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Internal Apps Need a Mobile Strategy too!

Mobile apps have the power to transform the way companies do business. And in many companies the revolution is underway. Everyone in the field has a smartphone nowadays. Sales people, field technicians and employees carry around a tremendous amount of computing power. These mobile devices are far more powerful than laptops from only a few years back. Unfortunately, much of it is only being used for email, web browsing, and LinkedIn. How can a company better tap this power? How do you go from just email support to a comprehensive suite of useful apps for mobile users in the field? First, you need a strategy.

Addressing Mobile Needs

“How can we leverage mobile to our advantage?” is a common question that many company executives may ask themselves. Chances are pretty good many companies have already developed external apps for their customers. The irony is that many have not thought about ways to leverage mobile for their own employees beyond just simple email and salesforce.com access.

Mobile represents a powerful way to keep internal employees informed, educated, and productive so they can better respond to your customers. How can you cut costs and make your people better? If you can provide a service faster and better, would that be an advantage?

Simple answer is yes, but where do you start?

The solution is not to just buy iPads, iPhones or GalaxyTabs and distribute them to employees. Time and time again, the strategy of just throwing mobile hardware at employees almost never works. The hardware is only part of the solution, the real answer is software.

The proper solution is to have a portfolio of apps that address your field users and employee’s direct business needs. These apps need to solve real business problems and have a reason to exist on mobile. Building an app and hoping the “build it and they will come” adage does not work. And worst of all: you can’t make the app any harder or more cumbersome than the existing process. It’s a sure sign of failure that will lead to poor adoption.

Internal Mobile Strategy

Now that we’ve addressed all these challenges, what’s the next step? Companies invest in strategies for a myriad of enterprise systems — employee-focused apps need to be a part of this. Having a clear direction and a plan always makes sense, but sometimes it’s not so easy.

An internal mobile strategy can help ease some of this pain. The list below outlines some initial steps:

  1. Have a list of app ideas for field workers, sales people, and internal employees. Think about employee roles rather than individual tasks. Picture a field worker using a myriad of apps on their smartphone to make their work day faster. Remember to think holistic about their workday. If the employee needs to pull out their laptop, fire up a hot spot, and open their browser to get a document off SharePoint – that’s a sure sign that something hasn’t been thought through well enough.
  2. Filter & rank that list to focus on apps that can immediately save costs or bring in more revenue. These apps are not always immediately obvious. Connectivity, enterprise integration, and security policies can seem like barriers. Additionally, knowing the costs and ROI are going to make justifying things much easier. Keep in mind that calculating ROI on mobile apps is sometimes quite challenging because of perceived “soft” benefits.
  3. Budget enough for the effort. In the 6+ years that I’ve helped customers with mobile, the most misunderstood part at the executive and management level is budgeting. Good mobile development costs money. A good rule of thumb is 50k for a simple project on usually one platform, 50-150k for something a bit more complex, and 150-250k+ for something multiplatform with many features such as enterprise integration, offline, geolocation, bluetooth, etc. This also excludes the costs for backend system needs.
  4. Find some help and build these apps. Taking on mobile development and its different approaches can be quite a daunting task. There’s many items to consider. A common mistake is selecting only one development approach. Mobile is not “one size fits all”. Different circumstances call for different approaches. Sometimes native makes sense. Other times hybrid makes sense. Many times you don’t even need an app at all, and responsive web design (RWD) is the proper approach. Make sure that you make the right decisions.
  5. Track Engagement. Nothing is worse than investing in a mobile development effort and not seeing any return on that investment. Engagement (measured via analytics) is critical to mobile apps – especially internal employee-facing apps. If you build an app and nobody is using it, something went wrong. It’s time to do an autopsy so that it doesn’t happen again. In my experience, the most common offender is a sub-par user experience. Apple and Google have raised the bar on usability and user experience – your employees expect that level of quality. Anything less and they won’t use it.


Other Approaches and Ideas

Addressing internal mobile needs is an ongoing journey. During our Mobile Strategy sessions, we discuss other items such as: playbooks, frameworks, development approaches, technical readiness, authentication, security, governance, and a consistent focus on the user experience. A strategy needs to be comprehensive to realize the expected returns. You can’t take shortcuts anywhere.

Finally, another great approach for many customers is the establishment of a Mobile Center of Excellence. These can help keep a company focused on producing quality internal apps through a governance and review process. I’ll focus more on this topic in my next blog post.