Getting Enterprise Mobile UX Right

Selling UX

A unique perspective on service UX

A column by Baruch Sachs
October 10, 2016

Even today, enterprise clients are rather slow to adopt a true mobile strategy for their applications. This is just a fact. Very few internal, complex applications have realized the full potential of a world-class mobile user experience. While consumer-grade applications are causing a huge shift in the enterprise space, the biggest changes are happening in the desktop- and Web-application space, with only a trickle-down effect on mobile offerings. While, in theory, the highly touted mobile-first approach is valid, adopting a full mobile-first design strategy in practice is something that gets deferred release after release.

What is really surprising is the lack of any true understanding about what an enterprise organization’s mobile strategy actually is or should be. On an almost weekly basis, I have conversations with clients who are thinking about making mobile applications out of existing desktop applications that serve hundreds or up to tens of thousands of savvy, internal users. That’s a great goal. However, the same fractured nature of the enterprise that affects many different areas impacts mobile applications as well. While understanding the desired user experience is important, if a UX or application-development team does not understand how to implement or extend the enterprise’s existing mobile strategy, the work may never get done.

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Anyone who reads my column regularly knows how I feel about enterprise user experience. This is an area that has so much potential for creating innovative products and services that have immense complexity. To be fair, creating an enterprise mobile experience could be a lofty design challenge. Succeeding in this goal would require looking beyond the user interface to consider the full range of business and experience goals that stem from it.

What are some specific things a UX team needs to do to succeed in creating an enterprise mobile user experience?

  • Avoid religious discussions.
  • Ensure the right level of functionality.
  • Consider omnichannel solutions.
  • Support users’ goals.

Avoiding Religious Discussions

Too often, UX teams get involved in religious discussions. Native or HTML 5? A separate app or a mashup? Responsive or adaptive? If you get bogged down in what are essentially religious discussions about what technology path to take, how does that increase your ability to deliver a solution? A much better and more productive approach is to, first, nderstand an organization’s mobile strategy, then work within that framework rather than trying to change everything that’s previously been done. This will enable you to actually design and deliver mobile products and services and glean useful knowledge regarding how the user community actually uses them. Later, you can push for greater freedom in the delivery model.

Ensuring the Right Level of Functionality

On the desktop, enterprise applications are typically very complex. How can you properly determine what level of functionality to deliver to the mobile user community? Often, when I advise teams on mobile UX strategy, I hear a lot about what an enterprise doesn’t want to offer to mobile users. So, when a team finally gets around to talking about what an app should do, the vision can be pretty underwhelming.

Is it really valuable for users to be able to read, approve, and make notations when off line if they then have to redo all of that work once they get connected? Is a mobile app that lets users take only the first two or three steps of a process before they have to move to another channel valuable? Or an app that gives users only 10% of the data they need to make a decision? The answer is no. Enterprise users would simply abandon such an app until it meets their needs.

This is why, in the enterprise mobile space, a user interface is not nearly as important as creating a holistic user experience. For enterprise mobile apps, the design of the user interface should really be subordinate to the success of the overall user experience. When creating an enterprise mobile user experience, you need to consider an app’s appropriate level of back-end connectivity, offline support, performance, and overall reliability, as well as its user interface.

For a mobile app, the user interface sometimes needs to take a back seat to performance. Why? To prevent user frustration, it is critical that an app perform well and be responsive. An app must always be available—and availability includes being able to perform critical functionality off line. So you need to spend time on that aspect of the user experience, not just the design. Users will forgive some level of degradation in the user interface if they can actually perform their tasks. This is true for desktop applications and even more true for mobile apps. But finding the right balance means you can’t keep assuming users will just figure it out. If we keep going there, the result will be increased levels of user frustration.

Considering Omnichannel Solutions Is Crucial

Another aspect of the enterprise-mobile space that often gets overlooked is the fact that the device on which your application runs almost never really lives up to its name: the smartphone. The whole concept of a smartphone is really rather silly when you think about it. Plus, most people my age and younger rarely use the device’s phone feature. We may use video-chat services like Facetime, but the amount of time we actually spend using the phone to talk to someone via an audio-only channel is much less.

What’s most important is that an app deliver a frictionless experience.

In both the consumer and enterprise worlds, my last resort is to call someone for help. I want to be able to access all the information I need and get answers to all of my questions without ever speaking to another human being. I know I’m not alone in that.

In the enterprise space, if I wanted to change my password, I would hope I could do that using a mobile app instead of calling and waiting on hold until someone answered. If I can’t complete that or any other process for whatever reason, I want to be able to switch to chat, video chat, or have the person call me.

While mobile apps may run on devices that are technically capable of making phone calls, they also need to have features such as SMS (Short Message Service), social media, chat, video chat, and other in-app services that enable a true omnichannel user experience. For mobile enterprise user experiences, you cannot think of such capabilities as nice-to-have features. They should instead be the first features of the user experience that you consider and design.

Supporting Users’ Goals

Providing actionable content that lets enterprise users do something to achieve their business goals or tasks should be the driver for all mobile apps within the enterprise space.

Because enterprise apps are typically much more complex than consumer apps and their development teams must often address the additional burdens of government and corporate regulations, data-hierarchy issues, and an organization’s fractured approach to development, it is becoming ever more important for UX professionals to take an active role in devising mobile UX strategy and think beyond the user interface. 

Vice President, Client Innovation, at Pegasystems

Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Baruch SachsAt Pegasystems, Baruch helps global clients develop new ways of streamlining their operations, improving their customer experience, and creating real transformations—digital or otherwise. Previously, during his 12 years at Pegasystems, Baruch led their global User Experience team and served as the principal end-user advocate for the Pegasystems Services organization in their delivery of user-interface design and user experience to customers and partners. He has led and participated in successful efforts to improve user experience across various industries. Baruch earned his Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing and Philosophy at the University of Hartford and his Master’s of Science in Human Factors in Information Design from Bentley University’s McCallum Graduate School of Business.  Read More

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