Serious applications

Business apps are a huge part of our daily lives and yet when it comes to mobile devices, they simply aren’t getting their day in the sun

Serious applications

Enterprises rely on a myriad of business applications to carry out their daily tasks. Far from the dark days of having a one-size-fits-all Office package, we now have a whole host of tools to play with. And whilst these aren’t necessarily confined to the humble desktop, with many mobile equivalents cropping up left, right and centre, some feel dedicated mobile apps for business are yet to achieve the recognition they deserve.

Energy recruitment specialist Spencer Ogden first noticed the issue when reviewing its marketing stats for 2012. An upturn in the number of candidates accessing its site from mobile devices, as well as express feedback from existing clients, led the firm to review its existing channels. Considering whether a mobile-optimised site or an app would be best for its purposes, it became clear that a business app could provide advantages for clients that a mere mobile-optimised site couldn’t.

“One thing that really attracted us to doing it was the idea of push notifications and the ease of use,” explains Rob Quirk, the firm’s marketing manager. The ability to create a customer experience that really made use of the secure and integrated nature of apps on smartphones and tablets essentially meant there was no contest when helping people find work who might be spending weeks out on an offshore rig or windfarm. “We track it at four clicks of a button to apply for a job, from actually opening the app, selecting your job, clicking apply to choosing ‘apply with LinkedIn’ – the user journey is just second to none.”

But it was when the company came to market the app that it was met by something of a surprise. Conducting detailed analysis of its competitors and the wider market, it seemed something was amiss. “It was just unbelievable just how little coverage these great business apps were getting,” Quirk recalls. There were plenty of key business tools – the desktop- or web-based versions of which were big name products – that were receiving little attention when they came to mobile, despite the increased flexibility that the medium could bring. He gives an example: “The mobile version of BaseCamp, a tool that I used at many places before, just wasn’t mentioned anywhere.”

That’s not to say that the uptake of tools like BaseCamp and DropBox hasn’t been phenomenal; they have become integral parts of many a team’s workflow. However Quirk feels that in terms of their visibility on the market, business apps can get something of a raw deal when compared to their more confident consumer brethren. “You just tend to see the games, the little pick up and play things, your little novelty apps, Instagram, all that kind of thing,” he says. “Some companies still don’t see their business apps as a genuine platform with which they can engage an audience or a customer.”

Part of this is down to the motivations a company might have for launching an app. “I do actually believe a lot of companies that try to create similar apps or in different areas of the business world do so as a knee-jerk reaction,” Quirk says. Often a business will create an app because of market pressures; they’re aware that mobile users are becoming an increasingly important segment of the market and so they feel they need to have a version of their software or site to capture the mobile market, without necessarily considering what benefits it will confer to a user. Quirk continues: “A lot of companies are pushing out an app because they think they should do to keep on trend but don’t really have a real purpose for doing so.”

He feels that to be considered a valuable product and stand on its own two feet, a business app has to offer something unique and that actually offers an improved user experience. “What companies need is to have a reason for creating this app, to understand their target audience and what they want from an app, to create that app for them and then to keep developing it,” Quirk says. He’s quick to emphasise that this isn’t just about bug fixes or optimising for the latest OS; instead it’s about committing to improving it based on customers’ needs. “You have to listen to your audience and understand what changes need to be made.”

But there are deeper issues behind the low visibility of mobile apps for business. One of the first stumbling blocks is around the way business often views the modern smartphone. “A handset is seen as more of an entertainment system, people may not take apps too seriously,” comments Quirk. “It has a stigma so they think ‘that’s not going to help my business life that much’.”

Another contributing factor is the fact that true mobile working, whilst a much-discussed topic in modern business circles, is still something of a rarity. Although many enterprises might like to consider themselves modern and forward-thinking, Quirk feels this can often be more of a surface consideration, rather than a considered and integrated part of their long-term strategy.

“Business devices are often still very static; they’re not particularly mobile,” he says. “They’re being used almost as a cool replacement for a desktop PC or as a laptop, going down to a meeting room and taking notes on your tablet, instead of taking notes using a laptop or a pen and paper. Using tablets and phones as a genuine mobile devices with genuine mobile applications, that just hasn’t happened yet.”

But, of course, this only holds true in the business arena. As individuals, to say we’re wedded to our devices is something of an understatement and, as Quirk has pointed out, curiosity about new solutions and apps in the consumer space has never been higher. So why hasn’t this spread into industry?

In part, Quirk believes this is down to a disconnect between the devices we’re using at work and the devices that have become such an integral part of our lives. By way of example, he mentions the fact that there are still many professionals with a separate business and personal device. “Their business phone will very much be a communications device, whereas their personal phone will be that phone that all their apps and music go on,” he explains. Inevitably, this discourages people from making use of the more mobile functionality of business apps because there is still a separation between use inside and outside the workplace, reducing the need for fluid connectivity and true mobility.

Ultimately, this is something that will begin to change with increasing uptake of bring your own device (BYOD) policies and focus truly begins to shift toward having the right tools wherever you go. As Quirk concludes: “That’s when I think it will really start coming together. 

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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