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Create apps that focus on end-user needs first

Many companies approach mobile app development backward and don't even realize it. Prioritizing user needs over business needs will breed better results.

Mobility is simple for consumers. They have their device of choice, and when they want to perform a specific task, there’s an app for that. Meanwhile, most enterprises still haven’t figured out how to improve business processes on mobile devices.

While 82% of companies allow mobile use, less than 25% have built or bought an app beyond email, according to the Sepharim Group’s fourth quarter CIO survey. Yet all these companies’ executives wonder why they’re not successful with mobility. They need to move beyond email and mobilize more of their key business processes.

All too often enterprises approach mobile app development by focusing on the business requirements they want to achieve. Developers are often creating apps that meet corporate requirements but that don’t address the end-user needs necessary to make employees' jobs easier.

For example, business leaders ask for one of their desktop apps to work on a tablet, and that’s exactly what they get: a desktop screen on a tablet. The device isn’t designed for use with a mouse, and the app is so crowded with menus designed for a desktop that it’s nearly impossible to navigate on a touchscreen. When that happens, users look for another app elsewhere -- and the organization loses any productivity and manageability benefits it had banked on.

To prevent this scenario, businesses need to follow the focus on user needs (FUN) principle. Enterprises must realize that everyone is a consumer. We have grown accustomed to the plethora of consumer apps in the marketplace. We expect our apps to be user friendly. We shouldn’t have to view a help screen or read more than a basic tutorial to use an app. We’re looking to get something done, and we want an app that allows us to accomplish our goals without getting in the way.

We expect our apps to be user friendly.

The FUN principle requires enterprises to factor end-user needs into all phases of developing and deploying an app, particularly in the design phase, since employees are the ones that will actually use the app. Why would you let someone other than your users design the use cases? Workers should participate in user testing to make sure they're creating apps that perform the functions that they need. Users should also help plan deployment to make sure the app arrives when people need it.

With the FUN principle in action, the ideal experience for employees starts when they open their corporate app store and find the app they’re looking for. They have a great description of the app, along with screenshots that show how it fits into their processes. They download the app, authenticate via a simple single sign-on and get started using it with nary a thought about asking for help. They trust that the app is secure. They integrate it into their workflow and quickly forget how they used to do things. Then word of mouth takes over and the app goes viral.

The FUN principle isn’t a single touch point in the lifecycle of an app, but rather part of the development methodology for successful experience design. In the end, productivity improves when employees become more flexible and agile in getting their work done. FUN enables enterprises to build great experiences that help both end users and the business as a whole.

Brian Katz is the director of user experience and innovation at a major pharmaceutical manufacturer. Follow him on Twitter: @bmkatz.

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