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- September 09, 2014
- Gabe Perez
- IT & Technology
New, larger screen size options for the iPhone 6 are a step forward for enterprise mobility, as Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn noted in his comments on Bloomberg News about Apple's announcement.
As a sales executive, I'm keenly interested in mobility. I sell a solution that's mobile, and I travel a lot for work. I work while I travel, so naturally, I’m a big user of apps. I love apps. I use the United app to check my flights, Uber to get around town and the USA Today app to keep up with the news while I’m on the road.
These apps work great for those specific tasks, but when it comes to getting work done, it takes more than just apps to have true mobility. To me, true mobility means being able to easily complete eighty to ninety percent of my regular work activities from a mobile device.
Larger mobile screens should help with that, but there's a bigger mobility issue enterprises need to solve for, and that is the solutions themselves. For enterprise solutions to be truly mobile on any size device they need to have three components: the ability to perform tasks from email without having to log in to the solution, accessibility to solutions from a mobile browser, and apps.
Apps and mobile grew up together, so many people equate apps with mobility. The app always gets the marquee billing, but true mobility is really an ensemble cast. A lot of vendors will point to the existence of an app as evidence that their solution is mobile, but the app is really the only mobile component. An app alone is not a full mobile solution for the enterprise.
Buyers need to look beyond the allure of the app to learn if a solution is truly mobile. In my experience, many enterprise software apps are a token gesture to the concept of mobility that often disguises limited mobile capabilities. While the app interface may be able to support some of the software’s core functions, it often does not lend itself to the more specialized functions that make the program valuable in the first place.
Bear in mind also that enterprise software apps are still not as simple as B2C apps. You can’t just go download them from an app store; they usually have to be approved and supported by IT, and there are a lot of security considerations. Even the Salesforce One app, which is a great app and the one I use most for work, doesn’t let me do everything I need to do because of my company’s configuration. Fortunately, Salesforce also works great on a mobile browser and I use it that way as much if not more than I use the app.
Today’s reality though, is that for many software vendors, a bolted-on app is the only component that makes their solution nominally mobile. They have to have an app because they can't take their legacy technology and make it look and work the same on a mobile browser. And, they have to add an application layer to adapt the app to the existing infrastructure, which does not always lend itself to the most elegant apps.
When it comes to apps and mobility, SaaS companies like Salesforce have an advantage. SaaS companies have considered mobile access from the beginning and built their solutions with mobility in mind.
To get the high levels of adoption the SaaS business model requires to ensure subscription renewals, they must make it easy to access the solution from a variety of platforms. Basically they need to make it so that if you have a mobile phone with a data plan and Internet, you have access. And, since they’ve never had on-premise or hosted private versions of their software to contend with, they don’t have to make compromises or add a lot of complexity to make it happen.
So, for a SaaS company, an app can provide added functionality, but it’s not the end-all be-all for mobility unless you’re talking about a standalone app like Uber.
The solution still needs to work well on a mobile browser. We’ve all experienced the frustration of pinching and scrolling our way through websites that aren’t built for mobile. Having a mobile responsive website is really the first, most basic consideration for mobility.
The second most important is email. People use email on their mobile more than anything, so providing actionable email notifications that let you perform tasks directly from your inbox is huge.
Making email actionable means not just making it technically possible to perform a given task in the solution from email without logging in, but also providing enough information and context in the email so that users feel confident doing so. If you get an email request to take action, but need to get back to the office to research or confirm the information, that’s not really a mobile solution.
If you have a mobile-responsive site and actionable emails, an app is icing on the cake. That gives companies more flexibility. Installing and managing the application layer requires a commitment of IT resources, which can be optional if mobility doesn’t rest on the app alone. If an app is the only mobile option, not so much.
Companies looking to achieve true mobility need to see the app in action to understand exactly what can be done with it. They also need to ask, “Can I run the solution from my phone with just browser or email access?” And, vendors should back up their claims by showing data about many people are using the solution from a mobile device.
SaaS companies have the advantage here as well, since they should have ready access to this kind of data within their platform. They should easily be able to tell you, down to the device-type level, how many and what percentage of people are accessing the solution via email, browser or app. Ideally it should be a combination of all three, probably with email being the biggest bucket.
I don’t want to downplay the importance of apps, because I couldn’t live without them and there’s definitely a lot of functionality that a good app can provide. The app just can’t be the only mobile way to interact with the solution, because an app alone does not a mobility solution make, no matter how big the screen is.
Gabe Perez is Senior Solutions Director, Global Major Accounts at Coupa.