What makes a good mobile app?

In today’s hyper-connected world where an average individual checks his phone 150 times in a day, and where 200 million mobile workers are forecast to use a business app within the year, a brand or organization’s ability to create compelling mobile user experiences for both consumers and workers alike spells the difference between failure and success.

But what exactly does it take to have a good mobile strategy? According to IBM MobileFirst Platform Sales Leader David Lee Heyman, the first thing a company needs to make sure of is this: “Make sure your mobile strategy is not a mobile strategy, but a consumer or employee engagement one.”

While there have been significant efforts and investments in mobile infrastructure and solutions on the part of organisations, a recent study by IBM and Econsultancy titled “The Consumer Conversation” reveals an apparent gap between what consumers want and what they are getting. Based on two parallel online surveys that involved both customer experience professionals and consumers, it was reported that consumers find only 35 percent of the information they are getting from their “favorite” company relevant. Similarly, 53 percent of retailers don’t really believe they’re sending relevant information to their customers.

“Why then are we spending all this money and effort to send information we don’t believe is relevant, and customers don’t even think is relevant? We have to make sure that we touch customers in the way they want to be engaged, with the right information at the right time. More and more of this is moving into mobile,” Heyman asserts, adding that while the study specifically focused on retail, the same strategy can be applied to enterprise mobility.

Good Apps, Bad Apps

The most successful apps are those that effectively engage users in their mobile moments. While mobile is all about getting something done in real time, Heyman says this only forms part of the equation. “More importantly, you want to make sure that with your mobile app, you are actually able to engage users on what they need to be engaged on at that given moment. The app should morph or change its color depending on the context,” he simply puts.

Today it isn’t uncommon to find brands creating mobile apps to enhance the customer experience. Sephora, in particular, is a case study on effectively deepening brand relationships using a mobile platform. Sixty-two percent of Sephora shoppers not only use the app outside the shop, but also while in the brick-and-mortar stores. “They use it for a number of things: pre-shopping, going through products on the app, and by giving incentives/discounts, the brand is able to generate store visits. Once onsite, location technology guides shoppers to the different products they’ve pre-shopped,” Heyman shares.

A good app not only addresses what people look for, it also solves a pain point. In the enterprise space, certain business processes can be moved to mobile devices. A manager, for example, can easily track and approve employee leave applications on a mobile app, thereby giving him a quick overview of the employees present and the skill-sets available on a given work day.

Both consumers and employees respond well to a good mobile application. According to “IBM Mobile App Consumer & Enterprise Survey,” a study conducted by Forrester Consulting in September 2014, “the goodness of a good app” resulted in 58 percent of consumers purchasing products from the company that owns/issued/sold the software, with 72 percent telling friends about their positive experience. Similarly, a mobile app that successfully engages employees results in a 38 percent average increase in productivity, 40 percent increase in partner productivity, and a 30 percent average reduction in the cost of a process or project.

On the other hand, the same study reports that if an app doesn’t work well, 65 percent of consumers are less likely to buy anything from that organization, with 63 percent telling friends about their negative experience. “And they most likely do this on social media,” Heyman states. Fifty percent of consumers simply delete the app, negating the opportunity for a brand to engage with the individual again.

In the enterprise mobility space, ineffective apps yield zero productivity gains. “Employees simply don’t use the apps you give them to get the job done. They don’t adopt it as a productivity tool,” Heyman says. Interestingly, organizations perceived to be “conservative” are the ones aggressively adopting mobile into their business processes. “I’ve been in mobile for 10 years, and industries like banking, manufacturing and utilities—which people deem the most conservative—are those that understand that making their employees more efficient [through mobile] gives them the ability to improve costs,” he informs.

Getting it right

While mobile adoption in the consumer space has been much quicker than in the B2B space, Heyman believes that organisations today should realize the need to adopt internal mobility. “It’s time to start developing new business processes from mobile first. If you look at the expansion in a lot of the countries in the region, you’ll find a lot of people are going to skip the traditional desktop and directly go into mobile, whether it’s a low- or high-end device,” he states.

As there tends to be more resistance from enterprises with legacy infrastructure to adopt internal mobility, Heyman says it is a matter of finding the apps that are tailored to the business’ context. “You have to really first understand how mobile can give you that specific advantage. We’re talking about a litmus test of something that changes the way we work, something that takes advantage of the fact that your processes are now on a mobile device—you’re not just repositioning your desktop to browse things. Think of how mobile can change your processes, and how you can take advantage of the fact that it has all those external things like voice, camera, video, etc.,” he says.

More than just looking to buy an app, organizations need to look at adopting an underlying standard of infrastructure for their mobility. “Open data is part of it, but it’s also the technologies you use to run your applications. Our IBM Mobile First Platform, for one, leverages open standard technologies. It’s not a closed platform, which means that if you have a complex app, you can come to us and engage IBM consulting services. But if it’s an app that’s less complex, you can do it in-house or you can go to another service provider,” Heyman says.

Such factors as development resources, app complexity, cross-platform capability, frequency of app updates, platform analytics, and mobile app security, among others, impact the costs of mobility in both the consumer and enterprise space. “You have to think about the fact that, more than previous technological changes, mobile is something that doesn’t just end. You can’t go in and say you’ll do a fixed-priced project, end it on a certain date, and send your vendor/developer away. Because if you do, some weeks later a fancy new device hits the market and you won’t have the ability to cater to it,” he says.