A couple of years ago, mobile apps meant weather look-ups and Angry Birds. Now, apps are becoming an essential client interface to the enterprise. That means recognizing that app development requires the same skills and deliberation as designing any other type of enterprise portal.
In a new report, Accenture recommends a more formal structure for building and deploying mobile apps. Apps usually start out as simple, one-celled organisms that begin to grow in complexity. The first efforts are usually mobile apps that address single-purpose functions such as submitting timesheets. As demand for mobile access grows, and developers build their bases of expertise and toolsets, apps will get more functional as well, handling tasks such as providing an input screen for field service technicians, or a dashboard with analytics.
As a result, it becomes much more important and urgent to apply enterprise development approaches to enterprise mobile apps. The consultancy says there are six considerations that now need to be part of app development. Much of this may be familiar to seasoned enterprise software developers, by the way:
Governance: Mobile apps should be brought into the application governance process, with the goal of "spelling out how key aspects of apps are handled—from ideation to sunsetting." Enterprises also need to identify which developers or teams are responsible for conceiving and building which apps, and guidelines should be published to describe how apps are distributed and updated.
Development and testing: The same processes and procedures seen in standard application development shops should extend to mobile apps as well. However, Accenture cautions, mobile app testing may be more complicated than traditional software testing, since "testing should account for the multitude of mobile platforms, operating systems and devices on which an app needs to run," and "the rate of testing for mobile apps typically is higher than for desktop or laptop apps due to the general expectation among users that apps will be updated more frequently." Also, testing is important for mobile apps, since cellular data plans are involved, and mobile apps "may also add additional load to corporate WiFi networks which may need to be enhanced in order to support new apps and users."
Security: Always important, and organizations need to apply the same "basic set of security standards and practices that they have long applied to desktop and laptop applications" to cover enterprise apps as well. Mobile apps also require some additional security considerations, to address “containerization, which involves running an app in a secure, isolated area in a mobile device’s memory to enable data loss prevention," and “app level-VPN, which enables an approved app to establish its own secure VPN connection to a company computer, thus isolating that app and the company’s network traffic from all other apps running on the same device."
Enterprise app catalog: This is the enterprise app store, and as with any application catalog, this communicates what apps are available, and can also serve to help "proactively push apps and updates out to employees so they don’t have to remember to download them."
User support: Again, as with any enterprise application, user training and documentation are essential. Accenture recommends a range of services, depending on the app's complexity, ranging from user manuals to classroom sessions to FAQ sheets.
Usage metrics: Metrics are key to determining if apps are "truly useful and pinpoint functionality that could be improved or added in future updates." It's also important to remember that just because an app has been downloaded multiple times, "it doesn’t mean the app is providing value." Important metrics that need to be tracked include "whether employees are using the app after installing it, how and how often are they using it, in what situations are they using it and, perhaps most important, the impact the app has had on employees’ jobs."