The common lie of ubiquitous mobile coverage for enterprise apps

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I have a lot of trouble spelling ubiquitous, but it is a great word and worth the trouble – it means found everywhere. So my proposition is that the universally held truth that mobile coverage is everywhere is indeed a bold lie, but such a good lie that it is rarely challenged. The corollary of this lie is that enterprise mobile apps can be based on web technology and that their resulting dependence on coverage is not an issue.

In truth, mobile coverage has improved dramatically in the past five years, with mobile voice and data becoming the cash cow of the modern telco. However, even with this service upgrade there are times in each day when an average American suffers bad coverage: on the train going to work, on the side of their house that is shadowed by a hill, on a rainy day, in the underground carpark of the local supermarket. Indeed, there are whole areas in North America that have permanent poor coverage, like parts of Orange County or nearly all of West Virginia.

The universally held truth that mobile coverage is everywhere is a bold lie – but such a good lie that it is rarely challenged

Now an enterprise worker in the field – a lift technician, a quality inspector, a home care worker, a cable guy – needs an app that improves their work productivity and is totally reliable. Their enterprise app will be used for hours out of coverage and constantly referred to for product or historical information specific to the task in hand. So when their company gives them an HTML5 or hybrid app and says it will work great, they soon find out that when out of coverage the amount of data that can be stored or referred to is inadequate, rendering their enterprise app fundamentally unusable. HTML5 enterprise apps being deployed for industrial grade work are simply inadequate to the task.

So why is this assumption of ubiquitous coverage not challenged? There are a number of contributing factors:

  • IT people doing the design are invariably in coverage, in contrast to a nurse giving care in a private home.
  • Web-based apps are quietly understood by IT to not be ideal for industrial grade work but they are convenient to IT workload with simpler operations management, leveraging current IT development skill sets and security that is consistent with current infrastructure.
  • IT industry analysts are legitimising the assumption, declaring HTML5 as the answer to enterprise mobility whilst blithely remaining ignorant of field usage experience.

In contrast, surveys show that end users prefer native apps; the speed and offline capability wins them over. So IT knows that their end users prefer native mobile apps but they ignore this and give them HTML5 and hybrids because it is convenient, and pretending that coverage is ubiquitous allows this under servicing of their internal customer’s needs to be technically justified.

Operational staff have experienced HTML5 apps and have learnt to be sceptical regarding their usefulness. Such operational managers ask questions like – does it really work out of coverage? For how long? Or similarly, what part of the web app do you disable to give it greater longevity offline? They are searching for the HTML5 limitations that IT does not enunciate and it is this operational backlash that in the end will out the lie of ubiquitous coverage.

IT industry analysts are legitimising the assumption by declaring HTML5 as the answer to enterprise mobility while blithely remaining ignorant of field usage experience

If technology solutions do not meet the business need, if they cannot deliver the return on investment promised, if end users dismiss them as inadequate and return to paper systems then there is no hiding the failure of the approach. The mobile industry has turned as a pack towards HTML5 and its hybrid variations, but without good end user experience adoption it will be stymied.

So we need the reality of coverage to be said out loud: coverage is not always available. The corollary for industrial strength mobile applications is that the minimum requirement for workers is not relying on coverage, that they have all the information needed on hand and can collect as much data, including photos, as required without the app ever curtailing work activity.

The lie is ubiquitous mobile coverage. The truth is that the end user rules in enterprise applications.

 

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