Proliferation of apps is a potential trap that could really erode your user’s trust.

Posted on September 19, 2013

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The rise and rise of the apps.

I have been talking a lot recently regarding enterprises and their use of mobile apps within their business, for all users be they employees, customers, parters etc, and have been hearing a troublesome thing …

And that thing I keep hearing is that there will be a large number of apps deployed by the enterprise, and that as such they need an enterprise store or MEAP (Mobile Enterprise Application Platform) that can handle a thousand apps.
Yep that’s right a thousand apps.  Yes this huge number is the thing that troubles me.
This high number is driven from the arguments around how focused an app should be and how many features each app should have, and given the argument is normally for “simple” apps that do one thing very well,  the logical outcome can be that a huge number of apps are therefore required to provide coverage of need within an organisation.
The focusing of the apps
Now it seems to me that one of the issues with the current thinking on small focused apps, and I am not alone or new in saying this, is around how apps are discovered by users, as the number of them increases.
Because an iPad can store around 4400 apps on its screens, and I am sure android phones can store many hundreds too.
And here is where it starts to break down,  because remembering all those apps, what they do, and where they are can be a problem.  Even if you “only” have 2 or 3 hundred.
This is made worse by two things,  one many apps are quite niche and so you only expect to use them rarely, for example an app from the insurance company for when you have an accident.  So when the time comes you have to remember that you have it,  and secondly
You have to remember where it is.  These two things alone mean that if you flood an employee with many apps each for a specific task in a set of businesss processes,  then they are not likely to remember what they have where.
this is not  anew problem,  I work for IBM,  our intranet is fantastically huge.  Truly it is a wonder,  an embarassment of riches,  and almost impossible to find what you want amongst all that content.  Search helps,  however it can be hard to define a set of search terms that will find the thing you need.  Tags are good, however their use is inconsistent and patchy at best.  i am sure many organisations have the same issue.
Provide maps to guide the user through the maze.
Thus when you are thinking through your app strategy,  start with the user and think through how the user will know which app to use when,  and how the system can help them find and use the best app, from the wide selection.
Some are unique, and just need to be found in the maze, eg a travel permissions tool, others such as, productivity tools, there may be many to choose from, and then it’s a case of curation to select the best and guide the user.
I hear talk of apps that will be launch pads for other apps,  and I can see that,  we have the same concept in web sites,  a guided helper that helps you navigate through the options to find the best one for you.  Indeed Vodafone do this when they sell you a “business” iPad,  it will have Discover, that contains a set of apps they have selected as the best to get you started.
Another option is for an app that is multi-functional,  however is clever enough in it’s front end to quickly hide those areas you are not likely to need for your current activity,  thus always keeping a clean, simple and intuitive display.  However this is easier said than done,  but would result in fewer apps being required.
Thirdly consider the use of a mobile browser to house the app by creating an HTML5 app.  in this way the mobile web pages can help the user discover what they need e.g. through a search interface. In this way you only need to start at the mobile intranet home page. This is not a panacea as even using search and social techniques it can still be very very difficult to marshal the content and apps in a way that works for all the different types of users out there.
Provide organisation wide control of the apps
To minimise the impact of the growth and use of mobile apps set up a Mobile Editor or if you prefer the term,  a Mobile Producer,  someone who thinks about this stuff, and keeps the system understandable and navigable by editing which apps do what,  and where the apps are placed in the system.  Let them decide which apps should deliver requirements to prevent too much overlap and too much diversification.
Give them the power of veto over app projects,  before the project gains investment, so that they can have effective governance. I’m an architect of old,  so what I say will come as no surprise,  however the issue of apps and their usage should come under the Enterprise Architects remit too.
Proliferation is a potential trap that could really erode your user’s trust.
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Posted in: Apps, Business, mobile