What can mobile app development teams learn from a spinning top?

Image

The left image was found in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, who died about 1323 BC. The two images on the right are contemporary, which means these tops were manufactured about 3300 years apart.

For many, it is hard to imagine a world when simpler, non-electronic, toys were the primary options for fun. How quickly we seem to forget!

IT and C-Level executives might be surprised to discover there are three business lessons that can still be learned from a simple toy like a spinning top.

Here are three for consideration:

Simplicity Can Increase Durability

Sometimes, the simplest concept can stand the test of time. Archeologists have found spinning tops that date back over five thousand years. And, here’s the most amazing stat: they still function today exactly as they did then. What about your mobile app? How will it stand the test of time? Is anyone taking bets that a cell phone, or any of its apps, will still be working five thousand years from now? How about one year from now?

Tipping Points

Without going into the physics of how a spinning top works, suffice it say that once a top is correctly spinning on a smooth surface, it will continue to do for as long as its’ spinning inertia can maintain a balance. Once inertia begins to slow, balance will falter, and the spinning top will revert back into being just an inert object. Eerily this description fits mobility software programs, too. Finding the right balance in software features and functions, without making it overloaded, may make the critical difference in the lifespan of the product. There are tipping points when all software programs stop being useful. And, an unused software app is another definition of an inert object. Have you identified your tipping points?

User Interfaces

A complex concept implies complex user interfaces. Plus, a complex concept has more points of failure than a simpler concept. A spinning top is an intuitive product. The very design of a top invites the user to give it a spin with a flick of the wrist. When users look at your mobile app, what is appealing and inviting about it? Is it intuitive or intimidating? Are users ready to give it a flick or a swipe to get started?

Final Thoughts

What are your best case hopes and aspirations for the life of your mobile app? A year? More than two years? More than five years?? Perhaps emulating the lessons learned from a spinning top will help produce positive influences on your mobile application projects. Aim high!

How Long Will Your Mobile App Be State-of-the-Art?

Image

The images are small, so here is some historical context beginning on the top ROW: [from left} (1) Early DOS – all text based information – circa 1981. (2) Green screen DOS with pseudo boxes – which were often designed by outlining areas using font characters instead of real boxes – circa mid-1980. (3) Early Macintosh GUI screen – 1983. (4) Early Windows GUI Screen – 1985. Second ROW: (5) Windows Blue Screen of Death – if you don’t remember, ask someone older why it was dreaded – lurking about since 1985. (6) Windows XP GUI – circa 2001. (7) Mac GUI – circa 2008. (8) Mobile Apps Menu – now.

Aside from obviously being a montage of historical computer screen shots, what do these images of software have in common? For their day, they represent the state-of-the-art software technology.

Would your company go back to one of these state-of-the-art software platforms? Not likely.

Enterprise software and technology have a known destiny

Everyone in IT knows that all Enterprise software and hardware technology, over time, is inevitably destined to become obsolete.

One can install new operating systems; upgrade existing Enterprise applications; apply a variety of Band-Aids to help heal new tech problems; or, simply limp along with the status quo; but, eventually, software and/or technology will no longer efficiently support your business model needs, and, their time in the sun will end.

Studies report that most companies re-invest in new ERP systems and platforms every 5-8 years. What’s your policy for this and how will you incorporate this policy with your mobile app development?

What is the destiny for your mobile apps?

How long is your company expecting your newly deployed mobile app to be business or consumer relevant? Are you using the latest programming tools or technology to insure a quality user experience? Is your mobile app positioned to have a long-shelf life or was it delivered already bordering on being obsolete?

Lessons learned from others

As discussed in previous blog postings, audiences matter. Consumer-facing apps become brand extensions for your company. The same marketing effort used to promote your brand should be employed for your app. If one refreshes a brand image frequently, then, so should one refresh the consumer app. There are many excellent consumer-based app examples to reference that are frequently changing with market conditions, including Amazon, Lowes, Barnes & Noble, and Bank of America.

If your app is business-to- business or for only internal usage, then the user experience may be a driving force. Certainly, BYOD initiatives have had an impact on user experiences as each new mobile device strives to outdo their competition with new features. But, rather than IT departments trying to support each new OS system or new device immediately, one might simply have a scheduled refresh policy for your app of once a year or once every 18-months. A real challenge for BYOD is backwards compatible to support the newest desired user experience features while still supporting older technology.

Migration of mobile apps

Should your company be planning an Enterprise upgrade or replacement, remember to allow time to update or replace your mobile app, too. Your mobile application changes may turn out to be more back-end than front-end; but, the data integration will need to be completed and available in conjunction with your larger Enterprise project – especially if business users have grown accustomed to their functions and convenience.

Mobile Takeaway

The primary takeaway should be that your mobile apps are not completed, even though they may be deployed.  Keeping a mobile app in a state-of-the-art status is a never-ending IT process that requires resource planning and a refresh schedule to remain relevant.

Six Golf Lessons Applied to Mobile App Development and Deployment

Image

One does not have to be an avid golfer to understand the basic concept of playing golf. The game strategy is that the player with the fewest strokes taken to place a small white ball into 18 different cups spread over a 7,000 yard course wins the match.

How do lessons taken from golf apply to mobile app development and deployment? Here are six possibilities to consider:

(1) Creating and writing mobile app code can take a fundamental tip from golf that less is best. Business and social mobile apps all compete for a finite amount of storage space in mobile devices. So, does one try to create an app that reasonably performs multiple functions; or, does one create an app that does only one function really well?

(2) No cheating is allowed. Golf is a self-regulated game. That is why the concept of penalty strokes comes into play. While imitation may be a sincere form of flattery in some industries, blatant copying of business concepts, look and feel, and other proprietary programming techniques is simply plagiarism.

(3) Follow-through is fundamental. You may have heard the golf catch phrase “drive for show, but putt for dough.” Mobile software development strategy is the same. Integration into back-end Enterprise applications can sound flashy (for show), and  they may give the marketing impression that their software is of “professional” grade quality; however, the real genius  (for dough) for a mobile app may be found in the attention to details evident on the front-end where tiny changes can make a big difference in user perceptions.

(4) The right equipment can make a difference. Anyone who plays can testify that golfers are always seeking an edge with their equipment. Hybrid clubs made from high-tech metals and ceramic materials; special grips; incredibly coated golf balls; glove-like shoes; and, much more, have all combined to make average golfers better; and, to make above average golfers superior.

The same is true for mobile technology. Not all mobile devices are created equal and not all mobile OS are created equal. There are ample arguments being made, elsewhere, that the concept of BYOD (bring your own device) should be replaced with CYOD (choose your own device from a list of approved technology offerings). I envision that eventually there will a consolidation of mobile devices and their manufacturers. It certainly has happened with computers. At some future point, the clear technology hardware winners will emerge and the BYOD choices will narrow. Why wait? Narrow your choices now.

(5) Rules and standards are vital to healthy software development. When it comes to device and software security, MAM, and MDM, and other software development issues, there are common-sense rules that everyone should abide by. Trying to shortcut development standards helps no one long-term. Why reinvent the wheel when it already exists? Embrace rules and standards.

(6) Targeting audiences correctly is paramount. Why do you suppose CBS spends millions broadcasting the Masters Tournament from Augusta? It’s just another golf match, right? If you think that, then the Super Bowl is just another football game, right? No, not exactly. The lure of the Masters is that it features the best players, which attracts a certain demographic audience, which advertisers can target to sell their products, which translates into sales – the lifeblood of business.

In 2013, the Masters Tournament broadcast drew a 21 ratings share and 18 million viewers, which was up 26% over the 13.5 million viewers in 2012.  Advertisers got their money’s worth, and then some! Was anyone watching the other channels? I know I wasn’t.

Finally, here’s the best takeaway lesson to be learned from golf by mobile software app development companies. There can only be one Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Adam Scott. And, they compete head-to-head nearly every weekend on a world stage.

How would your company be viewed on a world stage of mobile app developers? Leading the field, in contention to take the lead, an amateur at best, or, never making the final cut? Being good at mini-golf is very different than being able to play on the PGA tour.

Worldwide, there are hundreds of software companies, ISVs, and business consultants that tout they are ERP business partners developing mobile business apps. However, the actual number of companies listed by independent research companies, like Gartner and Forrester, to be real players in the mobility software industry, is a handful. Competition will be fierce for the same audience of buyers and users.

So, how does one make one’s app standout from the crowd? How does one attract positive attention? What gives your mobile app a competitive edge? What is your strategy to win the match, and more importantly, win the hearts of your target audience?

It is worth repeating: hoping for the best is not a reliable strategy.

What to Include in a Mobility Software Style Guide

Several weeks ago, I wrote on this blog that mobile software development should be guided by the use of a style guide for consistency. Since then, I’ve received numerous inquiries asking for more details about the type of style elements that might be included in a guide document.

Here is a snapshot from my Table of Contents page:

ImageI am happy to provide my views; however, adding a complete style guide example here is impracticable due to space considerations. So, I’ve done the next best thing by posting a sample mobility software style guide document on my Linkedin Profile page, which can be downloaded for free for review:  www.linkedin.com/in/jerryhorne/

My example style guide document provides the basic elements that many companies might find to be practicable for setting standards for their mobile software development; however, your mobility software style guide might be completely different. And, that’s okay with me.

The important consideration is that one applies a consistent look and feel. As I noted on an earlier blog, companies with large, or, perhaps global, mobile development organizations face distance and communication challenges to provide custom software consistency.

A style guide is a simple tool to help bridge one’s gaps.

What kind of animal is your mobile app?

Image

Lately, I’ve noticed that there are definite similarities between some mobile app types and animals. Allow me to elaborate on an obvious few:

Snail apps

As the name implies, this app, while potentially solidly constructed, is s-l-o-w to interact. One tries to perform a simple action and it takes “forever” to react. One seems to be constantly waiting. In today’s instant gratification world, anything that takes more than a few seconds to react is like the proverbial saying: as fast as molasses flowing uphill in January. Burrr!

Cheetah apps

This app is the exact opposite of a snail app. How well it is constructed is secondary to how fast it reacts. So while it is fast, there may be other issues to contend with. One pet peeve for many is the auto-correcting spelling feature that attempts to override what one has keyed. If you’re not paying attention all the time, the cheetah app may create “interesting” and unexpected results. They may work fast; but, one may have to be wary that it doesn’t bite back.

Chameleon apps

This breed of app is one that promises one thing and delivers another. Have you downloaded apps from an apps store where the description and image don’t match-up to the actual product? You can be the judge if this is false advertising. Some have suggested that apps that offer “free” trials for a period of time might be considered borderline chameleon apps – especially if one has to register a credit card somewhere. Is the app providing a business service or is it an excuse to provide an income stream for the developer. Of course, I fully embrace paying for services when appropriate; but, I prefer to know intentions for that upfront. Let the buyer beware.

Elephant apps

No doubt, this app is solidly constructed. Reliable interaction is evident all the time. Not exactly a snail, but, certainly not a cheetah either. Sturdy and steady would be accurate adjectives. However, plodding and bloated may also apply! Little elephants can grow-up to become larger elephants over time. They are still elephants, never the less. Elephants tend to take up lots of space.

Snake apps

Apologies to snake lovers, but, snake apps, in my opinion, are the worst apps possible. These apps may never be intended to do anything but to prey on naïve users. Apps where one has to register credit card or enter personal information before any initial usage may be playing right into the hands of someone phishing to steal one’s identity. Be careful with this app as looks can be deceiving. Don’t be fooled, as there are snakes in the Internet grass!

If your company has developed mobile apps, which animal would they most likely align with?

I am sure there are other app / animal categories possible. What are your favorite suggestions?

One Technique for Defining Enterprise Mobile App ROI

The basic premise of any ROI tool is to show how quickly there will be payback on the investment made.

But, what does this really mean? How can one define Enterprise mobile app ROI?

The answer can seem complex, depending on what is most important to a company. But, the truth still comes back to achieving quantifiable financial improvements for the bottom line.

The easiest way to calculate an Enterprise mobile app ROI is to perform and evaluate time and effort comparisons.

Here’s a simple example. If the time and effort to perform a certain task manually (write results on paper and later key the information into the ERP software) is X; and, if the time and effort to perform the same task with Enterprise mobile apps (real-time) is Y, then it should be straight forward to calculate the time savings difference between the two methods and to calculate the resulting cost savings for a single task.

Then, all one has to do is determine the typical number of task to be performed in a period of time – an hour, a shift, a week, a month, or a year. Multiply the single task savings by the estimated number of tasks to be performed and the ROI picture begins to emerge.

Are these the only ROI factors to consider? Not really.

Perhaps the area where there is the most over-looked ROI savings can be found is in “error corrections,” which is directly tied to efficiency and productivity.

The rule of thumb for error corrections is done by estimating the number of errors that need addressing per 1,000 entries. An entry can be defined as a single transaction or as a single line within a transaction. Companies define this term differently all the time. For this discussion, let’s assume an error is a single line-item within a transaction with some type of problem.

Correcting errors is a nebulous term that can mean anything unexpected that causes a focused level of staff interaction. Essentially, the ERP software may be expecting something completely different than what reality says is right, which triggers the error. Numbers transposed – keyed wrong; wrong quantity entered; wrong location entered; damaged goods that can’t be used; lost products that can’t be found; expedited orders that take priorities over others; QC holds; etc. These are everyday problems for nearly all companies.

Most supervisors I’ve talked to say they spend, on-average, 2-hours to research, to validate, to document, and to correct a single error. Your results may vary.

If a company believes they are 95% efficient daily, that also implies they are 5% inefficient. Those inefficiencies are the errors that must be corrected and fixed. Using the entries rule of thumb above, this means 50 entries out of 1,000 are in error. Fifty entries times two hours each equals 100 hours of staff time required to fix and correct errors. Wow! That’s a lot of time and staff resources!

Error correcting can also become an easy target to realize immediate savings by employing mobile app technology that improves efficiency.

For example, raising and improving efficiency from 95% to 98% would imply that only 20 entries out of 1,000 are in error. Twenty entries times two hours equals 40 hours of staff time to fix and correct errors. That means there is a potential of 60 hours savings difference!

When one does this math, it is easy to discover the financial impact of improving efficiency and reducing error correction time.

And, of course, there are a number of important intangible savings that can be realized from mobile Enterprise business apps including better inventory accuracy, better order fulfillment, better customer satisfaction, and, best of all, repeat business. These are harder issues to quantify true value; but, they are vitally important never the less.

Mobile Apps Need Mobile Style Guides

Mobile app development should first start with a mobile style guide in place.

For better or worse, your mobile app presents an image of your company’s brand excellence.

And, the effort your company puts into protecting and fostering your company’s brand image should be no less when developing your mobile apps. Programmers may find they need to work closely with graphic designers, marketers, and, maybe even lawyers to provide a polished and completed product.

There are four key considerations that all mobile style guides should contain to help provide consistency: (1) a consensus user interface for navigation techniques like swipes, pinches, etc.; (2) visual placement guidelines for images, graphics, colors, menus, icons, and text boxes; (3) allowances for font usage for readability – and perhaps support for multiple localized languages, too; and (4) guidelines for the use of legal descriptions, notices, and version releases to protect your product.

And, if your app is to be supported by multiple mobile operating systems and screen sizes, then specific considerations for each system option may need to be included within your style guide.

Style guides for mobile apps may be similar in concept to other corporate style guides used for company logos and other graphical presentations. However, mobile style guides may quickly become multiple page documents to cover the various elements found in mobile apps.

If your company employs remote-based programmers, or if your company hires third-party consultants / programmers to provide custom mobile application software, then a corporate mobile style guide should be mandatory and required if your company wants to have a consistent look and feel for all of your mobile apps regardless of the original point of coding.

Continuity, consistency and creative design can all merge hand-in-hand with a bit of pre-planning. Mobile style guides are a simple and efficient way to help your company manage your mobile development efforts.

Business Mobile Apps: Planning and Strategy – Five Key Matters to Consider

The mobility parade is gathering steam and rolling down Main Street USA. Where are you viewing this parade? From the street corner watching as it passes by, or are you an active participant sitting on the main float that everyone else admires? The reality may be a bit of both, depending on where you are in your mobility development cycles and in setting your business goals strategy.

Here are five matters to consider:

User Matters – Who will use your app and what will be the end-result of their usage? For example, do you have a user’s group that provides feedback for your products or service offerings? How do they communicate with your company? Got an app for that?

Competition Matters – What are your competitors doing in your market space and does their efforts give them any advantages? Are you being proactive or reactive to your market environment? Are you playing catch-up or leading your sector? Got an app for that?

Collaborator Matters – Unless you live and work in a vacuum, your company interacts with other companies in many ways: suppliers, partners, logistics, sales, channels, marketing, and much more. What can you do to make your collaboration efforts better and easier? Just because you always have done it one way does not mean it can’t be improved. Got an app for that??

Compliance Matters – In the supply-chain world of business, mandatory compliance issues are an everyday reality. Proper labels for this, correct documentation for that, serialized markings here, and security/anti-counterfeit features seem to be popping up everywhere. Sharing information freely, quickly, and rationally is not just good business, it is has become required, mandated and increasingly regulated. So, how are all those additional business processes and procedures working for you? Need help? Got an app for that?

Executive Matters – Rarely does any pipedream mobile project become reality without an executive sponsor. That’s because pet-projects and software development budgets are controlled by executives who set company priorities and objectives. Executive discussions for mobile apps often come back to financial issues of cost vs. perceived benefits received. But, is it always about dollars or should it also be common sense? Perhaps someone should develop a mobile business app to assist in making mobile business app decisions. Who’s got an app for that? No doubt it would sell well.

Return on investment is always crucial in mobile app development conversations. But, the problem is that tangible and intangible returns are not always easy to calculate or quantify – especially with regard to some of the matters above that may be thrust upon an executive team (especially matters are government or industry regulated as a cost of doing business). And, not every team member executive is qualified to discuss or understand all of the tangible or intangible matters.

As my friend John Schiff at Oracle is fond of saying, begin your mobile app planning and strategy with the end in mind. I believe John is exactly right. If your executive team determines that the end results are justified, then make a strategic corporate decision to live with it, regardless of the perceived ROI economics. Go make your mobile apps!

Two Ways To Prioritize Mobile Software Development Needs

Okay, your company has strategies in place for MDM and MAM. Now what? How do you prioritize your mobile software development projects?

The best way to start a prioritization process is to examine two critical issues: (1) audience impact and (2) economic impact to your business. Let’s examine each in turn:

The broader the intended audience, the more likely the application will be immediately successful. A good place to start is with your internal audience – your employees! For example, if your HR department has determined that every employee needs to have sexual harassment training, then the app becomes a mandatory requirement. Everyone within the company needs this training regardless of job description. Next, stop and ask these delivery questions: is the best choice for this specific app development to be geared for individual training or for classroom training; can it best viewed via a mobile device, desktop, or large monitor projection; should the style be interactive or lecture; and, finally, do you have remote users that can’t be easily reached or is everyone in your office location? The answers will help point you in the right direction for your company.

Economic impact implies that the use of an app may result in some type of financial gain. If, for example, you discover that purchase order requisitions are not being approved in a time manner because of executive travels and there is a back log of orders, then there is a definite issue that potentially impacts your bottom line. It may make sense to build a mobile app for traveling executives who can approve orders from anywhere. This app may be geared for on a chosen few within the company, but the financial impact may be very serious for the financial health of everyone at your company.

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.