Checklist for the Occasionally Connected App

By Jaffrey Ali, Vice President, Product Management & Marketing, Spring Mobile Solutions — September 02, 2013

Enterprise mobile apps are no longer nice to have, they’re critical tools for businesses. Driving the adoption of enterprise mobile apps is employees’ growing use of their tablets and smartphones to work anywhere, at any time, and the desire of businesses to eliminate paper processes and drive more efficiency into the workflow.
While businesses are trying to extend their desktop solutions to mobile devices, that isn’t always the best approach. Field employees have a very different user experience than those sitting behind a desk at headquarters. To ensure that businesses can address serious pain points, and employees are able to effectively use enterprise mobility solutions, here are four simple, but often overlooked, best practices to consider:
Eliminate the Application Dead Zone –  The biggest mistake most businesses make is to focus on technical issues, such as whether they want a native app, or if they should use HTML 5.  Instead, you need to take a step back and consider where your app will be used. Does your field team work in remote areas, or places where there is no guaranteed wireless connectivity?  If so, you need to make sure the app can operate both online and offline.

Enterprise mobility applications must enable users to perform their business functions wherever they may be, whether they’re connected or not. 

Organizations that deploy mobile apps to field workers are almost guaranteed to have occasionally connected users, who will have to revert to paper and pencil if they can’t connect when they most need it.

Deliver Quality, Seamless Offline Access –  There is perhaps nothing more important to the success of an occasionally connected app than the quality of the offline support. Offline capabilities need to be a core, integrated feature, not just the ability to access cached data or perform a partial set of actions on the mobile device.

Seamless offline access means that the end user sees no difference in the application and can use it exactly the same way whether they are connected or not. Any synching to back-end servers and data sources happens in the background in a way that is non-intrusive and requires no extra action by the user. The only way to ensure that the application works everywhere for occasionally connected users is to ensure that the application is built to be used offline, from end-to-end.
Focus on Usability –  Most consumer mobile apps, and most enterprise software originated for the desktop, are designed for users who are sitting down.  But field users are typically standing up and on the move, and this has a huge impact on the way they interact with the app.  While some user interfaces are beautifully designed and make a great impression in the board room, they’re less than ideal for the demands placed on them in the field. 

Today’s tablets and smartphones can be used standing in an aisle of a retail store, taking stock of inventory, or by utility workers making an assessment of damage after major storm. Instead, form must fit function, and the interface must enable field employees to quickly input information and allow the app to present data in way that easily understandable.
Flexibility Matters, For Applications, Not Development Tools – There is no one-size-fits-all enterprise mobile app. Needs not only vary between organizations, but even across regions within the same organization.  In addition, as business evolves, the way an app is used will evolve too.  Most organizations try to manage this inevitable evolution by seeking flexible application development tools.  But therein lies the problems: a flexible tool does not create a flexible application, and often, when adding major new features, the app needs to be rebuilt, no matter how flexible the tool is being used to create it.

A better approach is to seek out modular applications, where you can immediately begin using the features you need but have the flexibility to integrate pluggable components for other functionality as your business evolves. 

For example, if you wanted to be able to push out ad hoc surveys to your sales reps, rather than rebuilding the application to include survey functionality, you should be able to simply plug in a prebuilt survey module to your existing application. 

This modular approach to building applications improves flexibility, simplifies deployment of new functionality, is more cost effective and is more likely to result in a better end user experience and greater productivity.
By considering these four best practices, you can ensure that your enterprise mobility applications are robust, enable your field users to work effectively from their mobile devices and you have the flexibility to customize the apps as your needs change.


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