Build on you good thing, build on!

STARTING WITH A STORY…

Rebecca is a competent and enthusiastic field service technician. Her work includes reviewing information about the design of a part or specifications for a piece of equipment they’re in the midst of repairing. William is a face-to-face sales associate and requires access to critical client data when meeting with customers or prospects. Both of them spend time in the office and in the field/on the road, and have a number of colleagues who perform similar roles. The two also share the desire for a simpler, faster and more personalised experience when using and accessing the organisation’s computer systems.

AS AN ENTERPRISE APP CONSUMER

Most would agree that this is not unique to Rebecca and William. In fact, you could probably ask most employees a question about their desired experience of a computer system, and hear similar requests. And isn’t it the worst, being constantly reminded of these facts, these apparent realisations, these blatantly obvious logical loops, but not really having the means to do anything about it? I mean, who are you going to ask, your manager?

“Hey, Manager Supremo, I really think the organisation would benefit from converting this system to a mobile app”

“Hey, Manager Supremo, I feel like this information that we need constant access to, when dealing with our customers could be better delivered and updated immediately by us, so we’re not always having to get back to the office for minor changes”

“Hey, Manager Supremo, this just doesn’t seem the best way to be doing this. Surely there’s a faster and more convenient way to get this done – would it be okay if I talked to someone to suss out if there’s a way we can mobilise and simplify this process?”

Falls on deaf ears, right? Well, not always. Scan the SAP App Centre (http://www.sapappcenter.com/) and you’ll find hundreds of apps that have come out of this exact scenario (okay, it’s just getting started, but this rolling stone gathers no moss). Should you be fortunate enough to attend any of the SAP User Group conferences, you’ll no doubt also hear tales of revitalisation, evolution and remodelling in enterprise systems. This stuff is happening all the time, and it can happen for Rebecca and William too.

But why would you bother? Just because Acme Corp. is doing it, doesn’t mean we should. Is it really going to help that much? New apps aren’t cheap… how do you justify the expense? Happily, employees wanting this improved user experience probably aren’t aware that on top of a more enjoyable user experience, they’ll also end up improving their productivity too. This article (http://www.theguardian.com/media-network/media-network-blog/2014/jun/19/mobile-enterprise-productivity-apps) from the Guardian details findings of a study commissioned by Salesforce.com. They suggest that enterprise apps can boost worker productivity by more than 34%. That can translate into a fairly hefty boost to an organisation’s bottom line. Just imagine it! Imagine if even a third of your employees/co-workers/colleagues were 34% more productive?! That’s a day and a half out of their (five day) work week that either a) they don’t need to be working to produce the same output (4-day work week anyone?!), or b) could be working on something else.

Okay, exaggerations aside. Time to delve into enterprise apps, and how to get them.

Common threads in all proposals include demonstrating an ROI, keeping security front-of-mind and speaking the language of those you need to convince. With that, let’s return this narrative to our protagonists, Rebecca and William (Bec and Bill, for brevity). Bec has read the Gartner 2015 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Mobility Management (she’s super keen) and understands how she can determine her organisation’s readiness for mobilising.

Enterprise architecture

Where does mobility fit in IT? What resources are there to plan, operate and support mobility technologies? How do you prioritize mobile projects for funding and resources, given so many competing demands?

Technology evolution

How will you track and manage fast-changing, nonstandard technologies? Where will you place your bets between competing mobile solutions?

Mobile applications

How do you prioritize mobile application development to deliver the highest business impact? What tools, technologies, skills and processes will you need to put in place to deliver mobile apps?

Security

What processes, training and technologies will you put in place to control access to resources and data while mobile?

Thank you Gartner (http://www.gartner.com/technology/topics/mobile.jsp)

She believes the organisation is ready, but doesn’t yet know if there’s anything out there that fits her needs. Bill has a couple of friends doing face-to-face sales in other organisations, and has heard of their efforts in mobilising business applications. He’s started asking around and has laid eyes on a few tablet applications. Savvy! But they don’t quite do what he wants.

So where to from here for ol’ Bec and Bill?

WHAT’S THE ROI?

Can you roughly calculate how much time and effort you and your organisation can save? Will there be a beneficial impact on your colleagues? How about your customers? Great! Quantify it. Now, who needs to see this? Decision-makers, right? Identify the decision-makers and figure out what language they speak. Craft your proposal’s benefits in terms they’ll grasp. Promo warning: At Forefront, we built an app to do volumetric seasonal forecasting. So we tailored the language to that of those who understand how it will benefit the organisation.

IS IT SECURE?

Surveys show cyber security is a top concern amongst the C-Suite. (http://www.cioinsight.com/security/slideshows/cyber-security-remains-a-top-concern-in-the-c-suite.html). Certainly, you may not be able to demonstrate how it will be secure, but keep in mind the type of information delivered through the app. For example, who needs to see what, who needs access, and where might the information reside?

WHERE DO YOU GET IT?

Lastly, where are you going to get it from? Unless the process/business operation you’re mobilising is common in your industry, your enterprise apps are going to be tailor-made. So who will build this for you? IT? Our friends over at Wired.com would suggest otherwise (http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/02/why-your-enterprise-must-rethink-mobile-app-development/).

Custom building a mobile app isn’t feasible for most medium and small businesses. But even for large enterprises that can afford to develop and manage an app store, this does not mean it is the right app development path.

Even large enterprises will indicate that while there is value to developing mobile apps, IT resources would often be better diverted to other organizational challenges

Promo warning: To use us as an example, we specialise in SAP HANA enterprise apps and that usually means analytics apps. Analytics in the form of sentiment analysis, predictive analytics, data access and discovery, and indeed, converting your cumbersome spreadsheets into nimble and lightweight mobile apps. In all cases however, these are purpose-fit, tailor-made applications. To go a step further, we aim to ensure that the analytics our apps produce, become a seamless part of your business process. And this is where partnering with an organisation like ours helps you derive a real benefit. It’s one thing to build an app. It’s another to embed it into the process. Ultimately, what we’re trying to achieve here is an efficiency gain. In our experience, the biggest gains are derived from tight integration – don’t create a new process with an app, simplify an existing process with an app.

For our forward-thinking staffers, Bec and Bill, the journey probably starts with engaging an organisation to commence planning and design. From there, you’ll work with them to decide on the what the app should do, how it will integrate, the best mode of delivery and how to leverage your existing infrastructure (extra brownie-points).

A FEW WORDS ON OUTSOURCING APP DEVELOPMENT

Just for a moment, we’re going to leave Bec and Bill to ponder their up and coming adventures. This next section is directed at the decision-makers, the risk-takers, and the tech-players.

My goodness! Discussion of app development is taking up a lot of our organisation’s time and attention. I mean, we go round and round, back and forth, is this a good idea, is it a bad idea, will it work, how will we get people to use it, what administration is required. Enough to keep you awake at night. The first step, in addressing these concerns, is often to close ranks and keep it all in house. I mean, the organisation needing this app, is probably the organisation best-suited to also build it… or so an organisation might think.

A few years ago, it was unfathomable, nay, heresy, to push your critical business systems to external providers. What if something happened! They don’t care about your data and systems as much as you do. Surely, we are best-suited to housing and managing our own systems. Now, we’re all scrambling to benefit from the massive reduction in capex that reliable, expandable, and always-available cloud-hosted systems offer. Hooray. We’ve seen the light. Apparently, technology companies that specialise in infrastructure and availability, having invested hundreds of millions into massive data centres, do actually know what they’re doing.

Yet the same argument presents itself when we talk of custom apps. You have custom spec’d and sized infrastructure and systems. Let’s turn our attention to custom spec’d and built apps. It’s really just a small evolution. Perhaps software companies that specialise in, erm, software and your technology stack, also know how to build you software.

Let’s say you’re building on the HANA stack (humour me here). You’ve heard these great things about HANA: massively parallel processing, in-memory data, mobile enablement, hybrid deployment, in-built never-ending rainbows, smart data access, predictive analytics and rapid app deployment. But you’re sitting there thinking “we haven’t really seen any of this stuff”. It’s not uncommon. You have acquired the platform. Great start. Now you need to begin using it.

You see, with HANA, what you’ve signed up for is much more than a super-speed, enterprise-ready data platform; with HANA, whether HCP, on-prem, or One, you’ve now got an ecosystem that can support your every whim and desire. Traditional SAPGUI reports are being converted to awesome UI5 apps. Processing logic is pushed down to HANA and away from the ABAP stack. Data storage is relegated to the cloud, where it’s cheap and always available. Near-line databases are virtualised/federated for a single view of your data landscape. Predictive analytics is a couple of clicks away… and app development just became a thing you can now do.

All of these glorious pots of gold await, and they’re there for the taking. But it’s not a small task to get atop such a broad offering of new tech. And you’re looking for ROI asap. So why not look to a partner – someone who can understand and work with your business – to begin leveraging it? Promo warning: Forefront currently boast a two week iteration period. Our last app took three months to spin out, with users testing along the way. Granted, we aren’t the only team applying our skills to SAP’s HANA customer-base. But where analytics are concerned, we’re ahead of the curve.

Custom apps can be complex, sure. But it’s important to remember that an app, by the very nature of its shortened name, is small. It’s job is to do one or two things. And do them well. That’s it. When you engage a partner to build apps, that partner should help demonstrate how to simplify, how to reduce, and how to leverage. If you don’t feel like you’re doing fist bumps with your partner each time you meet, then you’ve probably got the wrong team building your apps.

AS AN ENTERPRISE APP SUPPLIER

What about the other side of this engagement – the suppliers and/or architects of such applications? Who builds the enterprise apps?! As might be the case for you Dear Reader, I enjoy reading both sides of an argument. So why are we building enterprise apps, and not consumer apps? Developer Economics puts forward a compelling proposition (http://www.developereconomics.com/still-building-consumer-apps-enterprise-pays-4x/).

Traditionally software spending has been much higher in enterprises and although there is a shift towards employees selecting their own technology and tools it is surely not happening as fast as the shift to mobile computing.This leaves a gap in the market for developers focussed on apps for the mobile enterprise to fill.

A little over 12% of the money-making developers in our survey were targeting the enterprise yet they made on average almost 4 times as much revenue (per person involved in development) as those targeting consumers and typically had more than 4 times as many people involved in app development. Developers targeting professional users rather than their companies only made about 50% more revenue per person than consumer focussed developers and had about twice as many people involved in development.

the article goes on to state:

So, while this is a promising market, independent app developers are not replacing the enterprise IT department just yet.

That was 2013. We have just jumped, head-long into 2016. Oh, how this picture is a-changing.

For roundness, a short look at why you wouldn’t build enterprise apps, courtesy Developer Economics (http://www.developereconomics.com/4-reasons-build-enterprise-apps/).

  1. You like to work alone
  2. Direct sales repel you
  3. You want complete creative control
  4. You love Android development

To sum up, building enterprise apps meets the need of a rapidly growing market. The consumer app market is reaching maturity. There are no more Evernotes, Dropboxes, CloudOns, or OpenTables (http://www.businessinsider.com.au/50-best-business-apps-2013-8#business-travelentertainment-15). Besides, these apps meet fairly generic needs, and don’t / can’t address your specific business problem. But for practically any process-driven operation in your organisation, there exists a pathway to optimisation through technology. It may be a simple change, it may be complex, but a THIRTY FOUR PERCENT boost to productivity is not to be ignored. How are you helping move your organisation to mobile?

Sandra Cutic