Enterprise mobile apps: How can businesses stay ahead of the curve?

Adobe's 2016 enterprise mobile app report shows that businesses are embracing mobility but often without a clear strategy.

There's no question that businesses need outward-facing mobile apps to engage with customers, but increasingly, businesses are turning to apps to improve engagement and productivity within the enterprise. A new survey from Adobe confirms the embrace of enterprise mobile apps but also shows some anxiety on the part of business leaders: Without a clear strategy for deploying enterprise mobile apps, most don't feel they're ahead of the curve as they should be.

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As many as 62 percent of respondents said their company departments should be staying ahead of the curve when it comes to enterprise mobile apps; just 38 percent said they should wait for others to validate the technology. However, 66 percent of respondents said their departments are only on par with their competitors or behind.

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"Essentially, what we learned is that companies are adopting mobile apps for inside of the enterprise," Bridget Roman, a senior product marketing manager at Adobe, told ZDNet. However, "their perception was that they are lagging behind -- that their mobile app strategies aren't in line to compete."

Adobe surveyed 1,500 people across five countries (the US, the UK, India, China and Germany) with a title of manager or higher and with budget influence over their department. The survey targeted business leaders in three areas where enterprise mobile apps are most relevant: human relations, sales and marketing. The online, quantitative survey was conducted by Edelman Intelligence between July 25 and August 12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent for the US and 6.2 percent in all other countries.

As many as 61 percent of respondents said that if a company isn't deploying enterprise mobile apps, they're at a competitive disadvantage. The top three advantages of using them, respondents said, are increased productivity (51 percent of respondents cited this), better communication (47 percent) and reduced costs (31 percent). If they're not using them, most respondents (61 percent) said a company risks less efficient operations. Additionally, 51 percent said they risk looking outdated, while 47 percent said losing out on new clients or sales is a risk.

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The concerns may be valid, Roman said, citing the experience of Under Armour, Adobe customer. The company used the Adobe Experience Manager Mobile platform to build a mobile product catalog for its global sales teams and recapture lost sales. By giving sales representatives the most up-to-date information on inventory when meeting with major customers -- retailers like REI -- Under Armour estimates it's increased revenue by $4 million.

Most respondents in the survey said they expect their department to increase spending on enterprise mobile apps within the next year (56 percent said so) and within the next three years (66 percent). Additionally, 66 percent said the number of employees within their department using enterprise mobile apps has increased in the past year, and 62 percent said the number of apps themselves has increased.

"The changes are really being driven by the market, an increasingly mobile workforce, the need to remain competitive, the need for instant communication," Roman said. "Companies are in the midst of adopting apps at an increasing rate, looking to increase worker productivity, perform tasks, equip employees with tools and information, and connect with customers and stakeholders."

Respondents were asked to assess 10 different types of enterprise apps and say whether or not they're "mission critical," and whether they will be in three years. For all 10 categories, more respondents said they would be mission critical in three years compared to now. For instance, 54 percent said sales enablement apps are mission critical now, while 59 percent said they would be in three years.

Employee onboarding and benefits apps had the largest spread: Just 36 percent said they're mission critical now, but 47 percent said they will be in three years. Roman pointed to ExxonMobil as an example of an Adobe customer who's adopted this kind of app.

"They've created a mobile app experience targeting millennial recruits and getting content in the hand of employees who expect to have everything mobile," she explained. "As more and more millennials come into the workforce, it's just an expectation that you've to be mobile."

Yet as companies anxiously try to stay competitive, there's some risk of going overboard: Nearly 30 percent of companies say they're using more than six enterprise apps, which could mean they're losing control of their strategy.

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Adobe used the report to offer businesses a five-point strategy for deploying enterprise mobile apps. The first step is to focus: identify mission-critical apps that can replace or supplement desktop applications. The next step is to identify and invest in the capabilities needed to make sure those apps run smoothly. The survey showed that the most the most sought after features include security (48 percent) and integration with other business systems (41 percent).

Next, the report suggests using a dashboard to monitor app performance and gain insight into challenges and opportunities. It also suggests using tools like surveys and analytics to measure employee satisfaction and make sure the apps are being adopted appropriately. Lastly, it suggests companies "future-proof" their enterprise app program by connecting them to cloud-driven systems and back-end data stores, as well as keeping a focus on security.

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