Thanks to the rise of lean thinking and increased capabilities brought by User Experience Design practitioners, the user experience of mobile software, particularly for consumers, has made great strides in the last few years. So why do companies sit on the experience sidelines when building mobile apps for their own employees?
You would imagine that apps being developed for the C-suite would be polished; at least, but industry insiders know that most of the associate-facing mobile apps inside of enterprises have poor usability characteristics – screen layouts that are so confusing as to require extensive training and interfaces that are slow to respond to clicks.
People seem to think that the “added expense” of great usability is only justified for consumer-facing apps. We often hear something along the lines of: “But for internal apps, why not just use a rapid app development framework like Kony or Sencha Touch?”
Here’s why that’s not a good idea.
In fact, designing for user experience in employee-facing applications requires a different approach than you might take for a consumer-facing mobile app. On a consumer app, you might prioritize the first-use experience slightly over the long-term use in order to get more people using your app.
In an employee-facing environment, first-use processes like registering for an account may not be issues at all given that you’re likely connecting the app back to your federated login service. It may make use of the same UX skills, but it doesn’t necessarily need the same approach.
Ask yourself: “Am I optimizing for the expert experience, or am I optimizing for casual users?”
One of the reasons that managers and enterprise architects push back on user experience or the use of native application development tools for internal apps is a perception around cost. They’ve witnessed the effort and expense going in to build a high-touch mobile app for consumers, and they’re worried that this will drive up the costs of their initiative. When thinking about total cost of ownership, ask yourself these questions:
Even if you don’t have a uniform standard across your workforce, you can easily decide to support far fewer form factors with your associate-facing app while you might need to cast a wider net with your consumer-facing app. While many hybrid app toolkits seek to translate the same UI to several different target environments, this often creates subtle but deadly user experience issues that kill your project, creating huge cost overruns and schedule problems.
Yes! Experience does matter, even for employee-facing apps. Technology is changing rapidly. While there are more and more frameworks on the market every day promising to accelerate your developers’ mobile productivity, it’s worth putting some thought into taking a structured approach in how you go about building apps for your digital enterprise.
I think you’ll find that usability matters just as much, though it might matter differently or require a different approach than the one you might take with a consumer mobile effort.
A version of this article first appeared on SandHill.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.