The New Rules for Enterprise Apps

To be successful today, enterprise software must be more user-friendly, get updated more often, and offer users outside your company more transparency than ever before.

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What does it take to create applications people love? Whether you're targeting internal or external users, design matters, experts agree. "There's a change in the skill sets we're using," notes Mike Croucher, head of IT architecture and delivery at British Airways. "We're using a lot more creative designers for the front end, people who think about color palette and user interface. There are more graphic designers and media people."

Indeed, when British Airways rolled out its new Enhanced Service app for the iPad, the company carefully selected an eye-catching design even though in-flight crew members would be the only ones to see it. "The front end has a very arty picture of the front of a cabin crew uniform and the tie," Croucher says. "Bringing that kind of visualization makes it look professional. Don't lose the opportunity to think about the artwork that goes into an app." (See "British Airways' iPad App Improves Customer Service.")

Rule No. 2: Make It Transparent

As the insurance company with the legacy interface may soon learn, in today's business world, information is king, and the more information your employees can obtain quickly, the more competitive advantage you can gain. And that data has to be up-to-the-minute.

"People want more real-time data than ever before," says Jim Dusoe, owner of Net Data Design Innovations and a software developer with 30 years' experience. "They want to see where things are and what the process is. A lot of that has become doable over the last three years, where our processing is powerful enough to supply it. In the past, we might not have had a full batch process, but we could limit updates to once a day. Whereas now we're getting closer and closer to a state where when I touch something here, everyone else using the application sees it immediately."

Given the quantity of data that people need to absorb quickly these days, users especially like information presented in a graphic form, he adds. "Data visualization is a huge piece of this. Being able to create charts and graphs, and use some sort of database analytic tools to delve into the data, and discover trends that weren't visible before -- there's a huge call for all of that in enterprise applications. That's probably the single biggest push I've seen recently," says Dusoe.

The need for more detailed and fresher information isn't limited to internal users. Customers and business partners increasingly expect deep insight into nearly everything your company does. "We build applications for customers, and those customers, the vice presidents in charge of software, want to know exactly where that supply chain is," notes Jonathan Rende, vice president and general manager at HP Application Transformation Products. "They want to know when things will be delivered, and if they're not going to be delivered, why not. They're looking for greater granularity in their view of the process."

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