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Café Innovation – Mobile Apps: Fun vs. Enterprise Value … or, is it both?

I was at the SAP Insider CRM/PLM/Logistics & SCM conference in Orlando last month. Walking the Exhibit Hall I was struck by the number of Exhibitors that were showcasing mobile apps of some sort or another. If you were to search on SAP EcoHub you will find a large number of vendors promising the same. Increasingly, every time your favorite TV show has a commercial break you are subjected to messages about the capabilities that one or another mobile phone service provider has for you. You are constantly being bombarded with how you can take advantage of your smartphone’s capabilities to “enjoy” owning one! The enterprise app providers such as those exhibiting at SAP conferences are tapping into this personal appeal as well. The use of, and increasing need for, people-centric technology has brought us to the point where one has to wonder if the smartphone is an extension of work or play, or perhaps, both.

The iPhone and its apps have proved that the smartphone can certainly be an extension of play and how one manages basic events in daily life. Enjoying YouTube videos and looking for the best shipping option on the road when you must get a package to someone the next day, are capabilities that fall into the former category. Using your smartphone to provide approvals on purchase requisitions and leave requests are examples of the latter. Is there a way for the two to come together? “Certainly,” is the answer you will hear. And, herein lies a challenge for enterprises that seek to provide newer ways for executing their processes.

With the large variety of apps and apps providers, and the confusing array of MEAP (mobile enterprise application platform) choices that come with this variety, it can actually be somewhat burdensome for organizations to manage and effect governance in this space. This is, in some ways, no different from the clutter many organizations once found themselves surrounded with, when they opted for the “best of breed” approach in assembling enterprise applications (perhaps a topic for discussion in a later post). Addressing this will call for clarity of purpose around process excellence, and a clearly articulated policy on governance.

It is incumbent upon business process experts to be the stewards of the processes that are being considered for smartphone deployment. The focus should be on achieving a true business result – and a superior one – to justify the use of smartphone technology. Just because a vendor promises that end-users will have a more enjoyable experience is not sufficient to warrant going down this path. Business process experts will need to find the balance between extending enterprise applications to mobile devices while ensuring that usability does not come at the expense of enhancing true business value – something that is measured by some very hard operational metrics (e.g., time saved, cash flow improved, etc.) and some softer measures (e.g., improved satisfaction with use of enterprise systems, better compliance with enterprise systems, etc.). Of course, this is something that every organization must define uniquely for itself. Business process experts must play a central role in all of this because the responsibility of achieving process excellence rests on their broad shoulders!

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  • Thanks for this article – you have exposed many good points.  Business Process Experts will need to consider the need for mobilizing business processes, different mobile devices, different MEAPs (mobile enterprise application platforms) and then prioritizing them.

    Some niche mobile applications will not have readily available vendors, so the internal IT department will consider developing their own.  How is this handled?  Do they use a MEAP or an IDE for mobile development?

    • Thank you, Kevin.
      And, excellent point on niche mobile apps. Some organizations that have have begun to go down this path are finding that it can be fraught with frustration owing to the “variety” and “variability” in this space. However, as the action begins to coalesce around a few platforms these IT departments should be able to leverage an appropriate MEAP that becomes “the standard” for them. I assume your reference to an IDE is to an Integrated Development Environment. I am not sure if internal IT departments will want to invest the time and energy in developing their own IDE. If anyone has another viewpoint on this, it would be interesting to explore that input.

      – Puneet