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Key Challenges in Enterprise Mobile App Development: Employee-Facing Apps

 

This is the first of two articles on the key challenges of enterprise mobile app development. The second article to this two-part series discusses the challenges to developing and shipping customer-facing enterprise mobile apps.

 

In the enterprise mobility space, there are a myriad of strategies and elements that encompass what is meant by mobility. The focus of this 2-part article series will be on enterprise mobile apps, which according to Enterprise Mobility Exchange, is the biggest focus of enterprise investment in mobility solutions. Enterprise mobile apps can mean either employee-facing apps – which typically focus on the mobile workforce and operational improvements – or customer-facing apps, though these two often overlap and work together.

 

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This article will focus on the key challenges faced in the development and delivery of employee-facing enterprise mobile apps, and how these challenges can be addressed when executing a broader mobile strategy.

Mobile Expertise & Resources

 

“As a result of having fallen into app development as a business necessity, organizations are typically lacking in basic app development life cycle skills such as user experience (UX) design, quality assurance, mobile-specific back-end data integration and mobile-oriented security needs.”

Gartner: How To Build A Successful Mobile App Development Team

 

Perhaps the biggest challenge enterprise organizations face in their mobile app development initiatives is a gap in expertise. Mobile is still a young industry, and requires an entirely different set of competencies than does web and other traditional IT systems. The reality is that organizations don’t have this expertise in-house, and therefore need to source talent that is capable of filling these gaps.

 

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However, sourcing the talent and maintaining a development team is both difficult and costly. Many roles that specialize in mobile, from mobile engineers to product managers, are in high demand and require salaries that reflect this. Furthermore, there tends to be high turnover among these roles because of this demand and the work culture they are used to operating within. As a result, finding, paying for, and keeping talent has proven to be a major challenge for enterprise organizations across the board.

 

To mitigate this problem, many enterprise organizations have opted to pursue a mixed sourcing model: some of the key development and strategy components are outsourced to a mobile app development firm, and some are executed internally. In its analysis of enterprise application trends, Gartner recommends adopting this approach, stating that 55% of organizations are successfully delivering apps using this model.

 

 

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This approach can be highly beneficial, particularly for enterprises that are just starting out with their enterprise mobility initiatives, as it combines external consultants and specialists with in-house talent. This can help reduce internal costs while also allowing internal team members to gain the knowledge needed for future initiatives.

Security

According to a survey conducted by TechValidate and Red Hat, 45% of respondents named security as one of their top challenges for enterprise mobile app development. Unsurprisingly, mobile-oriented security needs require specialized expertise much the same as mobile app development does, presenting a number of unique challenges.

 

For enterprise organizations that issue devices to employees, as opposed to using a bring your own device (BYOD) model, they are able to exercise much more control over security. Company-issued devices can be set to limit what employees can access on the device and how the device is used. For example, disabling native apps, forcing the use of whitelisted apps, adding remote device locking and wiping functionality, etc.

 

Companies that are using a BYOD program and plan to have employee-facing enterprise apps accessed on those devices can’t exercise the same level of control, but can implement a Mobile Device Management (MDM) strategy. Solutions like SOTI or Airwatch allow organizations to create a sandbox where enterprise apps live, set compliance requirements, remotely wipe data, and otherwise secure the endpoint.

 

Data encryption, certificate underpinning, and strong authentication measures are also imperative to both approaches and typically are part of MDM solutions.

API Strategy

Another challenge in the development of employee-facing enterprise apps is creating an API strategy. In order to power your app, you will need APIs to expose the business functions needed to enable certain actions. A field services app, for example, would need an API to expose maintenance appointment schedules, or to allow users to close completed appointments.

 

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Companies need to evaluate their current APIs and determine whether or not they are capable of fulfilling the requirements of the app. In some cases, these services may not be adequate, which means modifying existing APIs or creating new ones. In other cases, the services may not exist at all, which means APIs will need to be created from scratch. API strategy should be included when gathering product requirements as these services will not only be integral in the functioning of your product, but also add cost and effort to the project.

Platform Decisions

Whenever an organization plans to build a mobile app that is customer-facing, we always recommend native app development. It is best to stick with native and not sacrifice on the design elements that are unique to each platform.

 

While user experience and performance are still crucial for employee-facing enterprise apps, cross-platform development using tools like Xamarin are often good options because enterprise organizations can force the UX to be uniform, reduce development costs, and do so without affecting the customer-brand relationship. Since function is more important than delight for internal applications, cross-platform application development can be the right solution.

 

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That said, deciding between a native or cross-platform approach is still a big challenge. Cross-platform tools may not be suitable for everything that needs to be accomplished, depending on goals and objectives. On the other hand, native development may be too costly or in some cases, take too long to get to market given project deadlines. Organizations must make this decision early in the product discovery process when defining needs, goals, and objectives.

Adopting a Focused Approach

Given the size of enterprise organizations, determining where to begin with employee-facing apps is often a major challenge. The reality is that there is no catch-all solution given the needs of different departments and the sheer variety of roles and objectives. This problem was highlighted by respondents in the Global State of Enterprise Mobility 2016 report, who noted that a key lesson learned from mobility initiatives was to “think big, but start smaller.”

 

The best approach is to start small with an app or apps that solve particular problems for a set of users; a “point app” that addresses a very specific need. For example, a company that provides field services may create an app that allows service technicians to view schedules, report on appointment status, and interface with the back-end system directly from the application. This approach allows organizations to remain focused and ensure things work very well for a particular set of users, prior to rolling out larger initiatives for other areas of the organization.

User Adoption & Business Readiness

In a recent post about mobile app budgeting, we discussed the importance of considering the cross-departmental effort required for a successful product, and the business readiness issue demonstrates this.

 

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With employee-facing enterprise apps, organizational change is necessary to varying degrees based on what the apps are meant to improve. Business readiness is a challenge that while not directly related to development can have a huge impact on the success of the application and user adoption.

 

Human Resources and internal communications teams need to play a central role in ensuring that the implementation of the application is communicated adequately and employees transition to using the solution as required. Countless projects are unsuccessful (and ultimately a waste of time and money) because there is a lack of synergy between development teams and teams that are central to ensuring the solution actually gets used. It is imperative that a strategy is in place to facilitate the transition, whether it be through training, change management, updated employee handbooks, etc.

Final Thoughts

Employee-facing enterprise apps present a number of challenges, particularly if mobile initiatives are completely new territory. These challenges are more than just technical, ranging from strategy to change management. It’s important that these barriers to success are addressed early and accounted for in your mobile strategy in order to avoid delays, limit waste, and set your employee-facing apps on the path to success.

 

This is the first of two articles in the Key Challenges in Developing Enterprise Mobile Apps series. Part 2 will focus on developing and deploying customer-facing enterprise mobile apps.

 

 

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Sanjay Malhotra