Audience Matters – Five Steps To Consider

Planning an enterprise mobile software application can be daunting to the uninitiated. There are, however, a few planning tips that may help.

Suppose, for this example, that the proposed mobile application is to be related to mandatory sexual harassment training for all employees.

First, step back and clearly identify the intended audience. Do you need app versions to support more than one language? Do you need to support non-literate participation? Do you need to support special needs staffing? Establishing corporate goals based on the answers to these questions will help one to build a consistent, repeatable, computer-based system, with measurable analytics.

Second, with established corporate goals, one can start the program analysis to define the components that should be developed, managed, and, later, archived. If one of the design components is to utilize video clip examples of good behavior versus bad behavior, then scripting, filming, editing, and converting the video into a usable format is near the top of your to-do list. Over dubbing additional sound tracks may provide other language support and closed captions may address those audience concerns. The video presentations probably will need to be placed into a mobile software presentation framework that can easily provide a high quality user navigation experience.

Third, with measurement goals in mind, one can establish a series of questions and answers that the users must successfully complete to demonstrate their participation. Computer-based training is straight forward programming in concept; however, crafting meaningful questions should require the assistance of HR or legal professionals.

Fourth, management of participant records may be critical to remain in compliance with local, state, and federal guidelines for sexual harassment. Your HR or legal affairs staff can provide guidance as to what is required for your location. Sign-ins and unique identifiers are common software techniques to track who has successfully used the mobile app. Is one of the program design criteria to send a reminder to individuals who have not completed the required training? Does your company require periodic refresher courses with email reminders in the future? Will your app need an email interface? Will your app need a separate data base? How long will your organization keep the participation records? Five years? Seven years? Forever?

Fifth, having integrated analysis tools that can provide contextual information may be critical to the success of this example app. Executive dashboards are a highly recommended technique to provide instantaneous feedback on the use of mobile applications. At-a-glance screens with graphs and charts can provide real-time meaningful analysis. Of course, what should be included in the dashboard must be part of the initial design concept in step two.


All Enterprise Mobile Apps Are Not Equal

Like it or not, enterprise mobile apps should not be created equally.

Design and usage considerations aside, there may be many varying criteria for how enterprise mobility apps should be modeled, created, and perhaps licensed.

There are at least three emerging classes of enterprise mobility users: (1) industrial mobile users [industrial mobile devices within the four walls – with constantly working connections], (2) occasional mobile users [in-the-field or remote users on tablets or smart devices – dial-in or WiFi connections], and (3) casual mobile users [middle management or executive users on tablets or smart devices doing inquiries or approvals – dial-in or WiFi connections]. 

Major ERP vendors, like Oracle EBS and SAP, are in the development and roll-out process of extending the footprint of their ERP software to mobile devices. These ERP vendors contend that users of their software should be licensed regardless of how the information is accessed – from a desktop PC, a tablet, or a smart phone. Their licensing schemes to date for these new mobile ERP offerings seem to be gravitating towards a “transaction” specific license so that only the users with that specific mobile transaction need are licensed.

BYOD users have grown accustomed to downloading free or inexpensive apps with very cool interactive features. Imagine the sticker shock when downloaded ERP licensed apps cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for a single ERP transaction!

The jury is still out on how this per transaction licensing model will stand because this is an important economic consideration by IT departments as they try to manage, control, transfer, and contain the growing cost of Enterprise Mobility.

The Roots of Enterprise Mobility Run Deep

If you think enterprise mobility is a relative new phenomenon you might be surprised to discover that its roots run deeper than one might think. Many companies have been using industrial wireless mobility devices, with bar code ERP-connected software, to manage their business and supply-chain operations for over thirty years.

Industrial hardware vendors like Intermec, Motorola, and many similar companies have been providing wireless mobility hardware and software solutions since the mid-1980’s. Those early devices had proprietary text-based programming languages, like IRL (Intermec Reader Language) that allowed for the creation of very simple programs for basic supply-chain transactions. Bar code technology was in its infancy in acceptance as the standard for identifying products.

Those early enterprise mobility devices in the 1980’s and early 1990’s had limited functionality and capabilities for four reasons: (1) Chip technology has clunky, expensive, and power-hungry. Those early devices had variations of the 8080 chip design, which were the heart of early text-based PCs. Battery-life for the early portable wireless devices might go 4-6 hours. (2) Operating systems were primitive and also proprietary by each vendor and CPU. Those early vendors like Telxon, Symbol, and Intermec  hoped that their proprietary marketing schemes and hardware deigns would lock customers into using only their systems and programming tools. That strategy didn’t work out as well as they hoped. (3) Wireless and wired connectivity was problematic and expensive. There were VHF and even a few UHF wireless networks offerings in those early day before the recent advent of WiFi and robust cellular networks. And, (4) software data integration into Enterprise environments was cumbersome and ODBC standards were in early stages of development. 

Despite these shortcomings, wireless enterprise mobility devices became increasingly popular with corporations that faced the prospects of supply-chain mandates. There were two stand-out projects that helped shaped the early acceptance of mobile enterprise technology:

(1) The US Department of Defense LOGMARS (logistical marking) project in the 1980’s mandated that defense contractors add unique bar code identification labels to every product purchased. There were two notable results from this project: Unique ID label standards were formalized and mobile hardware was ruggedized to withstand repeated drops on concrete for field utilization. This project impacted literally thousands of contractors to use bar code technology. Soon, these contractors realized that the labels they were applying for the US Government could also be used for their own internal enterprise tracking use as well. 

(2) The automotive industry, in a major shift in manufacturing practices, moved to a “just-in-time” techniques for their parts suppliers. The hundreds of parts used in building a car would only arrive at the assembly factory just-in-time for their usage. The only way to provide enterprise visibility of the arrival and movement of these parts internally was through the use of enterprise automated data collection technology. Using a label standard still employed today, AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) labels provided an automotive industry standard that all automotive suppliers employ. And, the need for immediate visibility of arriving products led to significant improvements in real-time enterprise data  software integration. 

It is hard to imagine today, but until very recently “batch” computer operations were common place. Enterprise main-frame and mid-range software programs ran overnight to refresh tables and programs for management usage. Inquires and look-ups were hours or days-old information at best. Still, batch information was a vast improvement over manual paper methods were information was perhaps weeks and months old. Can you imagine what an Internet environment would be like if this were still a predominately batch computer world? Do a Google inquiry and then wait a day for the answer??

The primary evolution impetus of today’s enterprise mobility can be traced to the introduction of smart devices which were first brought to market about seven or eight short years ago. The first mobile enterprise apps were primarily focused on delivering email outside the enterprise’s four walls.  Palm and Blackberry devices were the popular rage in the early 2000’s and they helped forge a new demand and need for corporate enterprise apps. I have both devices gathering dust n a drawer with other forgotten, now out-dated technology.

Fast forward to today with the now three-year old introduction of tablets, smarter-devices (like Android, iPhone), and full-featured mobile operating systems (like Android, iOS, Windows CE) with native, embedded graphic and video technology and one can easily understand why there is such an interest in extending and expanding the footprint of real-time enterprise software. There are new classes of enterprise users that mobile apps can assist.

What was merely a dream 15-years ago with enterprise mobility technology is now common place. Where will we be in another 15 years? Stay tuned.