Yesterday I commented on the fact that the first thing I have realized in recent months discussions with customers and colleagues about what apps we should build for our enterprise applications suite, is what apps we should NOT build.
In all fairness I guess I should also explain what I have realized that customers DO want and what I think we should build.
The Super Obvious
OK, there are some mobile Apps for the enterprise that virtually everyone is asking for.
As I explained in my post yesterday the valid use case for mobile apps is for those tasks that can be performed in a few seconds, or perhaps a couple of minutes, when away from anything that resembles an office.
Here is the top 5 list, based on what the customers I have been talking to have said.
- Approvals and authorizations. Having an app that tells you when there is a new purchase, invoice, expense sheet etc. to authorize, and that lets you authorize it there and then, is a godsend for any manager with personnel or cost center responsibility.
- CRM, or rather “personal SFA”. With the risk of being somewhat prejudiced, sales reps aren’t exactly the most disciplined when it comes to updating data in the CRM system. But give them an iPhone app to manage their opportunities, contacts and activities and data quality of the pipeline will jump to a higher level.
- Time and Expense reporting – the personal administration that we all have to do. Sure we’ve had this in the browser, accessible from home etc. for years. But my browser is still further away than my phone which 99% of the time lives in my pocket.
- BI and KPIs. The always asked for management app. Most managers that ask for it are thinking about easy access to the KPIs they track on a daily/weekly basis, but some also see a use for viewing larger reports as well.
- Work order status updates – for anyone that offers solutions for service management, an app used by field technicians to feed back status updates (have arrived, job done, customer not home etc.) is the top request. Knowing the status in real time is key to meeting service level agreements, and to invoice the work as soon as possible.
As a company doing product development, most of the time it makes sense to add the capabilities that customers ask for to your products. But sometimes you need to step back and think about how you could offer a different, better, solution to the underlying needs your customers have. I think apps for the enterprise is an area where we have a good opportunity to do this, simply because there aren’t enough enterprise apps out there yet for people in general to have a good understanding of what is possible.
In particular I think there is an opportunity to be innovative with what I can best describe as generic-specific apps. Let me give you an example.
A lot of customers I have talked to have asked for small apps to basically look something up. One sports clothes retailer wanted a “product look-up” app. Today they have a portlet in their IFS Applications portal where they can do a product look-up to see whether the item is in stock, or if it comes in a different color. Problem is that the shop assistant needs to walk the customer over to a terminal to do the look up. An app for the phone in the assistants pocket would save those 30 seconds it takes to walk to the terminal and also provide a better experience for the customer. Makes perfect sense. An asset service management company wanted a “SLA contract look up” app to quickly look up the service level agreement for a particular asset or customer. Several have suggested “customer look-up”, “order look-up” and “employee look-up” apps to quickly find the phone number to a customer, the delivery date and status of an order, the department of an employee etc.
What is common for all these proposed apps is that they are very specific. They are focused on specifically performing a well-defined task, just like apps should be. However; instead of building all of these look up apps (a dozen or so in total) would it be possible to build a generic “look up” app? An app that excels at the specific task of looking something up, but is generic in what it looks up?
Imagine an app where you start by just typing in a key word – a part number, customer name, product name, employee name, contract number or whatever. This presents you with a list of matching search results grouped into customers, products etc. Click on the one you are looking for to see those quick facts, links to associated documents, attached images, a map showing where it is etc. If there is no image (for example of that sports jacket), use your phone to take a photo and it gets saved back. If there is no map, use your phone to log the gps co-ordinates (for example when you’re standing outside the entrance to that customer’s office).
Question is – would a generic specific “look up” app be a better solution than a dozen similar look-up apps? I think it might be. What do you think?