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5 tips consumer app developers can learn from their enterprise counterparts

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Shane SchickEnterprise and consumer apps vary in many respects, but developers from both the enterprise and consumer side of the business could greatly benefit from some of the best practices of the other group.

This message was recently honed by speakers at the Open Mobile Summit conference held in San Francisco earlier this month.

ZDnet, for example, covered a panel discussion at the San Francisco-based event that quoted several vendors who lamented the state of enterprise apps and how they should be learning more from their counterparts in the consumer space. In particular, the vendors noted the need for greater design and usability. In addition, they urged developers to not simply take a desktop application and jam it into a smaller screen.

"You have to create an emotional connection between the applications you build and the human beings who use it," one exec said.

The enterprise app vendors suffer under the burden of legacy. They didn't start out developing around consumer expectations; they had business needs in mind. Now these developers are being increasingly influenced by the kind of experiences consumers have on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store and how they offer mobile versions of their most mission-critical software. It's fairly obvious what they need to do.

Likewise, I think consumer mobile app developers need to spend more time looking at the best practices of firms creating enterprise apps and applying them to their own apps. Doing so could not only produce better apps but help app developers grow a more profitable and viable business. Just think of the following things enterprise app projects tend to include from the get-go:

  • All about analytics: If it can't be measured, it can't be managed. Enterprise applications are tracked in terms of usage; resources allocated towards their maintenance and support; their security; and most importantly, how they drive value back to the business. Few consumer app developers seem to operate at that level.
  • Monetization is a must: Although enterprises don't charge employees to download a mobile app, they never create them unless the return on investment is clear. This could be measured by an increase in productivity, efficiency or another metric. Some of  the benefits could be measured through analytics as mentioned above, and some would be measured by other means, but there has to be some kind of profit motive behind enabling an application on a mobile device.
  • The help desk isn't hidden: Not every company gets this perfect, but in most cases enterprises deploy apps where access to support is identified easily, and users are trained accordingly. How might consumer app loyalty increase if developers thought of themselves more like a well-run IT department in an office?
  • Testing is standardized: Market analysts and other experts sometime complain that consumer app developers rush their products to get them into the market, and then deal with the bugs through a series of iterative updates. The best enterprise apps are exposed to rigorous rounds of feedback. Yes, it can take them a lot longer to get them to users, but ideally that means developers won't be spending even more time troubleshooting later.
  • "Mobile first" doesn't mean "rest of business last:" Enterprise firms may have a lot of legacy technology and other issues that take up their time compared to a one-man or small consumer developer shop, but these firms understand that marketing, sales, R&D and administration are all important priorities. As a result, they tend to balance them a little better than the average developer running his business out of his basement.

Business apps should probably aim for more of the friendly, fun feeling of their consumer counterparts, but consumer developers should probably take more of the time and concern that enterprise app makers need to show clients.   Both sides clearly have a lot to learn from their counterparts.--Shane

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