Users won’t tolerate sub-quality enterprise apps

Users won’t tolerate sub-quality enterprise apps Quinton is a passionate coder and open source advocate. Currently he is responsible for technical marketing for the Salesforce Platform and is also the author of two Salesforce platform books; Salesforce1 developer guide and Salesforce1 API guide. Quinton is also a regular speaker at cloud and developer events around the world, and he is also an active contributor to open source projects and the community.

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/Andrew Rich)

There is certainly no shortage of enterprise software – but there is a shortage of enterprise software that is actually used by employees. Why? Because most enterprise app development teams make software the way they always have: They focus on the value that the app provides to business managers and not enough on how the app could add value to the end user.

It’s easy to forget, but your enterprise employees are app consumers and they undoubtedly enjoy using apps like Evernote, Dropbox and Shazam for personal use on their mobile devices. Consequently these employees expect the same high-quality experience from their business apps.

If your apps don’t measure up to this user experience, why would employees use them? Sadly, it is still very common for an enterprise app to be so inferior to the consumer apps employees are familiar with that they won’t use it.

What makes users relegate their apps to the virtual sidelines?

The main reason is that many enterprises are still developing software in the same way they always have. For example, they still develop apps with too many fields – as if their users have 20- and 30-inch monitors. What’s more, they create too many pages for the user to wade through and end up creating too many steps for the small screen on a phone or a tablet.

Other common reasons why enterprise apps flop include a lack of visual appeal and the fact that many apps don’t help the worker to be more productive.

So if those are the mistakes, what should developers be doing?

Think mobile

You’ve heard it before, but many enterprise developers are still ignoring it. This is perhaps because old habits die hard, but successful enterprise app designers can no longer afford to ignore the needs of the mobile user. With most office-based employees spending at least some time working away from their office-desk every day; mobile has become an enterprise norm.

As a result, you need to forget everything you learnt about developing for the desktop. User mobility experts recommend development teams focus on the user interface and the user experience while building out functional requirements. My advice is to design enterprise apps from the ground up to be mobile apps and ensure you utilise the capabilities of mobile devices like location, camera, recording, social, text and email. And don’t forget – the days of enterprise apps not looking as good as consumer applications should be consigned to history.

It might sound obvious, but this isn’t something many enterprises bother to focus on. According to a study conducted by IT services provider Avanade, 86 percent of organisations know that a good UI is essential to productivity but just 37 percent make design a priority.

A real-life example

Consider the results of one of the world’s largest soft drink bottlers. It is always looking for ways to increase sales by examining inventory stock levels and seeking opportunities to sell more products, however, its legacy notebook application – designed to help sales teams do those things – just wasn’t doing its job.

Salespeople were only syncing their laptop with the primary database once a day – typically in the morning. When they visited stores to check on sales, they didn’t use their laptops to collect data because VPN connections were sluggish and inputting data was cumbersome. To put an end to all of that, the bottler developed a mobile app that is designed to utilise many features built into a mobile device and help employees work they way they want to. For example, the sales team can now verify the account by capturing the serial number with the phone’s camera. The result: much higher uptake of the app and a more efficient and productive salesteam.

So in reality, creating a successful enterprise app is quite simple. When organisations need a problem solved with an app – develop one that is not only visually appealing – but also solves the problem in the simplest way possible. Design it so that users can enter and grab data on the fly – or lookup information in the time it takes to walk from the car park to the office building – and drop any tasks from the app that are not essential.

It’s clear that how an app looks and how simple it makes a task are crucial to its success. You need your users to actually want to use the apps you build. After all, your co-workers are using their iPhones and Android applications constantly – and unless the applications built by the enterprise meet those day-to-day expectations – you will face adoption challenges. In today’s app-driven world, that’s just not acceptable.

Do you have any further tips on developing apps for the enterprise? Let us know in the comments.

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