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Build a business case: developing custom apps

Workshop Mobile devices are often described as “enabling productivity”. It sounds simple – get business information onto smartphones and they will become able to deliver what the organisation needs.

The temptation might be to rush out and buy a trailer load of Android devices to see if they help; but with a bit more thought it is possible to work out exactly where the benefits lie.

Few would disagree that mobile devices can, in principle, make us more efficient and more productive. The phrase 'the Blackberry Effect' has been coined to describe the way sales directors buy such devices, without necessarily going through the IT department, to enable staff to pick up email on the road.

As smartphones have extended beyond email, they have become more useful. Improved mobile networks, faster processors and better device recognition have made browser-based access to a remote application feasible.

The latest generation of devices extends things still further, as small-footprint client applications can interact with web-based services. It is difficult to know which is best – in the case of Facebook for example, the mobile browser interface is just as usable as the mobile app.

To make a real difference, however, mobile devices need to do more than enable remote data and application access. The way information is presented is crucial: what makes sense to present on a large screen, such as lots of numbers or large graphics, is lost on a three-inch square display. Navigation also plays its part. The tree hierarchy of many websites can be frustrating on a laptop, and next to unusable on many smartphones.

Don’t even think about dabbling in the science of usability if you don’t have a degree in biomechanics and another in psychology, but we all know whether something is simple or a downright pain. Not being able to access information can be especially frustrating in stressful situations, from closing a sale to trying to locate another suitable concrete pump when the first has broken.

"It is not just about applying the Martini principle (any time, any place, anywhere)"

Just as bad are the sites and applications we just don’t use because while the information may be handy, it is just too much of a faff to get to it.

When mobile data access is done right, however, it is a different picture. It is not just about applying the Martini Principle (any time, any place, anywhere) but more about recognising who needs what kinds of data in what form.

Improvements to the richness of data can also make for better relationships: having someone’s face pop up on a screen can be a great memory jogger, for example.

Sometimes there is also a need to prevent information from getting through, and not only for reasons of security and privacy. For example, well-configured applications can enable managers to attend events without being disturbed unnecessarily by emails and data alerts. Indeed, people are more likely to leave devices switched on if they know they are not likely to be disturbed.

Communication is a two-way street, and mobile devices enable information capture as well as information access. Logging events faster not only saves time, but can make for better decision making and easier prioritisation.

This can be further helped by ensuring that links are made between information pools, for example, synchronising calendar entries with contact information, or providing flags to indicate that an issue needs to be dealt with.

There is more to mobilising data than buying in a pallet-load of devices and seeing what happens. Productivity varies depending on who is involved, what they are trying to do and the types of data they need. By starting out with this in mind, organisations will be far more likely to reap the rewards. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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