Apps are taking over the world – on your computer, your phone and soon your wrist with the launch of smart watches like the Apple Watch. The most successful of these apps in the consumer world – think Uber or Airbnb – have a heavy focus on design and are increasing the expectations of employees who are no longer willing to take an elevator out of the 21st century back to the 80’s when they arrive at work each morning.
But what is design and how does it apply to the enterprise? Design is about more than visuals and translating business requirements into a product. It’s about user experience - understanding the person using the app and the way they go about doing their job, the experience they have while using the app and how their environment and abilities inform this experience.
No longer do we live in a world where we have to make do with “catch all” software that does a good job across everything. The rise of Software as a Service (“SaaS”) means cost effective products for niches previously not viable, and the rise of Mobile as a Service (“MaaS”) takes this a step further, allowing for completely customized experiences at a fraction of traditional costs – typically rolled into a simple monthly subscription.
The challenge of designing for the enterprise is two-fold. The first challenge is internal buy in. All too often investment in mobile applications beyond the bare essentials is seen as a nice to have, not a key business priority. However, the reality is quite the opposite – success hinges on it. The wrong user experience can result in lack of buy in from employees, time wasted navigating mazes of confusing menus, and inaccurate or missing data, all of which defeat the entire purpose of the initiative.
Once you have the key stakeholders on board, the next challenge is to build a mobile app that employees love to use. This comes back to understanding the user, what they do day-to-day, how this translates into building an app, and making sure design is driven by this and not backend data structures and workflows. Even for a single application, multiple interfaces will probably be needed for different users.
Imagine a project management tool for a construction company. Someone using a touch screen onsite will be faced with fundamentally different challenges when interacting with the application than someone in an office. This means the mobile experience needs to consider what sort of device the person will be using, how they will be using it, what journeys they will take when using the app to ensure that the most important functions are easy to access and use.