by Adam Fingerman
Mobile phone usage has become a staple of our daily routine — even at work. It’s expected that by 2020, nearly half of the smartphones sold annually for personal use in North America will be used, in some capacity, for business purposes. As a result, more enterprises are investing in mobile apps for their employees to use at work. Typically designed to address specific pain points related to a job role, enterprise mobile apps can improve productivity, save time, and streamline employees’ ability to work on the go.
In fact, according to Gartner, demand for mobile development resources is expected to surpass available resources by a ratio of 5:1 this year, an indicator of how much employees and employers value the benefits of the technology.
However, according to recent research that we conducted, “Functional but Unfriendly: A Study of Enterprise Mobile App User Experience,” despite rapid investment growth, when it comes to the overall employee base, penetration actually still remains quite low. Of the 4,000 office workers screened, only 12 percent are currently using enterprise mobile apps in the workplace. The discrepancy between enterprise mobile app penetration and the ubiquity of phones and tablets, combined with workers’ appetite for, and familiarity with app usage, suggests a massive opportunity.
Underused and underdeveloped
The fact that relatively few office workers are using company-provided mobile apps shouldn’t come as a shock. Think about it – with massive amounts of pressure already on IT teams to finish more projects and manage an increasingly complex data security infrastructure, designing compelling new mobile apps to support employees in the workplace is not exactly at the top of the priority list.
Even when new app projects are prioritized, IT teams are unlikely to focus specifically on delivering a great mobile user experience. Especially if IT performance is often measured by the number of projects completed – and not, as consumer apps are judged, by the number of positive reviews in the app store. And let’s face it, user experience design isn’t typically a top competency that companies look for when they recruit IT, professionals.
Office workers surveyed do see value in their workplace apps – 85 percent stated that their most-used app saves them time, and 83 percent said that their most-used app makes them more productive – but the apps consistently underperform in the core aspects that improve employee satisfaction and work experience. They lack the essential qualities which allows an app to transcend being just useful, but enjoyable to use as well. They lack delight.
The survey showed that 70 percent of enterprise mobile app users wouldn’t describe their most-used app as intuitive, and only 13 percent would describe it as elegant. Further, only 31 percent of respondents grade their most-used app as an “A” for design, and only slightly more – 45 percent – gave an “A” for user experience. The most troubling finding is likely that nearly half of users wouldn’t describe their most-used app as being stable, a foundational requirement for a useful app and an essential attribute to avoid user frustration.
Imagine you’re forced to use an app at work that would be incredibly useful. Would be, if it didn’t crash all the time and was easy to use. Would be, if it was both useful and delightful.
But if it doesn’t check those boxes, you probably won’t look forward to using your app, and over time, you’ll likely stop using it completely. Especially because you have lofty expectations for how mobile apps should perform based on your favorite consumer apps that you use on our own time.
A clear opportunity
While the findings of our research expose some user experience shortcomings in the world of enterprise mobile apps, there’s also a lot that should encourage employers to go bigger on their internal app roadmap. Who doesn’t want to provide employees with a tool that stands to increase the overall bottom line – and perhaps even improve retention of top talent? Well-designed enterprise mobile apps can provide unparalleled value for a variety of audiences and use cases.
But, how do employers and IT teams develop mobile experiences that offer the most benefit to employees? To start, they have to be useful — but it has to go beyond that. Most successful products don’t just meet user expectation – they exceed them. When developing enterprise mobile apps, employers need to treat their employees like they would external customers, striving to exceed their expectations and provide them with an experience like those provided by the best consumer apps on the market, filled with delightful functional and design nuances. The ones that have millions of downloads and drawback users on a regular basis.
Mobility has the potential to transform the enterprise – making employees more productive and communicative, and streamlining operations. But this will only happen if development teams think beyond the code and technology to become experts in experience design, striving to offer consumer-grade applications to employees. A greater focus on perfecting the design, customization and overall user experience will bring an increased level of satisfaction that inspires employees to keep using – and even enjoying – those apps to everyone’s benefit.
It’s time to rethink what apps in the workplace can be. More than just useful. Delightful.
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