Mobile is more than mobile versions of desktops applications

mobilEvery study shows that mobile and mobility are one of the main challenges businesses face today and that quick responses are needed. That’s a multifaceted challenge :

– employer brand : any reference employer should provide his employees with tools that are at least as good as the one he has at home. Can you imagine the kitchen of a three star restaurant with a worse equipment that the one you have have at home or a taxi driver in a rocking old cart dating from the 60s ? That’s the same with IT.

– productivity : the parallel with the kitchen or the taxi driver also works here. Knowing that the time spent out the office is increasing because of the nature of work, unexpected events, transportation time and the pressure on productivity and responsiveness that exists today, is it possible to accept that employees should wait to be at the office to access the tool they need ? Except if you find logical to leave him responseless in front of a client and unproductive until he’s back to work where he’ll find a list of tasks he could have dealt with before, the answer is no.

Note that it’s the same for customers having to go back home to get information about your product or order it.

– human : there’s nothing worse than needing to do something and having one’s hand tied. Being unable to act when and where it’s necessary causes stress, frustration and downtimes that cause long work hours while the weak times (transportation, time in waiting rooms etc…) are unproductive.

– security : prevent employees from using their work tools when they’re mobile and they’ll use/divert customer web tools to get things done. I recently saw an entire team building a task and project management tools under the radar because they were not allowed to use the corporate one remotely while they spend a very few time in their office. Same for CRM : they use a free application and seldom use the official one (which costed a lot for a real need but a marginal use).

Businesses talk a lot about mobile without knowing their needs

Acknowledging these points, businesses are moving forward on mobile. And as usual they apply old recipes to new challenges even it means missing the point. Their reasoning often is rationally unquestionable : one tool at work = one mobile app (or a mobile version of the work tool which, as experience shows, causes poor experiences). By doing so they do not answer the question they’re being asked.

Mobile needs have nothing to do with the office need. Duplicating the one on the other, application by application, tool by tool, makes absolutely no sense.

• Because the nature of the device makes that some functionalities won’t be usable and that the entire user interface will need a deep makeover.

• Because there are needs that exist on mobile and don’t exist on the desktop. Most of all in terms of mash-up and ways to present data. Even if not perfect, it’s possible to have two or three tabs or windows opened on one’s PC screen but such situations are a nightmare and less usable on a mobile screen. A mobile application should be able to show, on the same screen, data from application that are distinct on PCs. And allow to act on them.

• Because mobility often implies instant contextualizaiton : people are often in front of the client and often need instant answers without having the time to search for them into multiple applications. Data will be geolocated, contextualized and aggregated whatever their source application is.

So the mobile work environment is not an app-ified version of the corporate IS, tool by tool, but a remix of it.

Goal, context, interoperability and user experience

The success of a mobile strategy relies on this quartet : context, interoperability, goal and user experience.

• Goal : what is the goal the employee needs to achieve ? What task(s) must he complete ? From the fery first screen and as screens link together, every information pushed, any action proposed has to be aligned with the goal. That’s the reason why mobile thinking needs a strong business orientation and must focus on tasks.

• Context : pushed information and allowed actions must be contextual. Depending on location, on the customer, on the case, on the concerned process, of the step of the process.

• Interoperability and cross-application : information and action should depend on the context, not on the host application. The mobile tool must be able to draw information from different sources, contextualize it, process and present it in a way that makes sense in this context and allow the user to perform actions in all the involved applications from a single interface.

• User experience : it mainly depends on the previous points and on the ability to present an interface that makes the most of the constraints and opportunities of a mobile device. Just remind that user experience is not the same as user interface.

Remix of the work environment and design thinking

Find it paradoxical or not, mobile enterprise applications have to face the same challenges as the intranet does but with a huge advantage. As intranet and digital workplaces suffer from the weight of the past, of legacy systems, serial piling of platforms and internecine strife, the mobile work environment starts from scratch and would be well inspired to not reproduce the mistakes of the past. It’s an opportunity to rethink in a coherent way an application portfolio that’s not coherent on PC screens.

The best way to achieve a great mobile strategy is not to turn desktop applications into mobile ones one by one but start from the user and adopt a design thinking approach.