprise app development was a project conducted by Globo on behalf of a large high street name retailer. The brief was to create an intuitive, mobile retail management system for some 50,000 employees and spanning a catalogue of hundreds of thousands of different products.
The system it was due to replace was universally seen as too complex, required a lot of familiarisation training, had led to reduced employee efficiency and had impacted inventory accuracy.
Following launch of the new app last year usage has risen to 1.2 million hours every week, training timescales have been cut by as much as two weeks, employee performance is up by 16%, and accuracy of inventory reporting has grown by 12%.
The entire cost of the project has been recouped twice over within six months through savings in training alone.
While enterprise apps are unlikely to topple Facebook, Twitter or Candy Crush in the popularity stakes, the retail example shows they can at least equal them in look, feel and that all-important user acceptance.
source: Enterprise Apps Tech