7 Laws of Mobile Enterprise Applications
August 23, 2011
Dan Turchin
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Good mobile business applications are better than their PC counterparts because they are context-sensitive, aware of who is using them, and organized so essential features are easily accessible. The seven laws of effective mobile software design ensure that the mobile business applications used to manage IT in your enterprise provide the results you require ...

With mobile IT service management apps, you can transform the challenge of IT consumerization into a business advantage. Calls to the help desk, for example, are easily deflected when employees are empowered to report problems and ask for services from easy-to-use apps on their smartphones. The often-long approval process can be accelerated by enabling managers to review and process requests on their tablets. And a more accurate business decision-making process is instituted as executives gain real-time insight into Business Service Management (BSM) key performance indicators (KPIs) anywhere, anytime. Read on to learn about seven key characteristics of effective mobile IT service management applications.

Law 1: Mobile Applications Must Be Presence-Aware

Unlike the simple, flat, tethered PC experience, mobile devices are always at your side and participate, actively or passively, in all your activities. They are always connected to the Internet, store vital details about you, including your schedule and personal network, and have surprising amounts of idle computing power. Mobile devices become smarter than PCs when that information is used in the context of where you are and what you're doing. Incident tickets, for example, can be routed to technicians already on location, rather than to a random pool of support staff.

Law 2: Mobile Applications Must Be Role-Based and User-Configurable

Over the years, enterprise software applications, including IT service management systems, have become feature-bloated and now invariably follow the 90/10 rule: 90 percent of users rely on 10 percent of the features. With mobile applications, if there are any more than the required 10 percent of the features that people use on a handheld, the entire application becomes useless because too much data can have a negative impact on the application’s performance. Any feature that is not needed, therefore, deters the usage of a mobile device.

That's why mobile applications must be role-based and user-configurable. Give control of the mobile application to end users. Only they know exactly what they need and how it should be formatted. The executive’s business application, for example, must consist only of the escalations, approvals, and dashboards he or she needs, while the problem coordinator’s application should contain only relevant problem summaries, alerts, and skill-based routing details. Most importantly, configuring and deploying role-based applications should not require incremental time or resources, regardless of how many end users or devices are supported.

Law 3: Mobile Applications Must Be Device-Independent

Mobile applications must adapt to mobile devices — not the other way around. With today’s consumerization of IT, enterprise users demand support for the devices they already own, which almost always means that consistent support for multiple mobile operating systems and models is a requirement. In reality, most corporate device strategies involve three or four device types and one or two carriers. A common scenario in IT organizations is that midlevel and senior managers use iPad, iPhone, or BlackBerry devices, field technicians carry BlackBerry or ruggedized Windows devices, and help-desk analysts and problem coordinators have BlackBerry or Android smartphones. Today, these are a combination of corporate-issue and employee-owned devices, with the mix increasingly shifting toward employee-owned devices with network access and business applications supported by corporate IT.

Law 4: Mobile Applications Must Interoperate with Other Mobile Applications

Mobile applications are powerful alone but have significantly more impact when integrated with other apps. For example, integrate a mobile self-service portal with incident and change management and everything from work orders to facility requests to network outages can be triaged, diagnosed, and resolved remotely. Embed a simple asset look-up feature in a standard trouble ticket and the trouble ticket becomes a historical account of all issues related to that asset. Add team calendaring to a group reassignment and the request becomes actionable because it will be delivered only to on-call users.

This ability to interoperate is almost as integral a part of the mobile experience as the device itself. To be effective, it must be no more difficult to integrate multiple applications than it is to mobilize an individual app.

Law 5: Mobile Applications Must Not Require Changes to the Underlying Application

The most effective mobile experience is predicated on three essential elements:

1. Simplicity – Ease of use

2. Ubiquity – Anywhere, anytime access

3. Continuity – Business processes must be maintained, if not enhanced

Before deploying your mobile solution, identify which elements of your existing workflow should or should not change, and base your analysis on user behaviors. Document this list and refer to it when developing your implementation plan. Having a plan that preserves the integrity of existing ITIL workflow, for example, and selecting a mobile solution capable of adhering to the plan is the surest way to guarantee field technician and change manager adoption and minimize the risk of project-related cost overruns.

Law 6: Mobile Applications Must Be Capable of Being Administered Without Wireless Domain Expertise

A key benefit of implementing a mobile solution is that the business remains buffered from the complexities of wireless security, data transmission, billing, and device management. This is increasingly critical as devices, networks, and user requirements proliferate. We are already faced with a staggering set of choices when doing simple tasks, such as activating phones, selecting service plans, and procuring and provisioning new devices.

Those decisions will pale in comparison to mobile application-related decisions. Mobile application design decisions spawn a complex set of decision trees; for example, alerts about new incidents should be optimized by support staff schedules, incident priority, and workload. For these reasons, effective mobile applications isolate users from the complexities of mobility. The same resources that administer PC applications must be able to also administer their mobile equivalents.

Law 7: Mobile Applications Must Create Real Value in Days Without Programming

The final law of good mobile software design is perhaps the most obvious and least practiced: Mobilizing 10 percent of an existing application should take no more than 10 percent of the time it took to configure the parent application. Mobile applications must add by subtraction; part of adding is making sure that what is extracted can be used without significant re-work. For example, large menus of IT assets should not need to be recreated for handhelds regardless of their size. Similarly, interconnected features such as incident submitter names should operate on handhelds as they do on PCs. That doesn’t necessarily mean all menu items should be downloaded or that all desktop workflow must fire offline. What it means is that the mobile design tool should make it easy to preserve desktop functionality while optimizing it for mobile constraints.

The Seven Laws in Perspective

Software that obeys these laws restores the focus of the mobile employee on what matters — creating business value — and shifts it away from applications, devices, and configurations. That is at the core of how and why mobile applications are powerful in ways PC applications never have or can be. They align tools with existing, inherently mobile business process. They deliver on the promise of user-centric, rather than tool-centric, computing.

In so doing, they liberate not just application developers and IT organizations but everyone they support as well. Industry analysts claim more than half of all corporate employees are mobile, or away from a desk at least half of the time. That means greater productivity, but also more time for family and lifestyles. Consistent with this trend, analysts report that mobilizing corporate applications is one of the top three IT priorities in 2011. This dramatic shift in work behavior will be made possible only by new, enlightened approaches to mobile software design.

About Dan Turchin

Dan Turchin is Senior Director of Product Management, BMC Software. As co-founder and CEO of Aeroprise, acquired by BMC Software in June 2011, Dan Turchin helped develop the company’s award-winning suite of mobility products. Under his leadership, Aeroprise has won numerous awards, including Mobile Showcase, Red Herring 100 finalist, and BMC Software Product of the Year for 2004, 2005, and 2006. Prior to Aeroprise, Turchin worked at The Walt Disney Company, Andersen Consulting, and Searchbutton, Inc. Turchin holds BS and BA degrees from Stanford University. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and contributor to publications, including Support World magazine.

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