Businesses Bet Big on Mobile Apps for Employees

August 12, 2014

Mobile strategies to better engage employees are the talk of the C-suite. But is the talk leading to success? Are employees working better, faster, and more collaboratively? Or are they dismissing the apps that have been intentionally developed for their use?

It all comes down to the quality of the experience. Employees’ expectations have changed through exposure to better designed apps in their personal lives. Personal apps and tools can often be installed quickly and used effortlessly, and deliver near immediate gratification to the user. Conversely, many of the apps we use at work must be sensitive to security restrictions, legal constraints and integration requirements that challenge their ability to compete with their non-corporate cousins.

To put it bluntly, the employee app often disappoints.

In fact, nearly 60 percent of employees abandon corporate apps when they deliver a poor user experience, don't meet their needs or slow productivity. In addition, 42 percent of users are not wowed by their work apps while 26 percent say their productivity suffers when they stick with corporate apps.  And what do they do instead? Sixty-four percent of respondents said they download apps of their own choosing to use at work.

Research shows that using mobility to enable a more productive workforce is an important goal for many organizations. However, mobile use in the enterprise must evolve beyond simple tasks such as calendaring and email.

Though employee apps may never rid themselves of the complexities of their environment, we can improve them significantly by doing something intrinsic to good design: focus on the user. That doesn’t simply mean asking a user what they want, writing it down and building it. To design well, you must “become the user.”

Consider the challenges faced by, say, a hospital nursing staff responsible for multiple activities, including collecting patient data, administering medications and communicating status with physicians. Each activity has its own set of processes and compliance requirements. Instead of making assumptions about what nurses need, we need to spend some time in their shoes.

We must experience their work before we can improve it.

And to experience their work, we must not only walk in their shoes, but we also have to listen and collaborate with them, not just during the design process, but throughout product development, deployment and ongoing use. Users should have the ability to provide feedback on the app at all stages, and track status on their feedback.

Achieving excellence in mobile design and development is an ongoing, iterative process. A company's mobile strategy needs to continuously change and adapt to new technologies and device capabilities. Gathering insights, developing an app, getting feedback— learn, iterate and repeat— it’s a cycle for app developers to determine which apps work, which should be tweaked, and which should be retired.  

The bottom line for businesses making big bets on mobility is the understanding that while they may just be getting into the game, their employees are already mobile app experts. If your apps don’t make their jobs easier, your employees will reject them.  

That’s a losing bet no business can make today.

Russ Wilson is director of IBM's Mobile Innovation Lab.