SAP Mentor Pete Lagana was highlighted in a recent article as a Thought Leader in Mobile, and an interesting point came up - software providers such as SAP and Salesforce.com offer off-the-shelf mobile applications for their solutions. Additionally, there are a myriad of third-party off-the-shelf applications for the same enterprise products. So what's the trouble? Why aren't these standardized solutions always meeting the needs of corporations? Why would they turn to anyone but the software providers themselves?
The trouble is that many standard solutions offer a less-than-optimal (even a poor) user experience - and if users struggle with the technology, the project will fail. Though the technology is built for them, they will reject it if it is not also designed for them - and there are a few specific areas that we see creating the most discord.
Author Dirk Knemeyer wrote, "Brand represents the intellectual and emotional associations that people make with a company, product, or person. That is to say, brand is something that actually lies inside each of us."
If you agree with this, it makes sense that an unbranded, or underbranded application experience can have a negative effect on the user's attitude. If the design isn't consistent with what the user (much less a customer) has come to expect, it impacts their overall perception of both the application and the brand providing the experience. The user can become confused. Frustrated. At worst, they lose trust in the application itself and reject it altogether.
Therefore, a fully branded mobile experience - mind you, one that not only inherits design elements from a corporation's other solutions, but one that provides consistent navigation and access - becomes incredibly important to many corporations. Though most off-the-shelf applications offer only minimal branding, some platforms such as Syclo Agentry [now SAP] support user centric design on top of the actual application to resolve such matters without going fully custom. This support also prevents the difficulties that arise from...
Duplicating vs. Mobilizing the Interface
As Pete mentioned in a previous CRM session, users don't care about individual features - they want the processes that they have to go through to complete their tasks to be two things: easy and fast. However, in many software development cycles the application becomes simply an amalgamation of features that exist in the original desktop version rather than what it should be - a mobilized interface simplifying a user's workday.
Though off-the-shelf applications provide the strength of the backend features they are built to mobilize, the interface is usually retro-fitted from a desktop version, meant more to duplicate than to mobilize. Truly mobilizing the interface means designing for the medium - taking into account many elements, including:
- The user's location when accessing the application (occasional lack of connectivity)
- The gestures available (swiping, tapping, pinching, etc.)
- The size of the pointer clicking links (a finger is much fatter than an arrow)
- Form factor (avoid too much information on the screen, the font is too small, or the screen scrolls forever)
- The user's attitude when accessing the application (they often are rushing to complete the transaction - and don't have time for multiple tabs and extraneous data entry)
The most frustrating snafu is probably the last one - because even the most experienced mobile developer can fall prey to information over-loading on the interface. Performing user research can determine what to keep and what to jettison - and it's where we spend the bulk of our time in a project. Effective user research both shortens development and design time and ensures user acceptance.
Unfortunately, most off-the-shelf application providers don't do any user research. Fortunately, we do - and can retool an interface on even the most limiting enterprise mobile platforms to meet the needs of the users - because if your application doesn't meet their needs, they will look for...
As technology steamrolls ahead, the companies that can innovate faster are often not the big enterprise software vendors, or even their mid-size partners. The list of specific business-line features grows exponentially over time, and it often becomes the business users who take matters into their own hands.
If users requires a specific feature or process be supported to make the workday easier, and it exists somewhere, they will find a way to use it - even if it means going rogue from the IT-recommended solution. Take Gmail - and the mass exodus of users away from the official mobile client - as an example. It seems as if everything but the software provider's own application tops best-client lists.
Whether the user loses faith in the enterprise application, or whether they simply become frustrated - if a slicker, more usable solution exists, it is a risk. It becomes even more of a risk if it offers...
Integration with Multiple Applications
No enterprise system operates in a vacuum. With a very small number of exceptions, most corporate jobs require users to interact with multiple business systems, and often ones that are provided by completely different vendors. In such a case, a standardized mobile solution is rarely the answer. Rather, a toolset or mobile platform becomes necessary to pull the pieces together. The alternative is multiple off-the-shelf or native applications, with multiple support staff, requiring multiple training sessions, and multiple overhead line items - you get the picture.
It is in scenarios like these that a mobile platform like Syclo becomes so necessary - but, like any quilt of various pieces, the tools must be stitched together to appear cohesive and be usable. Since each corporate technology footprint may be different, the approach must always be a little different - though frequent combinations of technologies can become streamlined over time. No combination of separate enterprise applications will provide the same simplicity and productivity that a single cohesive interface will.
The Most Important Element
The user experience of a mobile solution is rarely the focus of any mobile project manager - however, it is the single most important element to the user.
Many different factors play into the success or failure of a user's experience - especially with mobile solutions. For any corporation, the resulting interface in a mobile solution will - and must - be different, and today's mobile user expects those solutions to not only be functional, but also as usable as the device on which they run.
Because only one thing matters in a technology project: that the solution gets used.