Three Things CIOs Must Know About Mobile Apps

Mobility has arrived at the center of the digital enterprise. Today, developing apps for customers, employees and business partners is no longer optional. But somewhere between the promise of the technology and the goal of maximizing budgets lies the real world of putting mobility and apps to work effectively. Here are three things that CIOs often get wrong.

Focusing on today rather than tomorrow. The mobile environment is evolving rapidly. Nevertheless, many CIOs fixate on the next release or two of an app rather than the overall direction mobility is taking. Kim Smith, vice president of innovation and digital services at consulting firm Capgemeni, said that it’s critical to take a more holistic view of both consumers and technology and peer into the relationships between people and devices. This helps avoid falling into a reactive approach and falling behind the curve.

Staying current with usability and design trends is critical. While it isn’t particularly wise to stand at the bleeding edge of app innovation, it’s crucial to position a business somewhere at the front of the pack. Today, consumers equate innovation with brands. This means tracking technology changes and new features in mobile platforms such as iOS and Android but also recognizing how consumers use mobile devices to communicate, purchase and interact with companies–including through fingerprint scanners, cameras, voice features and more. “It’s important to understand the consumer journey and how to make things easier and better,” Smith said.

How can CIOs become mobile app innovators?  She believes it’s necessary to “put aside all preconceived notions and start fresh–essentially rethinking and rebuilding things from scratch.” This means adopting more of an entrepreneurial approach and identifying ways to build value into an app–for both the business and the consumers. Among the key questions: What are the two or three things I most want to accomplish with this app? How does the mobile space potentially change the way I deliver goods and services? And how can I deliver the fastest and best experience possible? With a strategic plan in place it’s critical to build a flexible IT platform and introduce business and IT processes that support rapid development and change.

Viewing an app as a discreet tool or channel. Too often, business and IT leaders look to extend existing capabilities and business processes through apps. But this taps into only a small part of the potential of the technology and ignores the evolving state of digital business. As Nisha Sharma, managing director at Accenture Mobility, put it: “Things no longer take place in a linear or episodic way.” Indeed, mobile apps introduce far more robust ways to accomplish tasks and interact with users, typically in real time. Moreover, and no less importantly, apps must fit into an entire ecosystem of tools and technologies. Most CIOs understand these concepts. Yet, it’s extraordinarily difficult to transform this thinking–and even a well-defined vision–into a successful mobile app strategy.

The reason? An omnichannel experience is very different than a multichannel experience. “People want things to work wherever they are at and on whatever device they are using at any given moment,” Sharma said. This has key implications for CIOs. First, building great apps requires more than technical expertise from an IT department and a crack design team. There’s a need to reach out to employees, customers and business partners to truly understand how events and processes take place–and how people use an app. In addition, when building apps, a cross-functional approach is critical. Input from across the organization increases the odds that an app incorporates the right features, workflows and touchpoints.

At Kao Group, a global producer of personal care products, the journey into mobile has led to an internal app that allows sales staff in the field to enter orders on iPads using software from Mendix running atop SAP. Matthias Bartels, senior business application leader, said that understanding and mapping the way the service worked–and ensuring full data integration and visibility–was critical. That required a careful analysis of business processes and closely watched pilot deployment. It also required a phased roll out, a coordinated marketing effort, training and a rapid development approach centered on fixes and functionality. The end result? Sales people now save upwards of two hours a day compared to previous systems that relied on laptops. In addition, the accuracy of data has improved dramatically.

Thinking one app fits all. There’s no question that supporting today’s mobile environment presents colossal challenges. For one thing, it’s necessary to accommodate both iOS and Android devices, and other platforms such as Windows Mobile and BlackBerry may also enter the picture. For another, devices now come in a dizzying array of form factors–including phablets and differently sized tablets–that display graphics and data differently. “Oftentimes, there’s an assumption that you design once and it’s exactly what all end users are looking for,” Smith said. “The reality is that different devices offer different features–and people behave differently when they use larger and smaller form factors.”

Moreover, the problem is often magnified within a single platform. For instance, iPhone users may expect that they can do the same things on an iPad. However, if a feature is missing or doesn’t work correctly, they may wind up frustrated and click away–sometimes forever. The result is abandoned shopping carts and apps. In fact, about 95 percent of apps are eventually abandoned. Mobile browsers can solve some problems–and it’s often necessary to offer them as an option–but they typically lack the robust capabilities of a dedicated app, including the ability to incorporate cameras, voice and scanning features.

The upshot? Smith believes that it’s necessary to approach mobile app development in a fundamentally different way than traditional IT. This may include outsourcing infrastructure management in order to dedicate resources to mobile app development. It may also require new alliances and partnerships–along with APIs to connect systems and data in new and useful ways, she noted. Sharma said that it’s critical to think through an entire business process or set of processes before unveiling an app and match them to different users, devices and situations–including understanding potential bandwidth limitations. The best apps tap into the hardware capabilities and form factor of specific devices–including cameras, speech recognition, fingerprint scanners and geolocation–to redefine activities and events.

“When everything is in sync the results can be transformative.” she said. 

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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