“Mobile first” application design highlights the need for good UX
At SAP’s industry analyst conference in June 2013, the German software giant was keen to emphasize its renewed focus on revamping the user experience (UX) of its core application offerings.
Given that SAP does not exactly have a stellar reputation for providing a good user experience, the move in this direction is an indication of the seriousness with which all application vendors need to take good design, ensuring that the applications employees use for work provide the same slick and seamless experience that they get with their everyday private applications.
In an increasingly mobile IT environment, good UX becomes more important, but also more difficult to achieve. Simply porting applications originally designed for PCs on to the smaller screen formats of a tablet or smartphone is unlikely to make the most of the touchscreen features and available space.
For this reason, the trend to develop for “mobile first” is picking up, as developers find it easier to first build features for mobile applications and then add functions for larger screens, rather than vice versa.
Without good UX, users will turn off
A primary driver of BYOD has been the ease and comfort that users find with their choice of personal smartphone or tablet. Given the amount of time people spend on these devices, and the scenario for many users that their smartphone in particular is never more than an arm’s reach away, they are an integral part of our daily lives.
The way in which we interact with them – the particular touches and gestures needed to access and navigate through our favourite apps – becomes a natural, subconscious set of learned behaviors.
If these users then turn up at work and are forced to use badly thought-out apps that don’t take advantage of the platform they are using, they are likely to go and find their own apps that are easy to use and help them to get the job done.
The findings in Ovum’s recent report Multi-market BYOD Survey 2013 Results: Mobile Application Usage Trends, BYOA, and Multi-screening demonstrate the scale of this BYOA movement, especially for next-generation productivity apps such as file sync & share, enterprise social networks (ESNs), and VoIP.
In the case of ESNs, around 50% of employees that use these apps have sourced them themselves, and a third of file sync & share users have done so. This represents a huge risk to the enterprise in terms of the amount of corporate data that can be moved on these applications and over which the IT department will have no view or control.
As a result, it is becoming vital that enterprise IT departments understand that this behavior is going on and cater to it, providing the applications that users need and which balance security with a slick UX.
SAP’s Fiori suite showcases new design principles
SAP’s new suite of Fiori applications is the vendor’s showcase for its new direction in user experience. At launch, it comprised 25 of SAP’s most used enterprise applications, enabling processes ranging from timesheets, expenses, and leave and travel requests to sales orders and customer invoices. SAP’s idea behind the development program is to revamp its core offering, providing applications across PCs, smartphones, and tablets that meet the consumer-grade experience expected by employees.
SAP’s drive with Fiori is an indication of the importance of a good UX across multiple devices. The software giant is not renowned for providing applications with a slick, consumer-grade experience, but in an environment where end users have more influence on their IT department and a greater choice of tools, SAP realizes that it needs to address user experience in order to maintain its market leading position. The same principle applies to every enterprise application developer.
The “mobile first” design movement gathers pace
Vendors in the enterprise mobility management space and software designers in general are pushing hard around the “mobile first” angle – designing new applications to be mobile ready first, before building out the features and designs to suit larger screens. Given the huge growth in the number of mobile devices on the market and the extreme likelihood that they will soon greatly outnumber PCs, this model will surely be the primary method of application development in the not-so-distant future.
The “mobile first” principle takes into account the fact that it is much harder to get mobile design right when done the other way round (i.e. adapting PC-specific applications to mobile). In addition, building a cut-down version of the application in the first place forces the developer and whoever commissioned them to think hard about what information and features they want most from it.
For enterprises aiming to mobilise their workforce, using the “mobile first” methodology or choosing a developer that does so should lead to a better mobile experience for employees.