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James HobartDelivering a Great Mobile User Experience

by James Hobart

February 2013

 

Several of our clients are deploying enterprise mobile solutions to their global workforce this year. The pace of mobile adoption and change is accelerating much faster than what we witnessed during the adoption of web-based technologies in the late 1990’s.

This phenomenon is forcing organizations to quickly adopt a mobile enterprise strategy that will have long term impacts on their users while striving to deliver true value to the business they support.  Mobile strategies must to be decided with long term consequences therefore it is important to ask key questions before finalizing your strategy.
Some critical questions to consider before finalizing your mobile strategy are:
Will you deliver native or web-based applications?
Many of our clients started out in the mobile space creating “Proof of concept” mobile apps (usually IOS) to prove they could build and deploy an iPhone app.  They quickly found that the process of hand coding even a simple application and deploying it was much more costly and time consuming than was originally planned. The good news is most users embraced the new mobile app and asked for more functionality and more support on a wide variety of devices. Budgeted costs become challenging and they needed to choose a limited deployment or choose a different strategy. With the evolution of HTML-5 many companies are revisiting the native vs. Web-based mobile applications and opting to deploy more with HTML-5. This approach offers many features previously only available in native applications with much broader deployment options and the ability to customize the UX for individual devices using CSS3 and MediaQuery detects to specifically target individual devices and deliver a responsive mobile design optimized for each device and platform.
What devices will you support?
As I mentioned above, many companies hoped for an 80/20 solution where they could deploy an iPhone app and cover 80% of the users. As the mobile space quickly evolves, Android devices are quickly gaining market share and the new Windows mobile platform is poised to take up to 25% market share in the next 5 years.  If your company adopts a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy you will need to support these devices from both a pragmatic and accessibility perspective. This decision will also depend on which geographic locations being deployed and whether this device is a primary work device or a secondary fall back option.  Detailed knowledge of the target user, personas and usage scenarios needs to be carefully considered as part of this decision. 
What is the skill level of your mobile team and timelines for delivery?
Developers love new technology and you likely will have plenty of IT professionals in your organization eager to learn and grow their mobile development skills. This may be a complicated and lengthy process if you choose the native application strategy as you will need strong skills in IOS, Android and Windows Mobile SDK’s in addition to expanding the skills of your distributed architectures and security teams. Acquiring these skills may pose a challenge to rapid deployments often needed to deliver your mobile strategy.  Beyond the technical skills you will be User Experience professionals who understand what the users actually need and are competent at designing compelling, efficient and simple applications that require little or no training.

What is your projected maintenance costs once deployed?
Mobile apps are different than traditional web applications. Users expect frequent feature updates and improvements (at least 4x per year) and have high expectations about quality and ease of use. Adding features to a mobile app tied to enterprise applications can be complex and costly. Add to this complexity of deploying these apps to multiple platforms each supporting multiple devices and your support costs can skyrocket. 
Will you create mini-applications or deploy with a MEAP?
To address these complexities, many of our financial clients are changing their strategy away from native applications and moving toward deployment with a MEAP (Mobile Enterprise Application Platform).  Enterprise vendors like Verivo and Sybase are now providing platforms to handle many of the infrastructure areas previously being built individually as mobile applications were deployed. This allows a majority of the code and data to reside on enterprise servers with a thin HTML5 client delivering the content natively on the device.  Other organizations are creating a small tightly defined set of native mini-applications targeted at key user tasks to deliver mobile solutions where they best fit often using device specific features and technology. Understanding what your users truly need will help you decide whether a robust Mobile Application platform or a small set of native apps will best deliver your mobile strategy. 
Finally, do you know what your users actually need?
With all the possibilities a mobile strategy has to offer it is important to first understand how your users work and what mobile solutions can amplify their efforts and improve their performance. This is best accomplished by spending time with them in the field, documenting how they work and then designing solutions based on true behavior vs. guessing what they may need.  One discovery we have seen repeated with many of our clients is the data usage for mobile users is very different than traditional web applications. Once you have an idea of the user’s needs we recommend you build a simple mobile prototype and usability test it with users. This approach will lead to new discoveries and further iterations in your design. Once you deploy your application you will need to head back out into the field and again study how users are actually using the application and use this knowledge to refine and improve your design.

Interested in learning more about how to make this happen?
Our company has been designing mobile and web-based applications for the world’s leading companies for over 15 years.  Our UX (User Experience) professionals work directly with clients on large-scale deployments to assure usable, effective and innovative solutions. The classes we offer reflect this pragmatic approach from the lessons learned while working with our clients. 

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