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Mobile Applications in the Workplace

by Ryan Goodman, http://www.centigonsolutions.comMonday, July 6, 2009

In the last five years, advancements in mobile device hardware and software have provided a new medium for presenting information.  With iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Palm enabled devices competing to attract both consumer and business user adoption, there are tremendous opportunities to improve the way businesses monitor and consume information while un-tethered from a computer.

What is a business mobile application?

I use the term “application” to describe interactive dashboards, reports, or data entry. Regardless of business application, it should provide the most valuable information within a compact interface and require minimal interaction. A business mobile application should provide a volume of information that is quickly digestible while enabling users to take action while disconnected from a PC. Cramming a desktop application into a mobile device is not the solution because the rules for human to computer interaction on a three inch screen are dramatically different than standard computing devices. The resulting benefit from such applications that are appearing on-line, will eventually empower your organization to seek opportunities and recognize problems at all times.
The reality is that until recently there were not too many useful mobile applications designed for businesses, more specifically business intelligence. So what if stock quotes, weather forecasts, and checking shipment arrivals don’t have any effect on the revenue impacting decisions that you make? There are endless possibilities for mobile applications that can assist you in the workplace to make information significantly easier to access while un-tethered from a PC. Business users who rely on dashboards, reports, and even spreadsheets can potentially benefit from mobile applications designed to deliver pertinent data. There are two use cases for accessing business information while un-tethered from your desk:

1. Perform frequent tasks or reference information

The first compelling reason to adopt a business mobile application is to provide an intuitive interface for completing common, uncomplicated tasks. Though you may have a full blown software solution for executing business processes, a mobile application can provide significant value for referencing or inputting information while away from your desk. Whether following up with current leads, logging activities, or navigating your product price list while on the road, mobile applications can eliminate the bottleneck generated by your PC dependency.

2. Monitor important real time information

Another compelling reason for adopting a mobile application is to provide a visual interface for monitoring real time, or near real-time information. With a single or small group of metrics and KPIs that you monitor on a day to day basis, a mobile application aligned to a dashboard, scorecard, or reporting methodology is a perfect solution to obtain information in real time, within an un-intrusive minimalist interface. A real-time mobile application could be easily implemented to monitor the real time status of a new campaign or provide call volume metrics while you are in transit.
The successful implementation of mobile applications today could provide significant competitive advantages to an organization who wants to empower a workforce to consume information while un-tethered, with the same ease that they communicate via mobile email.

Rules for successful mobile applications:

The success of any application is dictated by its usefulness, execution, and user adoption. The following best practices will ensure that you avoid the common pitfalls when developing or evaluating existing mobile applications for your business:

  • Verify the content is important enough to be required away from a computer.
  • Ensure the interface is extremely simple and easy to use.
  • Provide information in a logical linear or hierarchical format.
  • Implement aesthetics should be sharp and easy to read.
  • Use pop-up or expanding functionality that is obvious for users to execute.
  • Expose an intuitive interface that requires little to no training.
  • Reduce or eliminate the need to zoom.
  • Link the application to an action (another application, email, phone number, etc).
  • Leverage human-computer-interface capabilities whether gesture, stylus, touch, etc.

Mobile Applications gone wrong: What not to do

  • Repurpose an existing computer application verbatim to a mobile device
  • Squeeze too much information into the limited screen real estate
  • Create processor heavy applications that drain system resources and battery life
  • Over complicate the user interface with too many options, labels, colors, etc.
  • Implement text and graphics that are difficult to read
  • Forget to provide help or labels for non-obvious capabilities.

There are infinite opportunities for innovation given the recent advancements in touch screen and gesture technologies. With the right execution of technology and user experience design, mobile applications will have profound impacts on speeding businesses’ ability to respond to customer needs and market activities. I look forward to the near future, when I will have my all of my most important business information within arm’s reach at all times.

About the Author

Ryan Goodman is the founder of Centigon Solutions, Inc. and respected expert in interactive data visualization technology. As co-author of Crystal Reports 2008 the Official Guide and as a thought leader in Business Intelligence dashboard design, Ryan continues to write and push the envelope for interactive visualization through his blog, ryangoodman.net/blog, and new website, mobiledatavisualization.com.

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