Learning slowly: Getting ROI from enterprise mobile apps and helping the CIO

Gartner released the following statements in its April 2017 paper on mobile app development trends:We find that the myriad of choices for architectures, tooling and sourcing is reducing the number of successful implementations of mobile app strategies.”

The key findings were:

  • “Of the companies we surveyed, those that have undertaken mobile app development have deployed an average of eight mobile apps to date, with another 2.6 currently being developed and 6.2 planned for the next 12 months, but not yet in development.
  • In regard to the platforms, frameworks and tools used in-house for mobile app development, native software development kits (SDKs), open-source tools and web framework are the most used.
  • Bots and virtual assistants (VAs) are not widely used. However, more than half of survey respondents state that they have begun investigating, exploring or piloting their usage.
  • The primary barriers to mobile initiatives are resources-related (lack of funds and worker-hours, and skills gaps). Other barriers include a lack of business benefits and ROI justification.”

This is a long way from Gartner’s previous position of just a few years back – companies would have thousands of mobile apps, corporate IT would need to develop mobile centres of competence within IT and we should wait for the big brand IT vendors (IBM, SAP, Oracle, and so on) to define the right technology direction.

This advice was evidently way off the mark.

Corporates dipped only their toes in, developing in-house small generic mobile apps like expense management to see how the technology worked and how deployment would unfold. They learnt that there is no ROI in deploying apps that do simple back-office admin and that operational support is as hard, or harder, than the development itself. Some IT departments then imposed technology that was easy for IT management, focusing on nascent HTML5 capabilities, rather than focusing on the end user experience. A lot of these projects ended in tears.

So where are we today?

Real ROI is in line of business mobile apps and the associated management of field work. Areas like field service, oil & gas, construction projects, inspections by government or corporate QA officers all have immediate and significant returns under mobile enablement. However, they are also complex in their workflows, demanding the strong user experience to get easy compliance, and they are constantly changing with the business needs of their areas.

Internal development cannot digest this requirement in a timely way in the vast majority of IT shops. Some CIOs have then moved to the worst of all worlds as a response, choosing a tool for internal development and then outsourcing the development to a low-cost development country. The result is normally expensive and slow.

Industrial line of business apps needs to be seen as a competitive edge in the achievement of company goals. This assertion is based on the fact that industrial apps are generally being used when your company has engagement with its customers. The other key enabler is allowing proactive operations management through transparency of operational activity as it unfolds within the day.

In fairness, historically, IT has always preferred the off-the-shelf applications whenever the market made the choices broad enough to allow a match to be found specific to company’s needs. This has not been the case in mobile industrial apps until the past two years, however it has now arrived in full force.

As a CIO, your expectations should be high, when looking for a line of business app – it needs to be built on a mobile platform so that maintenance and new features going forward can be easily achieved by the vendor. It should work offline for hours at a time with no impact on the end user. Workflows within the app should be configurable so that the end user is only presented with what is relevant; the user experience must be clean and design self-evident. Availability of the app and associated support must be guaranteed to ensure confidence in its use. And finally, the vendor must have a customer-centric approach that allows you to work with them easily.

It is asking a lot, but it is all here now.

 

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