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Author's profile photo Shivani Govil

Mainstream Enterprise Mobile Apps – How Do You Bring the Users?

Watches that can organize your life. Cars that drive themselves. Glasses that connect to the internet anytime- anywhere. The list goes on. Last week the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference took center stage in the tech world. Later in June, China is hosting Mobile Asia Expo which is similar to Mobile World Congress. As consumers, we are constantly being bombarded by new technologies and innovations. How does one keep up with all the technology advances? What fuels our attraction– the tantalizing new gadgets, or how we can apply them to our lives in order to improve them? And how does this become meaningful and relevant for the enterprise world?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/peeps2_234351.jpgIn the consumer world, most people adopt technology based on how those technologies can help them to improve or simplify their daily lives. Of course there are always some early adopters who want to experiment with any new technology. The majority however want to see what the value of a solution is to their already overloaded daily list of “to-dos”. This explains why, even though there are almost 800,000 apps on the Apple app store, more than half these apps are not adopted sufficiently – some figures say that only 5-10% of developers are actually making money on their apps. Apps that become popular do both of the following:  (a) they deliver value to the user by providing a solution to an everyday issue; and (b) they deliver a really compelling experience that makes one want to use the application again and again.  Take Snapchat for example – a messaging service that has been a runaway hit with teenagers. It allows people to stay connected with friends and send short messages with pictures – solving the inherent need for people to communicate and be social. Apps that give you driving directions make life on the road much simpler – moving us beyond the times when AAA maps were a road traveler’s necessary requirement – and provide this in a very intuitive, easy to use interface. 

The situation in the enterprise is similar. Most employees are asking for solutions that help to simplify their lives, make them more efficient at work, and do more no matter where they are – in the office or outside. They want solutions that are elegant, intuitive and easy for them to grasp without a lot of training. Email, one of the first mobile applications to become prevalent, did precisely that – it allowed people to stay connected with their work and others at any time of the day, whether or not they were in the office – providing ubiquitous access, constant connectivity and performance efficiencies in a straightforward manner. 

Earlier this month, I attended the Consumerization of IT conference, and talked to more than a dozen people at the event.  There were a lot of vendors exhibiting their technology capabilities, such as security, single sign-on, ability to build/create apps, etc. People were excited about the new technologies,
although they considered the technologies themselves as tablestakes to be in the mobile business. What was most important to them was how these technologies could be applied to build a complete solution – and deliver that solution with an amazing end user experience for the individual user.

At SAP, we work with a lot of customers that want to transform their business to leapfrog their competition – and mobility is at the center of this transformation. We bring our deep industry domain expertise, business process knowledge and mobile skills to building out customer solutions. What we have learned is that building a successful mobile solution requires a thorough understanding of the needs of the end-user. As a result, our number one focus is creating great apps by deeply understanding our customer needs. Leveraging the fundamentals of design thinking, we start with the end user and conduct workshops to understand their unique needs. By going out of our way to put ourselves in the end user’s shoes, we develop empathy for the end-user’s issues, and can apply that knowledge to build out the solution. For example, while developing a mobile concept application for a bank in Canada, we did ride-alongs with the mortgage specialists to understand a day in the life of the mortgage specialist. The original intent was to develop a solution that would allow mortgage specialists to complete their forms while they were out with the customer. However, by doing ride-alongs, we realized that these customer meetings were an opportunity to be face to face with the customer – and it would be much more valuable for the specialists to have a conversation with the customer about what types of offers/promotions they could give them, rather than using that time to input information into a form. This understanding allowed us to build a completely different, yet much more valuable solution for the bank and the mortgage specialists. 

Once we understand the user requirements, the next step involves quickly prototyping and iterating the solution to share back with the users. We have put together a team that can build out the “concept” app which we then share with the customer – constantly engaging with the end users to refine the prototypes. Often this involves starting with low fidelity prototypes in the form of drawings/ mockups which evolves into high fidelity prototypes in the form of demos/ wireframes. Once we have a good understanding of what the solution should look like, we have a development team that works in an agile, scrum methodology to quickly iterate the solution – constantly validating with the customer and quickly hone in on the solution that best meets the end user needs in an elegant manner. When we finally build and deliver the solution to the customer, we are able to offer an amazing end user experience.

In doing this type of work, what we have found is that the “cool” technology itself becomes less important – what is more important is that the technology be applied in a manner that helps to either: (a) simplify the life of an employee, (b) make them more efficient or (c) improve the way in which a company interacts with its end-customers. Solutions that are built with the end user in mind have the power to transform a business, which results in happy and more productive employees and/or engaged end-customers. In other words, the way to make mobile apps go mainstream is by designing and engaging the end-user throughout the process and by building from the outside in.

Shivani Govil

Global Lead,
Mobile Innovation Program, SAP

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