How role-based app development drives enterprise transformation

By Tony Storr

Most organizations have evolved their customer-facing mobile apps through several generations of maturity. Design principles carefully consider the entire customer journey, and we would not dream of making customers open several apps during that journey. However, few have taken the same approach with app development for their employees, where it is still common to find a mindset of functional app deployment to an internal app store for self-service usage.

Though most organizations will happily state that they are avoiding simply putting their desktop apps on a mobile device, it’s still rare to find examples where an employee’s role is considered and mobile is used to transform that role. Instead, employees often find an increasing number of functional apps on their devices that they need to open and use throughout the course of an activity.

There are two concepts that need to be considered for employee mobility: role-based apps and transformation through mobility. Following these will yield the best experiences and business results from enterprise mobility.

The context of the role

When IBM and Apple announced a new approach to enterprise mobility in July 2014, I became part of the team taking the 100+ MobileFirst for iOS apps to market and inspiring wider enterprise mobile transformation. Part of the interaction with clients comes from showing beautifully designed apps built around the user, transforming their roles and empowering through mobility.

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This includes using the features of the mobile device, such as geolocation, camera, microphone, accelerometer and many others. Though this often injects some magic in areas that have not been considered, most clients had already understood the concept that mobile is different and these uniquely mobile aspects can be transformational. However, the concept of app development designed around the employee’s role has been and continues to be the biggest area of surprise. Yet when adopted, it can be highly transformative.

Consider an app for cable technicians in the field fixing customer problems. The app shows scheduled jobs, customer histories and map routing. It also shows components required for the jobs and enables the reservation of a vehicle and the loading of components onto that vehicle. Videos and manuals related to the job can also be viewed and other experts online can be contacted.

The benefits are great, as the app empowers the technicians and reduces administrative tasks. The first-time fix rate goes up, and training costs are reduced. The app covers their entire role, and everything is relevant and presented in the context of scheduled tasks.

However, how is this traditionally approached? Probably with a vehicle reservation app, a parts directory app, a corporate directory, a time-recording system, a workflow-scheduling app, a training manual content library and many more resources. In this scenario, the technician must use each app and search for the content related to the task. In the single app, everything is presented in the context of the scheduled jobs, and even time recording is done automatically.

This suggests that many of the functional apps that are traditionally released really need to be broken down into services to provide in-context content to role-based apps. A suite approach to app development can also be used. This can add complexity in testing and enhancement. If the apps do not share common design principles, the user experience can get confusing.

Improve your mobile strategy one role at a time

Most mobile leaders will agree that the transformational role-based app approach delivers a better experience and results. They want to know how to change their strategies, and, more importantly, how to get started.

The answer is easy: one role at a time. Start with the role that will bring visible results. One problem you won’t have is with user adoption. An app designed specifically for the role and with the users (not just their supervisors) will be snapped up. The pressure is more likely to come from other roles, demanding, “Where is our app?”

Creating role-based apps will yield great results if done right but will not be the sole solution to all enterprise mobility issues. If there is no consistency in app approach, suppliers and integrated services, efficiencies and organizational benefits will not be achieved. These wider issues are addressed by adopting an approach for the next wave of enterprise mobile app development.

Written By

Tony Storr

IBM Mobile at Scale Leader

Tony is the architect and leader of IBM's Mobile at Scale offering that evolves app services to the next generation of maturity. Now in his 27th year at IBM, he hasdeep experience in building and directing high-performance IT organisations that enable clients to successfully exploit…

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