By Ben Kerschberg
More than 780 million people use mobile devices exclusively. This means they don’t own a laptop or desk computer. These 780 million users are your customers, partners, business stakeholders, suppliers, and other business associates. As organizations begin to align their mobile first strategy with this shift in users, it’s important to focus on what these mobile apps must do.
1. Connect to business data and display it in a comprehensive, meaningful way to users.
Mobile apps should be seen as a physical extension of your business, and therefore they must be able to receive business data and present it in ways which are relevant to your users within a minimal time frame. Time is not what it used to be. Working with datasets in real time can seem like drinking from a firehose, so its important to display data in an intuitive way. Is the user in sales, marketing, finance? Is he a manager? Is she a customer or internal business user? All these users have different perspectives and the data they see should reflect who they are, and what they want.
2. Real-time feedback and data contribution.
Instantaneous customer and business user interaction is critical in order to receive feedback such as conditions in the field, changes to orders and deals in the pipeline, etc. It’s far better to (i) receive and address feedback from customers in the field which empowers you to make changes than (ii) respond to a negative social media stream which is the downstream effect of users not being able to provide real-time feedback which could have been immediately addresses.
3. Operating system compatibility.
Your mobile business application must work on all desired operating systems. This may seem obvious, but choosing operating systems (e.g., iOS, Android, or both) will depend on your desired customer base and reach. This should influence how you build your application: native, hybrid or web app. If you choose native, the order in which you build your OS-specific versions, will depend on user demand for each platform. You will also need the talent necessary to develop on these platforms, so make sure well ahead of time you have access to the right skill sets.
4. User-centric, actionable notifications.
Mobile apps should alert you based on pre-defined triggers, and allow you to easily take action based on this new information. These can be based on your department or role within an organization, geographic location, general interests or recent news, to name a few examples. For supply chains apps, notifications might be triggered by U.N. and State Department reports of piracy in your navigation route, or weather conditions that will make it impossible to merge your cargo in transit. For a sales person, this might be an alert to a new product discount which you are about to sell to a customer who’s office you are currently standing in. Real time, user centric notifications allow swift and proactive action, sometimes automatically based on how you define your triggers (e.g., route the ships around the storm, and notify the port and on-ground transportation of the new arrival times, or adjust the current quote with new pricing and send to the customer with the new promotional pricing message).
5. User friendly and brand consistency.
Due to a smaller screen size, and typically a shorter interaction timeframe, mobile apps need a well-conceived user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). This means: quick and easy entrance (password) and navigation, real time data, real time communication, minimal clicks, predictive functionality, and a personalized experience (role based design).
Mobile applications need to be intuitive, well informed by data from both master data sources and the context of the user (location, role, etc), and painless to use. The goal of any application is to create something which makes a users life easier by using it. A computer in everyone’s pocket is a powerful concept, but if the functionality they provide and the processes they attempt to streamline are not well thought out with the user in mind, adoption will be nonexistent and the initiative to provide mobile functionality to customers, employees or partners will be a failure.