Enterprise mobile strategy: 22 questions to consider to develop a winning approach
An effective enterprise mobile strategy involves assessing your organization, understanding your target users, selecting platforms, and securing everything.
This post was originally published on the Thorn Technologies blog.
Your employees are all mobile. So why haven’t you developed an enterprise mobile strategy to deliver valuable mobile apps to them yet?
The opportunity to leverage mobile technologies to help your employees achieve more outside of the office is massive.
According to Comscore, 1.8 billion people across the world have mobile phones, eclipsing the amount of desktop computers in 2014.
And IDC predicts that by 2020, 105.4 million workers in the U.S. will be mobile, accounting for over 72% of the country’s total workforce.
The development of high-quality, effective mobile apps for your employees can give your company a distinct competitive advantage, and if you don’t have a sound enterprise mobile strategy to execute upon, you’re being left behind.
But there are many factors to consider before your company jumps into the mobile world.
You should approach the development of your enterprise strategy holistically and think through all of the issues that face your employees and your entire company.
Here are some questions you should ask in order to develop a winning enterprise mobile strategy.
1) What are my goals and objectives for developing an enterprise mobile strategy?
You should first think about the business goals you would like to achieve and the desired outcomes of building mobile apps for your enterprise.
This will lay the foundation of everything else you do moving forward to make your organization a more mobile one.
Performing a strategic analysis of your business will be helpful in determining the goals that should be pursued by developing a mobile strategy. Some factors to consider include:
- The current state of your business, examining elements such as profitability, growth rates, resource levels, employee efficiency metrics, and others
- Your company’s strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis your competition
- The key opportunities in the marketplace upon which you can capitalize
- External threats to your business, such as a changing economic environment, new competition, and more
The last three bullet points encompass what’s called a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, which is an tried-and true strategy framework.
The knowledge you garner from this strategic analysis will help you determine how mobile technologies will help your enterprise move forward and clarify the goals and objectives for which you should strive. You’ll determine if you need to:
- Grow revenue
- Cut costs
- Increase customer satisfaction
- Increase employee efficiency
- Better recruit new employees
- Achieve some combination of above
- Pursue other company goals
By understanding your goals and objectives, you will have a better idea for whom you’re building the app and the role mobile apps can play in improving your business.
2) Who are my target users?
Once you understand your goals, the next step is to identify the target market that will help you achieve these goals.
For instance, if you’re in the business of making car parts and determine that your goal is to increase manufacturing efficiency, your target users may be the technicians on the shop floor.
Or if your goal is better recruitment of new employees, your target users will be human resources staff.
A thorough understanding of your target users will be the primary driver of the features, platforms, and user experience of the apps that you build for them.
You should have deep knowledge of who you envision as your mobile apps’ primary users and how those users will interact with and benefit from your apps. Some user-centric questions to ask include:
a) What are my target users’ primary characteristics?
The first thing to focus on is an understanding of what the roles, responsibilities, and characteristics of these end users are.
- Are they sales reps, marketers, executives, field workers, or other employees?
- What are the age and demographics of these employees?
- What kind of mobile technology do they use? iPhones, Android phones, tablets, wearables, or other devices?
- Are these devices personally owned, provided by the company, or a combination of both?
Answering these types of questions will give you a better sense of for whom you’re building apps and how they might adopt them.
b) In what environments will your target market use your apps?
Consideration of the situations and environments where your employees will use mobile apps will be a key determinant in what platform to build on, what features should be included, and how those features will be accessed.
Employees who use apps in a conference room will demand a different experience than those who access an app on a delivery truck. The look and feel of an app that is employed in a retail environment may be different than one that is used on a construction site.
Research will be very important in answering this question, no matter who your target audience is.
Interviews and in-person studies can help truly understand the environments in which mobile apps are used, which in turn will help you build apps that best suit your employees in the situations in which they are utilized.
c) What problems are these users trying to solve?
After determining who you’re building apps for and gaining a deep understanding of their characteristics and the environments in which they’ll use apps, you should dig deep into what problems these end users face and how a mobile application can help solve these problems.
For instance, a manager at one of your retail stores may need to frequently access inventory data while he is on the floor and can’t get to the computer because he needs to help customers.
A sales executive may travel 150 days out of the year and may need a mobile application to access important sales data on her smartphone or tablet. If she is in the middle of a sales meeting, pulling out, opening, and starting up their laptops is cumbersome and takes too long.
Or a delivery manager may need real-time location data about his vehicles to track specific shipments while roaming the warehouse.
Comprehension of the problems your users are trying to solve will allow you to build an app that will better engage and help them achieve their goals, which in turn will help your company achieve yours.
3) What devices should my employees be able to use to access apps and data?
Company employees have their own mobile phones and tablets, and many would like to use these devices for work as well as play.
This causes a dilemma for IT departments, as the use of personal devices to access company applications and data can lead to security risks and other technical issues.
Thus, those involved in crafting an enterprise mobile strategy must think about policies that need to be created that address which devices employees are allowed to use to access company applications.
Bring your own device (BYOD) is a trend that allows employees to use their personal mobile devices to access corporate applications and data.
Pros of BYOD include:
- Increased employee satisfaction, since they need to carry only one device for both work and personal use.
- Cost savings on hardware, since you don’t need to furnish everyone with a mobile device.
- Higher productivity, as employees will typically upgrade to faster devices more quickly than IT departments can distribute newer devices.
Cons of BYOD are:
- Increased risk of hackers accessing company systems.
- Higher risk of viruses and malware attacking corporate data and software.
- Potential increased cost of managing multiple types of devices and platforms.
Check out this TechRadar article that provides an excellent overview of BYOD.
The alternate solution is to select one platform (such as iOS or Android) and provide these devices for all of your employees.
This will give your IT department much more control over your devices and applications and thus there are fewer security risks involved. But hardware costs will increase and employees may not be happy since they will be forced to carry multiple devices around and use a phone and operating system platform that they don’t prefer.
Be sure to weigh the benefits and costs of implementing a BYOD program for your organization.
4) For which mobile platforms should I build?
A thorough understanding of the devices your target market most frequently use (and will be allowed to use), the environments in which they access mobile technology, and the problems they need to solve will go a long way in determining on which mobile platforms you should build.
Let’s take a look at the primary options available.
a) For which smartphone platforms should I build?
There are three primary choices to consider when building apps for smartphones: 1) mobile web, 2) native, and 3) hybrid and cross-platform native.
This is one of the most difficult decisions to make when developing an enterprise mobile strategy because there are so many factors to consider, and the behaviors of users change rapidly.
A mobile web app is built with standards-based technologies like HTML5 and CSS3 and is compatible on any device, including smartphones and tablets, with a mobile browser such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
The pros of developing a mobile web app include:
- Less expensive to develop and faster development times.
- You only need to build one app that will run on any device and operating system.
- Updating your app is very quick and easy, with no need for additional approval processes.
- There is no need for the user to go through many steps to download your app onto their phone.
- Web apps typically have an inferior user experience to native apps.
- Many web apps can’t take full advantage of the phone’s characteristics, such as the accelerometer and GPS.
- You need to be connected to the internet to access the app.
- Web apps are many times slower than native apps.
Mobile web apps are an excellent choice to build if you’re first starting out due to their flexibility and short development times, but you may not always be able to build all of the features you need.
Native applications are specifically built to run on the iOS, Android, and Windows Phone platforms and can only be downloaded from each platform’s respective app stores, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play.
The pros of native apps include:
- They are more popular with consumers.Per eMarketer, mobile users spend almost 3.5 hours per day using mobile apps as opposed to less than an hour on the mobile web.
- They can better leverage the core functionality of smartphones such as push notifications, cameras, and GPS.
- They provide a more robust user experience and faster speeds.
- An internet connection isn’t always necessary to access features.
The cons of native apps are:
- Costlier to build and maintain, as you have to deal with multiple platforms.
- Forces users to take multiple steps to download the app.
- Apps take up storage and memory on smartphones.
Check out this infographic by Everypost for a thorough, visual comparison of native apps vs. mobile web.
Hybrid and cross-platform native approaches
The hybrid approach uses a combination of HTML5 and native app development to build a mobile web app whose content and views get “wrapped” in native apps that are available via download on the app stores.
The pros of these approaches are:
- Typically faster development times than fully native apps.
- Easier maintenance of apps compared to fully native, as you only have to update one codebase.
- You won’t be able to leverage all of the core functions of the smartphone. If you try, it will be much more difficult to do so compared to native.
- While easier to maintain than fully native apps, hybrid apps are more difficult to maintain than mobile web apps.
- User experience may be diminished, as you’re compromising on features and functionality.
Native app, mobile web apps, and hybrid and cross-platform apps all have their place in the mobile app world, but make sure you understand the pros and cons for your specific situation and user base to determine what is the right choice for your company.
b) Should I consider building apps for wearables (Internet of Things)?
The use of wearable technology has recently exploded. Smartwatches such as Android Wear and Apple Watch have gained in popularity, and many other wearables such as smart glasses and connected clothing are being adopted at high levels by businesses.
More generally, the Internet of Things — the use of sensors to connect physical objects, or “things,” to the internet in order to collect and exchange data — has expanded rapidly. According to IDC, the IoT market is expected to explode and reach $1.7 trillion (with a “t”!) by 2020.
This presents a monstrous opportunity to leverage these technologies for the benefit of your business.
Significant growth is expected in manufacturing operations, as it is becoming more and more important to increase efficiency and share information between machines.
But IoT can be used for many enterprise applications such as field maintenance, energy metering, video capture, and more.
How can you leverage IoT to empower your employees?
c) Are there any platforms and systems that already exist in my organization to build apps on top of?
Finally, you may have existing platforms that you are already using in your business processes for which you can build apps.
For instance, a logistics employee may already use a handheld device to input inventory data into your back-end database. You may want to add RFID or bar code scanning capabilities, and it may make sense to build this app on top of the device’s software platform, if possible.
It may be difficult to develop an app or additional features on top of legacy software platforms, as those systems are many times inflexible and closed. But if it’s possible, this option may be less disruptive to existing operations.
5) What kind of data does my target market need to access, and where is this data stored?
Data is the lifeblood of most mobile apps and is an extremely important consideration in your enterprise mobile strategy.
When thinking about data as it relates to your mobile strategy, you should ask yourself:
- What kind of data do my target users need to access on their mobile devices?
- What will they do with that data — consume, edit, input, or analyze?
- Where and how this data is stored?
- What is the best way to access this data? Will you use application programming interfaces (APIs), remote data access, or another method?
A typical use case for employee-based data access is when sales reps and managers need to view and input information on sales opportunities and leads. There are many considerations to take into account in this example:
- How much opportunity, lead, and contact information will you need to feed into and display on your mobile app?
- What kind of data will users be able to input from their devices?
- Will you need to manage user access levels to ensure the integrity of the data that is being inputted?
- Where is this sales data stored, and what is the best way to access the data to incorporate it into your app?
- Should some inputted data be stored locally before being pushed back into the database?
Data is at the core of any enterprise mobile strategy and a thorough understanding of how it is used and how it will be accessed is a substantial consideration.
6) What level of security is necessary for my apps?
No matter what kind of application you build, security should be of paramount importance, especially in today’s world of massive corporate data breaches.
As you create your mobile strategy, ask yourself these security-related questions:
a) What level of user authentication should I employ?
The first line of security will be user authentication. You must implement the proper security standards to ensure that user identities are properly verified, users can access correct data and customized app experiences, and hackers can’t access these identities.
A balance should be struck between ensuring security and providing a good user experience. If users need to jump through too many security hoops, they may be overwhelmed and decide not to adopt your app.
A number of authentication methods, above and beyond typical password and PIN verification, that you can consider that may improve your app’s user experience include:
- Biometric authentication, such as Apple Touch ID
- Social logins, such as those provided by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or GitHub
- Smart card login, where user identity is verified by your phone’s SIM card
- Proximity login, where you can easily access apps when near specific locations
TechTarget has a great overview of mobile authentication methods here.
The security option you choose will depend on the level of security necessary balanced with a great app user experience.
b) How can I best secure my data?
Data is so important for enterprise apps, so you must take steps to secure that data.
While data on the app itself is surely a concern, you should be wary about how the data is being accessed from back-end systems and how best to ensure that data isn’t compromised as it’s being transferred to and from your mobile apps.
One way to approach this is to create a classification scheme for your data and secure each category of data appropriately. A simple classification scheme may be as follows:
- Public data — Public data does not include confidential or classified data and thus can be accessed very easily by end users. There is no need for employees to work through the enterprises’ back-end infrastructure to view or edit this data, and thus the company can feel comfortable with end users accessing this data in the most convenient way.
- Confidential data — Confidential data requires a higher level of security than public data, as access by hackers may pose some risk to your organization. Your IT department may need to incorporate some level of mobile device management or a higher level of user authentication to protect confidential data.
- Restricted data — If restricted data falls into the wrong hands, significant damage to your company’s reputation or financial standing will occur. Thus, restricted data requires the highest security levels. In addition to stringent user authentication requirements, devices should be set up so enterprise-grade security measures such as a virtual private network (VPN) can be incorporated and deployed.
By categorizing your data into buckets, you can appropriately assign security measures to ensure that your data is protected and is used only by the right people.
c) How can I ensure my APIs and back-ends are secure?
Development of mobile apps don’t occur in a vacuum anymore. Developers rarely build everything from scratch; rather, they use APIs to connect back-end systems to each other, and back-end systems to front-end apps.
APIs have exploded in popularity, as they allow enterprises to quickly, easily, and cheaply architect powerful apps by leveraging existing back-end applications without having to start from the drawing board.
But APIs expose these back-end systems and their data for hackers to exploit. Thus, APIs require a strong security infrastructure.
Developing service-oriented architecture (SOA) gateways is an option that can help secure the flow of data from system to system in order to prevent access by the wrong people.
Regardless of the strategy that you employ, you must take into account security of your users, data, and APIs to ensure that your enterprise mobile app infrastructure isn’t susceptible to infiltration by hackers.
7) What kind of mobile device management (MDM) programs should I implement?
MDM is the administration of mobile devices in the enterprise to ensure that employees stay productive and don’t breach any corporate policies or put company assets at risk.
The MDM programs that you employ will depend on the type of BYOD policy implemented.
Regardless, you will have to develop policies and administer tools that help manage the mobile devices and applications your employees use.
Some questions to ask include:
- What devices will be allowed and not allowed?
- What apps will be allowed and restricted for download by my employees?
- What mobile device policies need to be in place to ensure my company’s data and systems don’t face security risks?
- What plans do I need to have in place in case a security breach occurs or if phones or lost or stolen? Do I need to set up remote wipe and other security capabilities?
There are plenty of other questions to consider, but this list is just a start.
And there are many software vendors like AirWatch and Good Technology that have comprehensive solutions to help you manage your enterprise’s mobile devices, but the development of company policies is up to you.
8) What level of resources can I commit to executing my enterprise mobile strategy?
The amount of resources you can dedicate to executing and maintaining your enterprise mobile strategy will be a very important factor in the approaches you take to accomplish your goals.
You should have touched upon this factor when performing your strategic analysis, but taking a deep dive into the amount of time, money, and resources you can commit to your mobile strategy is imperative.
Consider these questions.
a) Does my current team have the skills and availability necessary to execute my enterprise mobile strategy?
Assessing the skills and availability of the employees who will be involved in executing your strategy is extremely important to determine whether you’ll need to hire additional staff to fill in the skill sets your current team may lack.
Execution and management of an enterprise mobile strategy requires a broad portfolio of skills. A cross-functional team responsible for this endeavor may consist of front-end and back-end software developers, designers, product managers, information technology specialists, strategists, marketers, and many others.
Does your current staff have the capability to properly prepare, build, deploy, and manage all of the technology, processes, and education that an enterprise mobile strategy demands?
b) What is my timeline for executing my strategy?
How prepared are your employees, systems, and processes to adapt to a mobile world?
What other high-priority projects are on your company’s docket?
And how important is it for your company to move fast to develop and deliver on your enterprise mobile strategy in order to keep up with your competition?
Some organizations have more of an agile mindset and can make large organizational and strategic changes relatively easily and quickly. Others may be slower to adapt.
Be realistic about which bucket you fall into and create a practical timeline from there.
c) What level of budget can I allocate to execution of my mobile strategy?
Delivering an enterprise mobile strategy is not easy. And it’s definitely not cheap.
Understanding your current portfolio of projects, resources levels, skill sets, and desired timelines in conjunction with financial metrics, such as current and future sources of revenue, income, and cash flow can help you properly budget for this massive and important undertaking.
9) Do I build everything myself or bring in experts to help execute my enterprise mobile strategy?
A thorough understanding of your resources — skill sets, timelines, and level of budget — will help you determine whether you can build everything yourself or if you will need to help of outside experts to assist you in increasing your company’s mobility.
You will probably find that the execution process will require a combination of internal and external resources, as your company is unlikely to have all the skills and personnel you need to take care of every step of the process.
For instance, you may have strong back-end engineers, but may need to augment them with front-end programmers and platform-specific (mobile web, iOS and Android) developers to help build your mobile apps. Or you might have a complete technical team but lack the marketers and business development staff to achieve the maximum adoption of your consumer applications.
In addition to human resources, you may have to purchase and implement other software applications, such as mobile device management tools, to help manage your devices and apps once they are launched.
The decision on whether you build or buy is an important one with many considerations.
10) How will my enterprise mobile strategy be managed, and who will be in charge?
An enterprise mobile strategy never ends. Even when apps are fully launched, technology constantly changes, which in turn causes organizational and operational changes in the company.
Because many different departments — IT, engineering, marketing, sales, operations, and others — will have a stake in your mobile strategy, you must clearly define who owns what part of the process and ultimately who is responsible for the strategy as a whole.
Policies for BYOD, mobile device management, security, access, and app usage need to be developed and enforced. New processes need to created and maintained. And new relationships, whether it’s person-to-person or system-to-system, need to be forged and managed.
Clearly outlining the roles and responsibilities for each department and employee will be crucial to managing your mobile strategy before, during, and after launch.
As you can see, there are many questions that need to be answered when devising a winning enterprise mobile strategy.
Each of these questions shouldn’t be considered in a vacuum. Rather, many of these issues are intertwined and need to be examined holistically to devise an unbeatable mobile strategy.
You should start with a thorough analysis of your business to develop goals and objectives of your strategy. Then garnering a deep understanding of your users is paramount.
From there, you can determine the devices your employees can use and the mobile platforms on which to build your apps. Then you should identify what data that will be necessary for your users to access and how to best protect this data and your corporate systems.
Finally, you need to determine the resources you can commit to this and how you are going to execute and manage your mobile strategy moving forward.
Over to you
Have you developed an enterprise mobile strategy yet? If not, what is holding you back?
If you have created a mobile strategy, what questions did you ask? Did we leave anything out?
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hi, I’m Mike, the CMO of Thorn Technologies, a mobile, web, and enterprise software development company based in Maryland. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org anytime to chat about mobile and tech!