The Surprising Truth: Apps Are Not Enough for Enterprise Mobility
Apps have been closely associated with mobility since they exploded onto the scene with the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007, followed by its app store in 2008. Soon “there’s an app for that” became a running joke denoting that just about anything that you wanted to do could be done on your phone using an app. We hit peak “app for that” when the American Dialect Society voted app the word of the year in 2010.
There are now millions of apps, and while it’s still true that you can do an amazing number of things with them, it’s also become clear that they have their limitations, especially for business. Enterprise mobility requires more than just apps. So, when I hear companies announcing a new app with great fanfare and sweeping claims that this innovation makes their product or solution mobile, I want to sit them down for a chat.
Mobility is a work style, not an app
Here’s what I’d tell them: An app is a must have, but enterprise mobility is a work style, not an app. More than sixty percent of workers are now working outside of the office at least part of the time. Apps are just one way of enabling them. True mobility is about letting people do business in the fastest, most efficient way possible wherever they are, and that’s not always by using an app.
Apps present opportunities and challenges for the enterprise. A really good app, one that transforms a business process and makes it dead simple, can be highly addictive. For example, I am on the go constantly. I couldn’t live without the Amazon app because I place an order almost every day. I don't even have time to even go to a local store for books and scissors for my kids, so I use the app to order wherever I am when I realize I need something.
My friend Lynn is also an Amazon fan, but she works from home or Starbucks and uses one-click ordering on her laptop. She has never even downloaded the app.
The real challenge of enterprise mobility
It's the same in the business world. This is the challenge of enabling true enterprise mobility: It’s multi-faceted.
Yes, you have to have a mobile app, and you have to invest in making it awesome, but an app can never match the desktop experience for managing a complex business process end to end. And, if people still need to log in to the desktop application for all or part of a process, there has to be a really compelling reason for them to also download and use an app. If they can do something in some other way that is easier and faster than installing an app they will.
On the other hand, for people who have to perform a particular process every day, or multiple times a day, downloading the app will seem like a small price to pay for a big increase in efficiency. They will naturally want to use it and they’ll be raving fans.
Outside of these power users, the app will be irrelevant and they’ll never even download it. That’s why you have to give them other mobility options such as mobile responsive design for tablets, smartphones and wearables, and my favorite, actionable email notifications. Yes, email.
Still the killer app
What’s so great about email? You’d be hard pressed to find a business person who doesn’t have it on their smartphone and use it every day. So, if you can serve up something in an email and the user can take action without logging into a software system, and without having to set up a new account or go to an app, that’s a great mobility experience for most users.
We see this reflected in platform usage data at Coupa, which helps companies manage their spending. Approving purchase orders is a common mobile use case. Not requiring approvers to be in the office to approve purchase orders has a huge impact for most companies, cutting PO turnaround time from an average of two or three weeks to 17 hours, the average across all our customers. But our data shows that most approvals are done via email, not by app, even though we offer both choices.
The same holds true for suppliers. The vast majority of suppliers only get a few POs from a customer, and invoice once per month. For these suppliers, downloading an app to turn a PO into an invoice is an exercise that adds to enablement effort without yielding benefit. If you give your supplier an option to get all the data they need, at their fingertips via email, without requiring an app, the vast majority of suppliers will choose this option.
Does that mean the app is no good? No. But why go to another app to do what you could do in the app you’re already in? Most people won’t do it.
But for people who do have dozens of purchase orders to approve every day, or business traveler who have multiple expense items to upload, it’s a different story. They use the app because it’s more convenient and less error-prone to have everything in one place and process everything at once. That’s why for the enterprise, equating an app with mobility is wildly optimistic and naive. Innovation in 2016 is not about having an app. Simply having an app for this or that will never be enough.
In this age of personalization and consumerization, innovation means continually thinking about end-user experiences and using the latest technology to make business processes easier through any number of channels. It’s giving people options to work how they want, when they want and with as little friction as possible. That is true enterprise mobility, and so far there’s no app for that.