What your mobile enterprise apps need: five must-have usability features

By Stephan Romeder

Mobile enterprise apps boost productivity by enabling employees, customers and partners to complete tasks and advance processes at any time, and any place. However, developing mobile enterprise apps requires a new mind-set as they are very different from enterprise apps made for desktops. One of the key differences is the mobile user experience.

With this in mind, we held a roundtable recently with a variety of mobility experts from around the world to discover the characteristics of a good user experience for mobile enterprise apps. The discussion also explored the differences between user interface and user experience, and the relative importance of look and feel versus performance.

Despite the variety of different backgrounds and experiences among the participants, there was a strong consensus on common characteristics of successful mobile apps.

Leverage mobile to add value

Mobile apps must be far more than simplified desktop apps. Added value is essential in order for an app to win over users.

Some of the most important factors in creating a good user experience for mobile enterprise apps include understanding the context of use and utilising the technical capabilities of the mobile device – maps, GPS, camera, phone calls, scanning and the like.

Performance is critical

Here, the discussion came forth from the question of whether it was more important for a mobile enterprise app to look good or to perform well. All agreed that enterprise apps need to look good – but while some said the two were equally important, others said that performance was indeed of greater importance.

“The visual design of the app affects the level of trust in the system and raises the degree of pleasure users get from it over time. But in order to prevent frustration from the user, it is important to have an app that performs well and is responsive, works offline and is always available to the user.”

“Mobile apps won’t be used if they have frequent disconnects or fail to handle session conflicts.”

“You either create an app that works well AND looks good, or don’t develop the app at all.”

Intuitive usage of device features is a must

While everyone agreed that mobile enterprise apps should be simple and easy to use, the question was raised as to the importance of using native device clients and capabilities to create a familiar user experience. While the natural answer is to use native clients with native development technologies, there are more flexible and economical ways to accomplish this using HTML5 development and multi-platform app development tools.

“It’s all about familiarity. The OS and device have their own conventions and breaking that feels odd for the user. The better a new app fits the user’s expected conventions, the less of a learning curve it involves and the more adoption you’ll get.”

“I can’t say it is mandatory to use native clients; there are companies who innovate and create new usage patterns. But sometimes, it’s a good decision to follow an already existing structure…and use native elements for a better user experience and for a better chance of a successful app.”

“The amount of value you receive from developing in a native environment versus HTML5 should be considered against the far higher total cost of ownership of developing the same mobile app in a native environment for three different operating systems.”

Integration issues

Integration with back-office systems shouldn’t be an afterthought. Enterprise apps are about advancing business processes, thus they require integration with backend systems. The interactions with these systems, whether real-time transactions, visualisation of data and/or synchronising data between systems, is an integral part of the user experience and needs to be considered from the outset.

“User experience includes everything that happens behind the scenes: integration, reliability, security, and authentication.”

“It is imperative to consider data feeds and queries that are impacted by backend systems and integrations. All of the features have an important influence on performance and contribute to the user experience.”

Need for a strong ROI

The dynamic mobile and business environments mean that designers and developers need to quickly deploy many apps that will need constant updating. Numbers, time-to-market, updating and maintenance costs need to factor in the ROI calculation.

“A positive ROI cannot be reached with small numbers of users if too much time and money is spent on design. You should deliver the best mobile app and experience as possible given the numbers of users involved.”

“A weekly or bi-weekly update cycle is what is expected from mobile apps. Organizations that don’t keep up with that are putting their apps in danger of being labelled as out-of-touch.”

Apps that are deemed a success bring value, utilise the device features users are familiar with, and can respond rapidly to dynamic business processes and changes in technology. Successful mobile apps not only deliver ROI based on increased efficiencies, but they also create strong user loyalty and enthusiasm for the value that IT brings.

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