Mobile phones aren't just for talking anymore. With the release of the iPhone in 2007 and the App Store in 2008, Apple gave consumers the power to download and use all types of applications in a mobile format, including games, utilities, social networking, news, weather, reference, travel and productivity tools. Now, a smartphone user has an at-the-ready assistant for 24/7 access to e-mail, calendar, the Internet and literally thousands of other applications. For smartphone users, availability of applications has shifted from curiosity to expectations.
You can download helpful guidelines on developing apps for the Android platform -- and others -- in our Knowledge Network.
Developers built the initial wave of mobile apps for consumer vs. business use. However, consumers are starting to rely on their mobile phones not just for personal use, but also for professional use, and they are bringing their smartphones into the daily workplace. According to a recent Forrester report, "Understanding Information Worker Smartphone Usage," 13 percent of information workers currently use smartphones for work at least weekly. And the number of information workers using smartphones is predicted to escalate rapidly, hitting 34 percent by 2012.
While the most common mobile apps in the enterprise workplace today are e-mail, Personal Information Management (PIM) tools, and calendaring, users are accustomed to getting much more from their device. Having access only to corporate e-mail on the smartphone does not suffice in the business world any more. Forrester reports that information workers are tapping into mobile application stores or operator portals for a multitude of business-related functions. These include productivity apps, instant messaging, collaboration tools and even more advanced functions such as location-based services.
This move to mobile apps in the enterprise gives IT departments interesting alternatives to make the workforce more productive. Enterprises can take advantage of the features inherent to mobile devices, such as SMS and GPS, to create powerful composite apps that merge smartphone functionality and enterprise systems and can take business to the next level.
To stay ahead in mobilization, IT departments must make critical decisions regarding the company's application strategy and policies. Some important questions to consider:
Off-the-Shelf vs. Custom Development
The smartphone user is already well-versed in using third-party apps on the mobile phone, including business and productivity tools. So the first consideration in your mobile strategy is whether you use existing business apps or grow your own. A good place to start is to understand the who, what and where of your user base - who in your company is already using mobile devices, what apps they are using for business, and where they most often use them.
Not surprisingly, the top business-focused applications in use today on smartphones are e-mail, information management and calendar apps. According to Forrester surveys, 92 percent of information workers have a mobile e-mail app on their smartphone, while approximately 80 percent have personal contact information and calendar apps. Most often, these applications are preinstalled on the smartphone by the mobile operator.
Beyond e-mail, the various consumer app stores are rife with other popular business-focused applications. Mobile instant messaging and productivity apps are common favorites. Information workers are relying on the apps to read and modify data stored in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and other popular document types.
Off-the-shelf productivity apps for mobile devices continue to emerge and evolve. To take advantage of this developing trend, a smart IT department may recommend existing apps for the information worker vs. building custom productivity apps for the corporation. Many large ISVs, including CRM-expert SAP, are developing or partnering to create enterprise-ready mobile applications.
While some off-the-shelf consumer applications may be sufficient in the workplace, the majority are not rich enough, and not secured, to address the needs in the enterprise. However, with a multitude of available choices and functions, these apps are good sources of inspiration for what enterprises can achieve with internally developed composite apps targeted to core business functions.
Chris Hazelton, Research Director for Mobile and Wireless at The 451 group, recommended in a recent Webcast that enterprises use off-the-shelf apps for activities that are not core to the specific business or are not significant revenue generators (such as basic company dashboards, visualization tools, job schedulers or expense management tools). Many of these off-the-shelf apps are already in their second or third generation and can connect to the enterprise backend for data input. The corporation must still ensure this data is secure, however, or all potential benefits can be outweighed immediately by sensitive data leaking into unsuitable hands.
Conversely, Hazelton recommended that enterprises spend development budget to build custom mobile apps that give the business a competitive advantage or are critical to revenue generation. These would include apps designed for executives or the sales team that offer new ways of doing business or reaching customers.
A custom app developed by General Motors is a good example of a revenue generator. As reported in InformationWeek, GM is building an iPhone app for its salespeople that will allow them to close a sale of GM's new Chevrolet Cruze from anywhere, not just in the dealership. The app links to videos of the automobile to share with a customer and also allows the salesperson to search inventory and prices. The app not only eliminates the paperwork associated with buying a car, it can also transform how GM makes a sale and potentially lead to key revenue gains for the struggling automaker.
Next page: Apps in the Sandbox