Without an effective governance structure in place, a “fly by the seat of your pants” mobile strategy could leave you with a cluttered and difficult to unravel mobile landscape, wasting developer resources and requiring all-too-common, costly re-platforming and re-work down the road – while at the same time providing end users with a disjointed and confusing user experience. Creating a mobile governance structure should be the start of any mobile strategy. Do individual departments within the organization have autonomy to create and deploy their own mobile apps? Is IT in charge of mobile apps, or is marketing driving the experience? With current SaaS and PaaS mobile platforms, an off the shelf app can be deployed within weeks – and cloud-based, mobile back-end systems (such as Parse and Azure Mobile Services) can be spun up outside of IT control in a matter of minutes.
Consider implementing a mobile governance structure with input from all stakeholders in order to standardize on user experience, platforms, technologies, and client architectures, and a roadmap for mobile apps. Efficiencies can be gained by standardizing on platforms and technologies, such as the re-use of developer skills and the re-use of code libraries between apps. A polished, unified user experience for end users is table stakes at this point, given the increasing user demand for high-end app experiences similar to the apps they’re using personally on a daily basis.
As mentioned, efficiencies can be gained by standardizing on architectures, programming languages, and development platforms. If building apps out across multiple platforms (e.g. Android and iOS) – do you have separate developer teams building multiple native apps or do you have a single team building HTML5 or cross-platform (e.g. Xamarin, Appcelerator, etc.) apps? Many decisions play into architecture choices, such as the desired user experience, deployment and distribution strategy, access to device capabilities, developer skills, as well as cost and timeline. I’ve outlined the differences between the various architectures and the decisions that go into determining which one to use in a previous blog post: Mobile Architecture – Native vs. Web vs. Hybrid apps.
Deploying, distributing, and maintaining mobile apps are an essential component of any mobile strategy – for some organizations deployment can be as simple as uploading to an app store. However, deployment can get much more complicated when distributing via enterprise app stores, to international markets, to B2B partners, or to a diverse end user audience. There can be many important deployment-related issues to resolve:
- How will you be distributing and providing access to your mobile apps?
- Are you deploying the apps internally via your own enterprise app store, or are you putting them into a public marketplace such as the Apple App Store or Google Play for consumptions?
- What is the ROI for your apps, and if you’re selling apps – can you afford to give away a significant chunk of your mobile revenue to app store operators?
- What is the update strategy for your apps – can you wait a week for Apple approval, or do you need the ability to quickly update your apps?
- Are you migrating or upgrading from legacy apps and need to retain your user base?
- Who is responsible at the end of the day for the cycle of app submission, deployment, and ongoing management – developers or IT administrators?
- Do you have analytics implemented within your apps and do you have the right data to make decisions about your mobile roadmap?
Determining a strategy for deploying your apps, and understanding the more complex issues related to deploying enterprise apps will make things easier for your end users when it comes time to install and update your apps.
User experience (UX) will make or break user acceptance for your mobile apps, and determining user experience standards for your apps is a vital element of any mobile strategy. If an them will be used on a daily basis, users expect apps to be just as slick and work just as well as the banking, shopping, web browser and e-mail apps that they use on a daily basis. There are a number of important issues to consider:
- Does your brand (and thus your apps) need a high-end, marquee user experience? Or are you simply testing the waters and can get by with a low-end user experience?
- Are you deploying to an app store? Set goals and create ongoing benchmarks for your app store reviews – what are the lowest review scores you’ll settle for?
- Is your brand important enough to try to build a single, unified user experience between mobile platforms, or should your apps be taking advantage of the strengths and intricacies of the various platforms?
- Who is the target audience for your apps, and what are their expectations with regards to the end user experience?
- Will the UX for your apps be grounded by human interaction guidelines and usability best practices – or the whims and favorite colors of product managers and business owners? Who makes the final call?
- Is your choice of mobile client architecture (e.g. native, web, or hybrid) capable of supporting your user experience requirements?
- Do you have the skills and experience in-house to design a compelling UX or will you need to bring in expertise from outside?
- Does it make sense to build multiple, single-purpose apps for your organization, or would you be better served by a single app containing all possible functions?
As part of a mobile strategy – you should at a minimum determine the acceptable level of UX for the mobile landscape at your organization, create a common understanding of UX requirements between your mobile apps, and create a mobile style guide for your brand.
While security may be an afterthought for some organizations, for many businesses in regulated industries it could be the single most important part of a mobile strategy. Mobile devices can be easily lost or stolen – and the data residing on and being transferred to and from those devices is no longer safe and secure behind firewalls at a corporate data center. There are a number of important issues to consider:
- Does your organization support a BYOD (“bring your own device”) strategy? Will end users be using their own devices or are they provided by the business? Can devices be used for personal use – and does IT have permission to remotely wipe or access that personal data?
- Is there data at your organization that absolutely cannot end up on mobile devices, such as financial data, trade secrets, Protected Health Information, passwords, or credit card data? This should be specified explicitly by your mobile strategy.
- Should you be making use of third-party products, such as Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to secure, control, and remotely wipe end user devices?
- Does it make sense to use “App Containerization” technologies that can virtually ensure the safety of data within your apps? Are your developers able to implement security features without using these costly tools?
- What built-in operating system security features can your developers take advantage of within the various mobile operating systems? Further, can you depend on those features in the edge case where a device has been hacked or otherwise compromised? Do you truly need to worry about this unlikely scenario?
- Mobile apps often require exposure of data from back-end systems to the public internet. What is the most effective way to publish and secure the data from those back-end systems, as well as cleanse and validate input from devices going back to those systems?
For some organizations – security could be the most complex element of a mobile strategy, and security requirements should be carefully considered and defined before embarking upon development of apps working with secure data. Implementation of MDM and/or app containerization technologies is not a security strategy. Although risks may be increased by exposing internal data to the outside world of mobile apps, there are numerous and widely accepted ways to mitigate and limit those risks.
As you can see, there are a number of important issues to consider when planning the implementation of mobile apps in an organization, and no plan would be complete without looking at each of these five items in detail. Before rushing new mobile apps to market, consider a pause to determine your mobile strategy in order to avoid costly re-work down the road. Our mobility solutions team at West Monroe Partners has worked with many of our clients to develop effective mobile strategies and build apps to execute those strategies. Contact us to find out more about our mobile application solutions.