Why most companies have the wrong approach to enterprise mobile apps

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What's important is not rapid application development, but rapid application deployment to maximize ROI.

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Many organizations are struggling to provide productivity enhancing mobile applications to their internal workforce. I’m not talking about consumer facing apps (like bank or airline apps) that have to be perfect and represent your “brand” to the outside world. Rather I am talking about productivity enhancing apps for sales force, services, delivery operations, manufacturing, etc. These are apps used by your workforce to make their jobs easier and/or provide better customer service. As more and more mobile devices like smartphones and tablets get deployed, these apps are becoming mission critical, and not just nice to have.

Organizations continue to struggle with the best way to get apps to users who are clamoring for more mobile automation. The unfortunate truth is that many companies are pursuing the wrong strategy when it comes to developing and delivering these apps. A typical mobile app can cost from $250K-$500K (or more), and take 6-12 months to develop and deploy. But over that time period, the potential for significant payback in enhanced operations is lost. Any delay that keeps employee productivity below what it could otherwise achieve represents a real loss to your bottom line.

What’s needed is a new way to look at evaluating internal mobile apps. The critical factor in making a decision and maximizing the payback of any mobile app is time to deployment. Unlike consumer facing apps that need to be perfect in function and user experience, internal apps don’t necessarily need to meet those criteria. Usable “good enough” apps that provide worker productivity improvements are just as valuable, especially if they can be created easily and updated often to take advantage of changes in the business environment. User experience is important, but the evaluation criteria for internal versus external focused apps should be different.

Rapid application deployment needs to be the mantra for internal business apps. Time really is of the essence when it comes to these apps. Any delay in getting the apps to workers has major cost implications. We have built return on investment (ROI) models for mobile apps that evaluate several factors in assessing the lost opportunity costs of delaying apps. Below is a synopsis of a key finding -- what it costs per user per month at modest productivity improvement levels if an app is delayed.

delayed app cost 1 Copyright 2015 J.Gold Associates, LLC.

Figure 1: Cost of delaying an app, per user per month, by productivity improvement level (Assuming fully burdened employee cost of $120K) (Copyright 2015  J.Gold Associates, LLC.)

As you can see from the chart, any delay can have significant opportunity costs to the organization, especially if you consider 100, 500 or 1,000 user deployments. The above opportunity cost figures are per user per month per application. If you pursue a strategy of getting apps out in one month versus the typical six months (or more), then the bottom line ROI is significant. If you add additional applications that could further enhance the productivity of the workforce, the potential returns go up dramatically.

So what should companies do? You must change the typical old style development models which nearly all companies have embedded in their culture. Don’t focus on a typical app development cycle of the past. Rather, focus on getting apps to users that are good enough, and fast enough. And focus on the need to support rapid pace of change and “disposable” apps for specific workflows. Remember, time is of the essence.

There are a number of vendors who focus on getting mobile apps out to users quickly and that allow rapid updates and changes. Some vendors concentrate on modern day “screen scraping,” by converting Windows and web-based HTML5 apps for mobile devices (e.g., Reddo MobilityCaprizaStarMobile). Others have rapid start and relatively low cost implementations services-oriented programs to get apps done and deployed quickly (e.g., Point.io). Some have forms-centric approaches to rapid app deployments (e.g., Alpha Software), or workflow aggregation through back end connectors (e.g., Sitrion, Built.io).*

The right approach depends on your particular situation and strategy, but the important thing is to not sit back and procrastinate. Getting deployable mobile apps to your workforce quickly and with “good enough” features will not only make your users happy, it can significantly improve the corporate bottom line. And isn’t that what the move to mobility should be all about?

*Note: As an industry analyst I interact with many mobile vendors. This is a sampling, and not meant to be a comprehensive listing of all the vendors in this space. None of the vendors mentioned are currently clients of my company, J.Gold Associates, LLC.

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