The Top Ten Mobile Apps in the Enterprise

By  Tony Rizzo, Editor in Chief — January 10, 2012

As we begin the New Year we can perhaps look back on 2011 as the true first year of enterprise mobility. After many years of false starts and several roller coaster years of enterprise IT consumerization that culminated in 2011 with the rise of a new acronym - BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device - it is now clear that enterprises are moving quickly to both adopt mobility as the new strategic way forward, and to adapt to the numerous ways that mobility creates opportunities for enterprises to unleash new ways of doing business.

New ways of doing business in a mobile world means understanding the fast-paced, always-on, always-connected nature of the world we now live in. Most businesses now anticipate the ability of partners and customers to react quickly to whatever may be happening at any point within any business process. Customers and partners now expect any company they are doing business with to be able to react to any given situation immediately.

The more progressive companies, in fact, don’t react - rather they make use of mobility to allow themselves to proactively participate and to act as the change agents that are causing reactions from customers, consumers, partners and competitors. Progressive, mobile-oriented companies are now leading the business world; those that are late to the mobile game in 2012 are truly late to the game - they can be considered laggards at this point in time.

Given the intense state of mobility that now exists within the enterprise, Mobile Enterprise Magazine decided to conduct some research and take a look at what business processes companies have spent their time and money mobilizing during the period up to and including 2011, and what enterprises are most likely to find themselves mobilizing in 2012 and in the years immediately following. Our report on the top ten mobile applications in the enterprise is the result of that research, which included both qualitative discussions with a number of different companies, and quantitative research based on a survey we conducted (details of the survey are available at the end of this report).

We took a look at two different but related things for two categories of mobile applications. Our two categories of apps are as follows: internal business applications that target a company’s workforce and internal business processes; and second external applications that reach out to business partners and customers, and that reach out to consumers. Some of these applications necessarily cross both boundaries - for example, real time mobile business intelligence touches consumers in the act of “consuming” services, but then feeds back that information to internal teams for analysis and action.

For each of these categories of internal and external mobile apps, we first wanted to know specifically what business processes were being mobilized, and the relative level of importance being placed on them in terms of what was getting funding first, and what came further down the list in priority. Second, we wanted to know if organizations were attempting to build their apps in-house, either using internal tools or a mobile application platform, or if they were turning to mobile vendors for prepackaged solutions.

We did break the latter down further in our research, asking if prepackaged apps were run straight out of the box or if additional customization was required. However, for the charts presented in this report we collapsed those findings into one simpler category of prepackaged applications.

Our research also took a look at the mobile operating systems and platforms our respondent companies were either supporting or planning to support. We’ve left this part of the research for another report that will appear at a later date.

Internal Apps Through 2011

Figure 1 shows what the top ten apps have been through the end of 2011. Figure 2 provides a companion snapshot of the methods used to mobilize each of these ten applications.

Keeping in mind that “through 2011” essentially means everything a company has mobilized to date (our survey did not specifically ask for apps mobilized in 2011, but asked what apps had been mobilized through 2011). It is certainly no surprise to see that, as Figure 1 shows, email dominates the list. Some may find it surprising that the number isn’t actually 100%, but email is without a doubt the most ubiquitous mobile corporate application.

Second on the list is mobile-optimized corporate intranet access. As with email, this is probably the number two function any company will see employees make use of - whether mobilized or not. It is encouraging to note that 65.1% of respondents’ businesses have already moved forward with mobilization efforts here.

It is a bit surprising to note that field service-based location services aren’t yet very prevalent. Field service operations has traditionally been an area that has received strong mobile attention, but it is also an area of internal operations that may now be considered less of a priority as it becomes more critical to mobilize other areas of any given business.

Across the board, however, the overall set of numbers from respondents, showing mobile app penetration of approximately 30%-42% overall, is a sign that mobility is indeed making inroads. Though we do not have comparative research for earlier years, we can make a safe assumption that most of this growth occurred in the last 18 - 24 months. At this time last year we would have expected far lower numbers. It is noteworthy that travel and expense remains decidedly un-mobile given the relative ease to mobilize T&E. The problem here may be that less than 50% of businesses are using prepackaged apps for T&E - a business process that lends itself entirely to using third party apps.

Internal Apps in 2012

Figure 3 shows the direction internal enterprise apps are very likely to take in 2012. Figure 4 shows the companion chart depicting the methods of implementation for each app. Email, as was suggested in Figure 1, is nearing full saturation and therefore falls from first down to ninth place on the list of top ten apps. It is certainly no surprise to note that business intelligence takes over first place in 2012. Real time business intelligence is clearly an area that is now receiving a lot of enterprise attention, which includes substantial specific investments beyond mobility. CRM is no stranger to the mobile world, and it makes sense to see it move up to the number two spot for 2012.

As Figure 3 shows, custom internal mobile app development has moved up substantially. We believe that the key reason for this is due to enterprises beginning to consider mobility not as the last step to implement in a business application but rather as the first crucial step in building entirely new enterprise applications.

By giving mobility top priority enterprises ensure that their new apps will be inherently mobile from start to finish. Even though an enterprise may later build out more functionality for, say, a tablet form factor and even greater functionality for a laptop, by starting with the pure mobile capabilities first, enterprises will ensure that their applications will always be mobile in nature. We would not be surprised to see custom internal apps move into second place in 2013.

The other thing to note here is that Figure 4 shows that less than 40% of custom internal apps are being created through prebuilt packages. This strongly suggests that the apps being built are more complicated than prebuilt packages are able to handle, with specific mobile developer resources required to meet the demands of the mobile apps being created.

Figure 5 provides a Top Ten Internal Enterprise Applications summary and side by side comparison of where we’ve been and where we are headed with internal enterprise applications development. Note that ERP has finally snuck into tenth place and onto the list for 2012.

ERP - enterprise resource planning - means a lot of things to a lot of different people; however, as a baseline it simply means integrating both internal and external management information across an entire company to enable the flow of information between all business functions and processes inside an organization and to manage the connections to all outside partners. Well, is there any better definition of what mobility can best enable? Look for ERP to continue to move up the list of top ten internal mobile apps.

External Facing Mobility

Figure 6 shows the top ten external facing mobile apps that have been implemented through the end of 2011. Figure 7 shows the companion snapshot for how these apps are being implemented. It is certainly no surprise to see that business to consumer (B2C) applications dominate here. Social networking, of course, is closely allied to B2C applications and most consumer facing mobile apps will likely have a variety of social networking capabilities built into them.

The rest of the applications that appear on the top ten external facing mobile apps list are not of any particular surprise. These app categories have all been in the spotlight since the iPhone hit the street, although most of them are represented by pure consumer mobile applications rather than by enterprise specific applications. What is important to note here is that Figure 6 does indeed represent the enterprise side, and it is encouraging to see these typically consumer-oriented capabilities now finding their way into the mainstream of enterprise development.

Is it a surprise that real time consumer business intelligence sits in tenth place - and not in first place? No, not at all. Mobile consumer BI becoming fully relevant first requires a significant seeding of the marketplace with B2C applications. As we see in Figure 6, this B2C seeding has certainly taken off in 2011, and we are now finally starting to see a real need for mobile consumer BI - and it puts in an appearance in tenth place.

If there is a surprise, it is that mobile-optimized Internet shopping purchases and research aren’t sitting right next to mobile-optimized Internet access to customer accounts. Businesses appear to be slow to move here - perhaps slower than is prudent to do. We will point out however that these are also categories that are best reflected through the retail channel and the Mobile Enterprise survey may be underserved by this particular market segment.

External Mobility 2012

Figure 8 shows what we may expect from enterprises on the external facing app side in 2012. Figure 9 shows the companion chart depicting how enterprises are going about implementing these apps. The first obvious thing that Figure 8 shows is a significant rise in real time consumer business intelligence, now up to sixth place from tenth. This is hardly surprising given the big push in B2C apps shown in Figure 6.

Location based services, in the meantime, has quietly snuck itself up to third place. This increase in LBS is in fact not surprising. LBS is a key tool for implementing highly effective real time consumer BI, and an increase up the ladder by one should signal an increase up the ladder by the other - and that is exactly the case we have here.

Social networking continues to hold on to its number two spot in 2012, but then we run into a surprise. Business to consumer and business to business (B2B) have suddenly changed places on the top ten list. Whereas in Figure 6 B2B appears in fourth place, it surges in 2012 to first place, strongly suggesting that enterprises do indeed now view mobility as a key strategic business asset and go to market strategy.

B2C remains a strong component of the mix, but in fact pure B2C applications may simply now be tapping out after a two year run. LBS and social networking are key pieces of B2C’s continued growth, and the fact that the three of them sit in second, third and fourth place on the list not only underscores their relevance for the enterprise, but clearly shows how tightly linked to each other these application segments actually are.

What is surprising is the degree to which the B2B external applications have jumped, with a big 10% point lead over social networking. Considering the social networking buzz that exists generally in the mobile marketplace - whether on the consumer or the business side, this is a significant finding. It clearly articulates and strongly underscores that mobility is gaining strong visibility at the senior management level and that this visibility is being translated into direct mobile initiatives. Clearly enterprises are now driving mobile development in a major way.

Figure 10 provides a summary view and side by side comparison of the external mobile enterprise application landscape. One thing worth noting from this summary view is video streaming, which lurks near the bottom of both lists. In fact video streaming appears to be taking a back seat to other enterprise application priorities, but this allows us the opportunity to make a prediction for 2013 - look for video streaming to make a similar leap up the ladder as LBS has done this year.

Building Mobile Apps Tomorrow

Before we close, it is worth taking a quick look at how enterprises anticipate shifting their development methodologies heading into 2012 and beyond. As Figure 11 demonstrates, there is a steady shift taking place away from an emphasis on building mobile apps in-house. Building apps in-house has long been cited as a key competitive issue for most of the mobile application platform vendors. With good reason.

Many enterprises do try to build their mobile applications in-house. Eventually they all discover that this is a mistake - short of developing a prototype it becomes a massive, highly inefficient and very costly effort to build a mobile app strictly through the use of in-house resources. Figure 11 shows some encouraging movement on the part of enterprises in recognizing this issue, and in beginning to move away from building in-house without a mobile app platform partner.

Finally, we asked our respondents where on the enterprise application development continuum HTML5 was to be found. As Figure 12 suggests, it is clearly entering the enterprise mindset, with 71.3% of all respondents saying that HTML5 ranges from important to extremely important. It will be very interesting to see how HTML5 begins to affect the enterprise mobile application development process. 2012 will be a year of strengthening the HTML5 foundation. In 2013 we may very well begin to see HTML5 contribute to how the Top Ten Mobile Enterprise Apps lists shake out. For now, all signs point to mobility in the enterprise being on the ascendant.

About the Mobile Enterprise 2012 Enterprise Mobile Application Survey

Research for this report was conducted during a six week period from November through December 2011. The survey was conducted over a 3 week period by Mobile Enterprise. The survey responses were obtained by sending e-mail invitations to Mobile Enterprise subscribers that asked respondents to participate in the survey, and were invited them to enter a drawing for one of four Visa gift cards that were offered as an incentive to complete the survey. Reminder invitations were sent to those that did not respond to the initial survey. A total of 157 respondents entered the survey. Some respondents did not complete all aspects of every question. Mobile Enterprise performed a random drawing to select the winners of the incentive.

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