“With the right apps,” Bratton says, “mobile devices are the first true personal computers: In your pocket, available 24/7, and specifically designed not for the mass market but for your individual needs.
“That is a personal computer,” he says.
Bratton says apps that live on mobile devices have a tremendous advantage over desktops and even laptops. Portability and availability means your employees’ “smart agents” can finally curl up in their pockets as they gently sip on data streams.
Always on, always alert, and always ready to help your employees address a problem or seize an opportunity—if, that is, your enterprise apps are designed and deployed correctly.
“Most apps are not,” he says.
Why? Most mobile apps are the result of squeezing a Web application onto a mobile device. According to Bratton, that’s the wrong approach entirely. Great apps result from thinking in a completely different way about software functionality.
Loading 100 features onto an app takes very little thought. Delivering an app with laser-focused functionality requires truly understanding your business objectives and the resulting needs of your users.
That requires considerable effort—and following what Bratton calls the 10 Commandments of Mobile Apps:
Objectives are everything. Great mobile strategies are based on solid business objectives: cutting costs, reducing waste, improving service, making better decisions, measurably improving communication and teamwork, etc. Always start with your goals, because…
Technology should never drive your objectives. A great app uses the right technology to achieve predefined objectives. Technology—especially a “hot new” technology—should never dictate what you want to accomplish. Choose the right technology to help you achieve your goals. While it's an important business tool, technology alone should never drive strategy.
Don’t break your best practices. Great apps allow users to do their jobs in the easiest, most accurate, and most efficient way possible. Determine the best methods to perform a task and build an app that supports those methods.
Demand a high ROA. Improved workflow and communication should, at a minimum, result in an impact of at least $5k per employee. Always target a high Return on Application. Aiming high will force you to think critically—and creatively—about how you can optimize the efforts of your employees by giving them the right tools.
Follow the 5% rule. Select a few things to do really well. A mobile app can successfully achieve about 5% of the functionality of a Web app. Don't try to be all things to all users.
Think hard before you build. Nail down your requirements before writing a single line of code. Does the app need to run without an Internet connection? How will the app talk to backend systems? What workflow makes sense for the targeted user?
Build in one to three months. An app that takes longer to build is too complex. Stay focused. Never try to do too much. Instead, try to do a limited number of things incredibly well.
Continuously involve end users. The only great feature is a usable feature. End users are like customers. Always allow them to touch and evaluate early prototypes to ensure the development process is on the right track.
Identify and measure success. Create objective measurements: number of users, savings or revenue generated, improved timelines, increased remote access, etc. Your success criteria must be based on your business objectives—and must always measurable.
Never be cool for the sake of cool. Never build an app that is more show than go. An app is only cool if it generates a significant and measurable return.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden