An App Isn't A Mobile Strategy

You might only need part of an app, or just one piece of data, on a mobile device to make a process better.
A company's mobile strategy won't be successful if it starts by saying, "We need to mobilize our apps," or asking "What devices should the company support?" All too frequently, this is where the conversation starts.

The success of the iPad has increased the urgency to deliver mobile apps in the enterprise even more than when companies were simply delivering to smartphones. However, developing mobile apps isn't a strategy, and IT will be buried if it takes an "app at a time" approach to the demand for mobility. A successful mobile strategy requires companies to evaluate what business processes are working, what needs to be changed, and how mobile can improve how the business runs and executes its strategy. The move to mobility provides an opportunity for IT to redesign company processes and applications.

There are at least three areas firms should consider when building a mobile strategy.

First, IT needs to mobilize a process or a part of a process, and not necessarily an application. A process could be executed entirely within one application, or it could rely on data within multiple applications. For example, a sales person may need a mobile app that shows data from a CRM systems as well as an order tracking system. If the data resides in multiple applications, it's likely better to build a composite mobile application.

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Second, if IT decides to make an application available in a mobile environment, what parts of that application should be mobile? A business will fail if it tries to recreate the PC experience on a mobile device. The screen size is smaller, the menu-driven navigation of the PC doesn't exist in mobile apps, and mobile offers different navigation options such as touch and voice. Successful mobile apps offer a subset of the functionality found in a desktop application. It could be that an executive wants mobile ERP, but it's unlikely. It's more likely that an executive wants to accomplish some task that takes a small piece of ERP, like approving a purchase.

Third, not all apps should be mobilized. Many apps are too complex for mobile use, and IT needs to consider what would be valuable to have "on the go." The mobile push is also a chance to define just how many people actually use a process or app, and perhaps consolidate some. Replacing paper forms with electronic forms is often an easy call. In some cases, the most successful early deployments haven't been apps at all but are data--such as price books, brochures, and presentations--that have been made accessible through mobile platforms. United Airlines uses iPads to replace a briefcase of maps. Mobile dashboards are also a big hit with the executive crowd.

Where should you begin? The business has to define a core set of processes and data that are required to run the firm. IT can then look for ways that mobile can benefit these apps. A business must understand how its employees want to interact with the company. What data makes sense to access to on a device? Remember, an app doesn't have to look or act like a consumer app, and it can have very focused, limited functionality. An app can enable a single process such as an expense approval, call for a piece of data such as inventory, or deliver a subset of an entire app such as ERP.

Processes that benefit from location, communications, and real-time data capture are a logical starting point when prioritizing potential mobile projects that could provide a big benefit. Consider, as always, areas where mobile can improve revenue or cash flow. For example, it makes sense to mobile-enable apps and data that improve billing cycles, increase inventory turns, and accelerate sales. The business should also look for areas where employees can gain insight with real-time data delivered to and from the field. For example, supply chain data and CRM data can arm sales and service people with valuable information.

With the right strategy, IT will be able to deliver a portfolio of the right quick hit mobile apps that demonstrate business value.

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