Riding the 94D bus between Minneapolis and St. Paul for the past decade gave me a chance to witness the evolution of mobilized applications at my fingertips. Until I moved to Atlanta, I spent my daily ride home logging in to check my stocks, keeping an eye on my checking balance, and browsing sports scores and local news on the various devices I have owned: Blackberry, Windows Mobile or Android.
My internet viewing experience has steadily improved. Some advancement was due to better devices and the jump to a LTE network in Minneapolis. However, the sites themselves are also more polished. By offering a native ”mobile app” geared toward mobile users, I am able to do much more than ever before on each site riding high on a bridge over the Mississippi.
Measuring ROI for employee apps is tricky business
There is a growing expectation that every application should be scaled to the cellular device. I have to admit, as I browsed my apps on the bus, I often wondered why I couldn’t manage my vacation days on the HR webpage from work too.
This past week I was working with a customer who is changing that for her company’s employees. She rattled off the hurdles to mobilizing their internal employee apps: back-end systems, browser types, and mobile operating system support. However, the biggest stumbling block is funding. While many customer-facing applications are receiving corporate dollars to create a mobile app, the return on investment (ROI) is trickier to calculate for an employee app. How do you measure the ROI? Do you count hits? Do you look to the annual employee satisfaction survey?
3 tips to help define success
I have compiled a few items to watch for when evaluating mobilizing an employee app to address these concerns:
1. Mobile apps create their own demand. I would have never dreamed of transferring money between my brokerage accounts on the bus in 2008, but I wouldn’t think twice about it now. Likewise, even though I could view Internet sites in 2006 on my Blackberry, I didn’t bother because the screen sizing was difficult to work with. If the experience is optimized, the users will begin to take advantage of it. . Keep in mind that viewing the application via the mobile web on native HTML today may work perfectly well already, and any work to mobilize the content via an app may not make a noticeable improvement Properly investigating this dynamic is essential.
2. Rendering and wrapping matters. What types of devices (including tablets) are employees carrying today? This question steers decisions for a mobile applications strategy. Keep in mind that device types change, as does technology. By creating a platform to distribute the app to all relevant operating systems, this problem is avoided. Less expensive technology exists to just wrap the existing html into an optimized mobile framework, but it is static. Changes to the original code require the wrapper to be updated too. If the content does not require frequent updates, this approach may work well; otherwise it could leave the business with delays generated by the wrapper vendor. It isn’t easy to get right the first time. Facebook recently re-wrote their mobile app to better serve changing mobile trends; now, it’s faster and more user-friendly.
3. There has to be a catalyst. Determining what app might be most widely used in a mobilized platform, and then launching more services on that common platform, is a good strategy. For AT&T, we started with a mobilized employee directory. It is really handy when you are out of the office. A mobile chat application was later added that puts the office even closer to the mobile user.
Building mobile employee apps is only going to become a bigger and bigger issue for enterprise businesses; see the stock slide of HP and Dell if you still think the PC is going to make a resurgence. Until then, it is a race not just to mobilize, but to figure out what the long-term advantage of mobilizing on a platform is. There may be some false starts along the way. Justifying the return and value to employees, both from a productivity and employee satisfaction perspective, is a great place to start.