There’s an app for just about everything. But until recently, few companies designed apps for their own employees. The focus has long been on consumer apps that build brands or generate revenue. But over the past couple years, a clear shift has become evident. Organizations are now building apps as internal tools designed to better equip their mobile workforce.
Through these apps, enterprises are offering essential and consistent functionality for their business by adapting desktop applications to the mobile realm to increase employee productivity on personal devices.
If your organization is debating developing an internal app, it’s important to understand what you want to accomplish. There are a few different options for developing an internal app, and like Goldilocks, you want to find the choice that’s just right. To ensure an app will meet your needs, define your company’s requirements and segment your users before starting the process.
Knowing what functionality is most crucial to your mobile workforce will help narrow down the best app development path for your organization. Here’s a guide to the three main methods of creating internal apps, including the pros and cons of each approach, how to implement it, and the best vendors to turn to for help.
Remote virtual desktop: Remote virtual desktop provides access to legacy applications on mobile formats.
Pros: Remote virtual desktop is the quickest method to transition a large number of applications into a mobile format.
Cons: Not all applications function well. Programs that require large amounts of database space, DOS-based applications with command line functionality, and mouse-based apps with fields and drop-down menus do not typically function well as mobile apps due to the touch screen interfaces of mobile devices.
How to implement: Instead of transferring every application to a mobile format, pick and choose the applications that a) transition well to mobile devices and b) are most impactful for mobile users. Before choosing which applications you wish to access, try segmenting users by job description or content use. For instance, sales associates require different apps than human resources managers, and desk employees need different functionalities than road warriors. Provide virtual desktop access to only the apps your employees on the road are most likely to use.
Recommended vendors: Citrix and VMware
Application platforms: Use a predetermined framework for app development.
Pros: These platforms offer easy app customization by retaining aspects of legacy applications and building on top of existing infrastructure to personalize an app to a company’s needs.
Cons: Some app platforms are specific to the provider. For instance, if your organization develops on SAP’s SMP platform, those apps will only speak to the SAP databases that exist in your organization.
How to implement: Application platforms function best for companies that need a number of internal apps and that don’t mind using a single platform. By sticking with a single provider, internal IT teams can better create, manage, and troubleshoot the apps over the long term.
Recommended vendors: Appcelerator and Kony
Custom application development: Organizations hire third-party vendors to create custom apps from the ground up to match organizational requirements.
Pros: Custom apps enable organizations to define their app needs and then create the perfect application to meet those requirements while merging seamlessly into their current infrastructure. They take advantage of the latest features and hardware (cameras, accelerometers, etc.) of smartphone operating systems and work well offline. Custom apps have the maximum flexibility of user interfaces and provide the native app experience mobile device users expect.
Cons: Most organizations don’t have the knowhow to build custom apps on their own, requiring them to partner with an outside developer for production and maintenance.
How to implement: Accept the need to move beyond legacy infrastructure and embrace the use of mobile devices. Clearly communicate your needs and goals for the app to ensure the best user experience.
Recommended vendors: InnoviMobile and Mutual Mobile
Organizations have plenty of choice when it comes to developing mobile apps for their employees, and ultimately have to identify the best option for their business and objectives. But for many companies, custom app development is the best choice, since it allows them to zero in on the functionality that’s most impactful in helping their employees get the job done.
Internal apps are not a passing fad. Instead, they’re the next phase in business technology, soon to be as commonplace as company websites. When done right, they simplify processes and enhance productivity for your mobile workforce.