View from India: Mobile user experience is both art and science

The mobile business apps and enterprise mobile apps that are categorised as services apps are expected to mature and grow exponentially over the next three to five years in India.

Understandably this segment is expected to generate revenue. “Businesses have an inherent need to connect to customers (B2C), partners (B2B) and employees (B2E) – mostly in that order,” says Mr Sai Lakshmidhar, director, Go-DB, a technology firm digitising the last-mile processes of insurance and retail clients. “On the other side, mobile devices have magnified  two core behavioural aspects: ‘always reachable’ and ‘uniquely identifiable’. This has made it increasingly compelling for both sides – users and enterprises – to connect.

Service apps to smooth operations at work

Since professionals are moving from the large application-led desktop to smaller application-led handsets, mobile business apps and enterprise mobile apps have scope for growth. As mobile is the ‘first’ word, companies are beginning to invest in mobile services including apps. “Mobile service apps are meant to fulfil a purpose, which is why they augur well with the B2B and E2E segment. Nevertheless, this segment will grow provided the apps are focused in their approach and built from point to point,” said Mr Akhilesh Tuteja, partner and head of IT Advisory, KPMG in India.

Like everywhere, the success of service apps depends on consumer engagement. Once the consumer engagement happens, then the apps will substantially facilitate the functioning of operations. They will help break down a big operational effort into smaller ones. It is predicted that these apps will help professionals work at their pace. In simple terms, the extent of ease is analogous to communicating via postal mail versus email systems, or more recently - mobile messenger apps. Though it varies for each process, on an average enterprises gain at least 20 per cent improvement in productivity within a function.

The unified benefit of mobile apps is increased agility of the organisation.  In an Indian context, the benefits are significant because of the sheer size of the user community.

Service apps vs. casual apps

Compared to many parts of the world, enterprise mobile apps and mobile business apps are still being explored in India. The beginning has just been made and it’s because these service apps are very different from casual apps. “Casual apps can be built as a standalone but enterprise mobile apps and mobile business apps need to be integrated with the ERP system and should be easy to use. Privacy and security issues are factors that differentiate enterprise mobile apps from casual apps,” added Mr Tuteja. Enterprise mobile apps have to be encased within a secure environment in order to control its functionality. Broadly speaking, as of now, people are trying to build apps for desktop screens, but the app has to be built and treated as an app and not just as add-on.

Designer capability merges with developer capability

For business or enterprise app developers, it’s critical to sync the app with the target audience. It’s essential to understand the consumer using the app and design it accordingly. Building the app is not complicated but programming is a challenge that can be met by aligning designer capability with developer capability. That’s because without the developer translating the design accurately, the app still remains average. Mobile user experience (UX) is an art and a science too – both designers and developers need to accept each other’s strengths and limitations.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of good designers in India. “Many SEO and web-designer companies are trying to fill this availability gap, but the fact is that web and mobile are completely different worlds. An average user spends more than 70 per cent of their time in the first two screens – but sadly, many apps use this space as mere shortcuts to internal functions. This reflects in the low adoption rates across apps. Unless we don’t think of ‘Mobile First’ as the strategy, the results will continue to be mediocre,” observed Mr Lakshmidhar. He added, “Our apps are used by over 300,000 users across enterprises, most of them being B2B in nature. Given our niche focus in insurance and CPG, our apps are used by sales force and channel partners for conducting business at customers’ doorsteps. As a pattern, we have seen that enterprises mobilise revenue-generating processes first, followed by productivity improvement apps.”

But this trend is slowly changing, as enterprises are moving from pure return-on-investment (ROI) justification to strategic adoption of mobility. Increasingly enterprises want direct customer engagement via sticky mobile apps that mix business interactions with value-added services.

Four quartets

Mobile service apps can be divided into four quartets, the first being killer apps or sales support apps that generate revenue. “The second is convenience apps which relate to PF and things which are of the lowest calculated value. Efficiency operation, which is the third in this category, is for successful delivery of products. Executive apps, which is the last of the series, is an app for managing board meetings,” explained Mr Vishal Tripathi, research director, Gartner. “The mobile interface in all activities is described as a mobile opportunity which no one would want to miss. Earlier expensive platforms invested in mobile, now both small and big companies invest in mobile communication for improved productivity. We will have APIs (application programming interfaces) on the cloud.”

Organisations are interconnecting their functions (procurement, manufacturing, sales and servicing) as they can no longer afford to work in silos. “In India, owing to the sheer size of the user community (B2C/ B2B/ B2E), we are witnessing higher demand. Five years from now, we see mobility becoming the preferred mode of work at enterprises, much like how computers are today,” Mr Lakshmidhar summed up.

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