Enterprising the enterprise app wave

When most people think of mobile applications (apps) they think of Uber, Instagram, Viber, or WhatsApp.  It is true that the first wave of mobile development was consumer facing – today some 250 million apps are downloaded every month in the UK.  However  the reality is that a second wave is now well under way this is the enterprise app wave.

A recent report by the technology consulting firm, Deloitte, found that 71 % of enterprise businesses are deploying mobile applications.  If you want to know why this trend is gathering pace amongst enterprise companies, you need to cast your mind back to the 90’s and Michael Hammer’s seminal Harvard Business Review paper on Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). The first wave of BPR looked at antiquated business processes and realised that they could be re-written more efficiently by combining advances in information technology.  Kodak changed its black and white film manufacturing process cutting response time to new orders in half.  Hallmark, the card company, completely changed its new product process. Before reengineering, it took two to three years to get a line of greeting cards from concept to market. From the time a concept went from creative staff to the printing department, work was handed off 25 timesRe-engineering focused on integrating different departments.

Thus began a rush to streamline old processes from back office payroll to manufacturing production. For 10 years management consultants and business analysts made small fortunes re-writing processes until 10 years ago when the momentum started to slow.

Just as consumer apps are disrupting traditional industries, like how we now order private taxis, or send a message to friends, enterprise apps offer the possibility of radically transforming business process.  Mobile is more than a shot of adrenaline to BPR – it is a BPR on steroids.  Today if your business has a problem – you don’t call the management consultants, you call in enterprise app engineers. BPR is back on the agenda but using mobile technology.

The skill of enterprise app engineers is not just to take an existing business problem and find a new solution using mobile technology. Integrating that solution within an existing technology environment including legacy assets is key. Tired of your engineers filling out different forms when they are back in the office?  Build them an app they can use on site and upload photos to.  Searching for a way to fill restaurant tables after no-shows? Build an app for it. Looking to validate tax stamps at customs and border control points? Build an app for it. Searching for ways to reduce queue times at customer events? Build an app for it. Desperate for new ways to complete vehicle inspections faster? Build an app for it.

All these are real examples of apps that at Intellectsoft, we’ve been asked to build. With mobile technology driving this change, it’s proof that this second wave of business transformation is arguably more powerful than the first.

Return on investment (ROI) is the raison d’être of today’s enterprise applications. Much as some app development companies wish it was only about beautiful design, the real goal of an enterprise app is inherently ROI focused.  But it is a mistake to think that ROI is purely measured in hard cash. ROI is fundamentally tied to your business mission and goals. The Technology Director of a major train company recently explained his ROI not in terms of cash saved or made, but in terms of the contribution to the mission of creating the world’s most loved train experience.  The project manager at a major utilities company was interested in the impact on customer satisfaction scores as much as operational cost savings. Thus ROI is a mix of hard and soft, short and long term factors in an overall ROI ecosystem. At Intellectsoft we have developed a comprehensive framework for capturing and measuring different types of ROI.  It is against this framework that we measure our success.

It was Albert Einstein who said ‘I never think of the future, it comes soon enough’ – and this is certainly true of mobile technology.  Computers may have revolutionised business in the 90’s but today it is mobile devices, which are changing the business world.  Apps are catalysts, capable of redefining work flows, providing critical data in real time, protecting data, empowering customers and reshaping brands. Recent advances in wearable devices, near field communication, holographic technologies and advanced sensors point the way to the advances which will feed through into business over the next 5-10 years. The big challenge however is not just about the next process to disrupt or re-engineer, but ultimately about the right balance between people and technology in a modern society.  The best apps create new opportunities for employees, rather than destroying them.