Enterprise IT today understands it must deliver mobile apps to keep its end users, customers and business counterparts productive and satisfied. But the mobility effort doesn’t stop on delivery and download: The journey includes user engagement and continuous improvements.
The stage is set for 2015 to be the year of the enterprise mobile app. Consumers around the globe have embraced smartphones and tablets. Almost 75 percent of the subscribers will own a smartphone in the U.S. by year-end. Many corporations have embraced bring your own device (BYOD) programs to take advantage of consumer mobile adoption. Going into 2015, mobile app development platforms have matured and companies are looking to capture the efficiencies of business on the go.
The Lopez Research Enterprise Mobility Benchmark, published in December 2014, revealed:
- Sixty-eight percent of the companies ranked mobile-enabling the business as a top concern for 2015, surpassed only by securing corporate data.
- Sixty percent of companies allow their employees to use personal devices to access business email and calendar apps.
- Two-thirds of IT leaders ranked defining a technical mobile app development strategy as their number one mobile concern.
- More than half of the companies plan to build 10 or more enterprise mobile apps this year.
While it’s clear that companies no longer debate the importance of enterprise mobility, IT is wrestling with finding the right tools and processes to develop mobile apps. Once a company provides its employees with a few mobile apps, the demand for apps explodes. The IT team quickly finds itself drowning in requests and unable to rapidly scale development efforts. In the struggle to prioritize and deploy a large volume of apps, the technology team frequently forgets an important aspect of designing a mobile app–driving enterprise mobile app engagement.
Downloads Don’t Equal Engagement
Downloads are the first metric that both consumer and enterprise app developers track. But just because someone downloaded your app, it doesn't mean that they're using it. Downloads are the gateway to app engagement. If your employees download the app but only open it once, IT has wasted precious time and money.
Consumer app developers are keenly aware of the engagement problem. After spending considerable effort driving downloads, software developers find that less than one-third of the consumer apps that are downloaded are opened more than a few times. Consumer software companies live or die by reviews and the software vendor’s ability to quickly deliver requested enhancements. Driving app engagement through analytics and continuous app improvement is essential and commonplace for successful consumer software developers. However, the same does not hold true for mobile enterprise application development.
Mobile enterprise app development faces substantial challenges:
Kitchen-sink functionality. Many IT leaders fear they will introduce a mobile app without the right features and it will fail. As a result, the app development team attempts to replicate every function that existed in the PC app and workflow. Despite their efforts, many apps fail because they lack the right features and performance. Rather than focus on the number of features in an app, IT should focus on delivering the top features that would be useful in a mobile environment. Additionally, enterprise app development teams need to ensure their apps are functioning properly and that they are being used.
Unable to support fast-cycle updates. Another challenge is that mobile and PC app development lifecycles differ in terms of update frequency and development methodology. In the past, PC apps were relatively stagnant. Software vendors and companies with custom-built apps updated their software annually or every several years. Many companies also used a waterfall approach to design. Today, employees expect their apps to be updated frequently to resolve issues or add new features. But the kitchen sink approach to app development is preventing IT from rapidly introducing and iterating mobile app designs. Instead of annual updates, app development teams should be focusing on hyper agile design, where they release a small set of feature updates every quarter.
Lack of feedback and insight. Unlike the consumer market, reviews on an enterprise apps store are still a novelty for many companies and most development teams have not deployed the proper analytics to assess performance and usage. The mechanisms for gathering requirements and feedback also aren’t as refined as the consumer market metrics. Oftentimes it isn’t until the end user reports an issue that IT understands the challenges with the design because the app doesn’t have the proper analytics embedded to assess performance and usage. Hence, it’s not surprising that many development teams are operating in the dark. This doesn't need to be the case. There are mobile analytics tools that allow developers to understand how an app is performing and if their desired end-users are engaging with it.
Getting to App Engagement with Analytics
The key to driving app engagement is to work with the end customers at the design phase, test software to improve performance and leverage analytics tools to measure adoption and engagement. Common analytics solutions include crash reporting, flow visualization, session length, frequency of use, device type, location and retention.
Application testing is also crucial to the success of any enterprise app. The quality assurance team may forego or shorten the testing cycles to get an app deployed quickly, resulting in issues such as frequent crashes and slow performance. In addition to testing before deployment, the apps team should be using crash analytics to determine how frequently an app crashes and during what part of a process. It can assist in pinpointing the root cause of the crash. For example, the process of accessing a certain database may take too long, creating a crash.
Usage is another key analytics insight that helps IT benchmark app engagement. Development teams should be evaluating how often employees have opened an app and what features they are using within the app. Additional metrics of evaluating app usage, such as how many tasks or workflows are completed and how quickly a user completes these tasks, help quantify engagement. These data points could highlight potential areas of concern, such as issues with integrating to systems of record or the design of workflow.
Other analytics, such as what devices are used and where employees access an app, are useful for improving a design. If IT learns that its users frequently work in areas where it’s difficult to acquire a mobile signal, IT can design an application to operate in offline mode. If the analytics reveal that a company’s employees use multiple devices to access the app, the development team may chose to have a “resume on another device” feature within an app.
Analytics is frequently an afterthought in the mobile app development process but it should be part of the initial application design phase and used throughout the entire mobile app development cycle. Similar to consumer app development, continuous iteration and the use of analytics to improve enterprise apps will become commonplace. Remember a mobile app is a journey, not a destination. App engagement is only sustainable if IT releases apps that perform well and the team continues to update these apps frequently as their user’s needs change.