Businesses and end users experiencing app fatigue
|Glenn Gruber in Mobile Tech Thursday, June 18, 2020|
Glenn Gruber, Senior Digital Strategist at Anexinet, discusses how COVID-19 has changed app development and how tech businesses operate.
When I began drafting this article, it was before COVID-19 really took hold and spurred the “2 years of digital transformation in 2 months”, as Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has said. With that context, everything that I believed was amplified 100x. The lasting effects of the pandemic are going to change the way that many businesses operate, where we work and how we work. This may not impact every company. Some activities still need to be done in person (e.g. going to a restaurant), but many industries and many roles -- especially those typically done in an office setting -- can be done from almost anywhere if our employees are given the right set of tools.
Companies like Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft and the like have begun the talk more about embracing remote workers as a risk mitigation strategy, both as a response to wanting to enable some level of social distancing in the office going forward without having to double the amount of office space they require, as well as a way to provide resiliency to future business disruptions that may come our way. And without being a little cynical, I’ll add in the ability to reduce the cost of labor in some instances.
So let’s return to the question at hand: Are businesses and end users experiencing "app fatigue”? In a word, “No”. While there may be some enterprises with scores or even hundreds of apps, that’s been the exception, not the rule. According to an Enterprise Mobility Exchange report, 65% of enterprises deployed 0-5 apps. Only 11% deployed more than 20. While visiting clients, I regularly see just a handful of apps, many of them a few years old and not enhanced since the initial project. So, I believe there’s still a long way to go before we experience true app fatigue.
And even if an enterprise has — pick a reasonably sized number — 40 apps, that’s across the entire company. For an organization with tens of thousands of employees, that’s not a lot when you start drilling down into how many different roles there are in an organization. Discard commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) apps for generic communication like Outlook, Slack and Zoom or things like Concur for expense management, or HR related apps and I think you’ll find there are far fewer that have been built to support a specific role or business process.
Now I don’t want to be trite about the use of COTS tools. We’ve seen that collaboration tools like Zoom and Teams have been critical connective tissue for many organizations (and schools and students) to keep teams working together and keep the trains running on time, or at least the holiday/weekend schedules.
But clearly we’ve seen the need to support remote work and it seems that not only are employees glad to have these tools but they have whet their appetite for more. For those times where you’re no longer in the office, can’t easily access paper files or have access to the latest version of the spreadsheet, we probably now can recognize how an app might come in really handy...not to mention shine a light on how arcane and kludgy some of the existing business processes are and how much more we need to improve them.
This is where app developers can drive value for the enterprise - give people great tools to do their job and make their lives easier and they’ll use them. But give them another “notes” app or an app that lets them submit a PTO request and you’ll get a great big yawn. The goal is not to have 100 apps that each do one thing, but how to re-envision and streamline a complete business process in a single app.
The other significant benefit of moving to an app mentality is the ability to ensure adherence to a consistent process and the real-time data. So many times I have seen how errors or bad outcomes occur because we no longer have a single source of truth or different employees use variations of the desired process, resulting in disparate outcomes. So many companies still rely on spreadsheets as a key tool for their business. Every so often a new version of that spreadsheet goes out to the field for teams to use. Days, if not minutes, later the version that Bob has looks very different than the one Mary uses. A tweak for a customer here, saving a version to a new file name there and we start to see drift in the results we promise our customers or the prices we charge. Replace that spreadsheet with an API that the app calls and things get much better in a hurry. Seems pretty commonsensical, but we know that common sense isn’t common, and we’ve all seen this story play out a hundred times in our professional lives.
All of the previous discussion is through the lens of how things currently work and the devices we have today. The definition of an app will change over time, especially with the adoption of new devices and interaction methods, such as wearables (watches, AirPods and smart glasses), ambient computing with voice and Microsoft Surface Hub style devices, machine-to-machine communication via IoT, etc. Tomorrow’s apps will benefit greatly from the integration of machine learning, intelligent automation, and other emerging technologies.
So to paraphrase Harry’s Golden Snitch, let me open with the close. Are employees and companies feeling app fatigue? Not in the least. The apps you develop just need to be ones that make their lives easier in the most challenging moments and they’ll love you for it and ask for more. In today’s COVID-tinged environment, we should have at least learned that lesson. So do more...and wash your hands.
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