Nine years after smartphone use truly took off with the debut of the first Apple iPhone, 2016 could finally be the year when the adoption of enterprise mobile apps grows substantially to solve many of the daily work needs of business employees, partners and customers.
That tipping point has been approaching over the past few years, John Jackson, an IDC analyst, told eWEEK, but until now, it hasn’t really gained critical mass. The key reasons for slower-than-expected enterprise mobile app adoption in the past have been security concerns, the difficulty of accessing backend data and the pain of developing apps across multiple platforms, all of which are improving today, he noted.
Those worries are finally dissipating as more companies are seeing the advantages of providing a wider range of versatile and often time-saving mobile apps to their employees, he said.
“It’s happening,” though it is coming later than expected,” Jackson said. Last year alone, the adoption of enterprise mobile apps was not as high as IDC estimated based on earlier research.
In 2013 and 2014, the average enterprise with more than 1,000 employees had about 3.5 apps that were used regularly by workers, he said. That figure was “shockingly low” and was similar to the number of apps a BlackBerry user might have had on his or her device back in 2006, he said.
With that progress, IDC surmised that 2015 would have been the year that enterprise mobile apps would really take off and double from the 2014 figures to an expected average of seven apps being used by enterprises. But that didn’t happen. Instead, in 2015, the average enterprise only adopted about 5.8 apps each for its users, said Jackson.
“It’s still a shockingly low number, given that anything you’d want to do as a consumer is available to you in an app,” said Jackson. “We thought 2015 would kick off in earnest with the ‘appification’ of the enterprise. The data was supportive of that, but not to the level we expected. It is possible that we are looking more at a steady climb than at a [quick rise]. Things tend to move slower with enterprises.”
One factor in 2016, though, that could increase the adoption of mobile apps in enterprises is the always-present pressure of competition, said Jackson. “It’s becoming the case that if your competitor out-mobilizes you, then you have problems.”
With that in mind, “progress at some level is a slam-dunk in 2016,” said Jackson.
Mobile App Creation Increasing at The Boston Globe
At The Boston Globe, where a small selection of enterprise mobile apps rolled out in 2015 to about 100 employees mostly in advertising and finance, more apps are already being planned to help with additional tasks this year.
“Users are bringing us ideas for apps they need,” Wade Sendall, vice president of IT for Boston Globe Media Partners, told eWEEK. “Having the ability to be able to build applications for parts of the business that historically had never been serviced is huge.”
The Globe is building apps using a cloud platform for rapid application development from Mendix, which compiles apps using templates that can be customized as needed, said Sendall. “We did a rate card for advertising salespeople last year and are building a couple production-specific apps as we are re-engineering our production processes.”
The Globe IT staff is building a mobile app now that will help sort and organize newspaper advertising inserts for several Sunday editions that the company prints for other newspapers, according to Sendall. Globe production workers “have to be able to find them as needed and match them to the right papers,” he said, which will be aided by the upcoming app.
Most of the ideas for new apps come from employees who see new potential uses for apps as they do their jobs, he said. “Frankly, we don’t know what the best thing is to fit the advertising staff’s needs are, so hearing from users gives us the needed feedback.”
Enterprise Mobile Apps Gaining Momentum in 2016
With that feedback coming in, a wide range of stand-alone apps has been created in almost every area of company, including a cafeteria app and a safety audit app for the massive newspaper production facility.
More apps are sure to come, Sendall said. “Absolutely, I keep pushing, especially on the advertising side, to ask ‘what else can we do for you?'”
How SAP Employees Are Adopting Mobile Apps
At SAP, enterprise mobile apps aren’t just tools sold to customers to help end users complete their own tasks. Instead, more than 60,000 SAP employees are themselves using in-house enterprise apps built by SAP IT to help them accomplish a wide range of work-related activities, from quickly filing expense reports, sending product details to customers during sales calls, or just finding out what’s for lunch in the company cafeteria before going to meet co-workers.
The number of SAP employees using the company’s mobile apps is expected to reach some 80,000 later this year.
“The idea is to make [people’s] lives simple,” Senthil Krishnapillai, vice president of development for SAP’s Mobile Secure Group, told eWEEK.
SAP has been building enterprise mobile apps for its customers and its own users since 2010, but in the last few years, the company continued to expand the range of apps it offered and introduce new capabilities and services for larger numbers of mobile users, said Krishnapillai. “It is very organic in terms of how it spreads. It starts with SAP employees using [an app], then someone else sees it and wants to do it, too.”
At SAP, employees and the company aren’t waiting to adopt enterprise mobile apps. It’s part of the company’s mantra, said Krishnapillai. Much of the spread of the use of apps comes from employees who want to be able to do more while they are on the go, anywhere, without having to be chained to their office.
“Being able to submit the hours I worked this week at my leisure when I have time rather than going back to my PC and logging in is a cool thing,” he said. “People like that they can do it on their mobile devices. We are seeing successes, so we are expanding it.”
Many of the ideas for new apps come from SAP employees who share their business needs in SAP’s Idea Place portal, where they can express their ideas, he said.
SAP employees can get the apps they want to use on their mobile devices through SAP’s own app store, which is set up for SAP employees and allows them to download and install any apps that are approved by their managers.
For customers, SAP also sells similar private SAP Mobile Place app stores or enrolls them in SAP’s public app stores where they can find apps that range across a wide variety of uses. More than 800 mobile apps are available from SAP for sales, service, HR, productivity, business analytics and more.
Among the SAP apps available to internal employees are SAP Wire, its version of WhatsApp; a lunch app that tells workers about meals each day in the cafeteria; CRM apps; a carpooling app; a travel approval app; risk and governance apps and sales navigation apps that can help send information to customers about products. Workers can also use cloud apps like Concur for travel and expenses, as well as for travel booking.
“It’s amazing because it ties all these things together,” said Krishnapillai. “A person can fly from one place to another and come back and never have to file an expense report because it is all automatically captured and reported. It’s like our bread and butter.”
Packaging Company Caraustar Moving to Mobile Apps
Other companies, meanwhile, are just getting started on the road to embracing mobile apps, but already see the promise and potential benefits of adopting them.
Tom Ritter, vice president of IT at Caraustar Industries, which manufactures and sells 100 percent recycled paperboard packaging products, told eWEEK that his company is planning to begin deploying mobile apps for about 1,500 employees starting this year.
Enterprise Mobile Apps Gaining Momentum in 2016
A key benefit of mobile apps for Caraustar would be to assist production managers in the company’s 90 manufacturing plants around the nation, so they can be on the production floor monitoring tasks rather than sitting at desks in offices away from the action, Ritter told eWEEK.
So far, Ritter and his team are exploring the kinds of apps that could be helpful and determining what tasks can be most effectively managed on a mobile app, such as production reporting, order status and apps that boost production efficiency.
“If you don’t do it, your competitor is going to do it,” said Ritter. “That’s in the back of everybody’s minds. At the end of the day, machines can only run so fast so making managers more efficient will be the next step to help them.”
Ritter is talking with other companies to learn how they are using mobile apps and how these apps are working out for them. By the end of 2016, the company will have deployed at least some mobile apps to employees to begin the process, he said.
“We’re in the phase now of deciding what comes first,” he said. “Besides manufacturing, there will also be stuff to give to the sales force out on the road.” Salespeople today have to call in to their offices and ask for accounts receivable or open orders details and then ask for the figures to be emailed to them, he said.
“What we’d like to do is set it up so that a salesperson looks on an iPad and finds it right there, and then can place a customer order on the iPad while they are meeting with the customer instead of having to call it in to office,” said Ritter. “You’re removing steps from the process. We’re going to make doing business with us easier for customers, too. It’s not a pipe dream.”
Mobile Apps Must Deliver Real Benefits
When a business decides to begin adopting mobile apps for its workers, partners and or customers, it needs to start by determining just what it wants to achieve with these apps, Katharyn White, vice president of the IBM and Apple partnership inside IBM Global Business Services, told eWEEK. That may seem obvious, but in many cases, it is not, leading businesses to chase apps just for the sake of having mobile apps but without any solid targets or plans.
That’s a big mistake, said White. Instead, businesses need clear, concise and targeted plans when mapping out, creating and enacting their enterprise mobile app strategies.
“An app has to solve a problem that we care about in a business context,” said White, such as lowering costs, adding features such as GPS or microphone capabilities or aiding with business analytics.
“You have to ground it in a very specific use case to start, where they can yield value” for users and the company, said White. IBM helps customers plan such strategies by inviting them to workshops where they can define what users need and how those issues can be addressed.
The next step is working with a company’s IT department to determine how such an app can be delivered and how it can be melded with a company’s existing IT data and infrastructure, said White.
So far, the IBM and Apple partnership offers more than 100 pre-built apps that customers can buy and implement in about six weeks to deliver new capabilities to their users, she said. The apps are available for a wide range of uses, such as for flight attendants, financial advisors, bank loan officers and more.
In 2015, discussions about mobile app deployment became more prevalent inside enterprises, but those talks often weren’t backed by actions, she said. That could be changing now as the market reaches a tipping point, according to White. “I think from a volume standpoint that 2016 will be the year.”