by Andy Hayler

An application of quality

Dec 27, 20114 mins
IT StrategyMedia and Entertainment IndustryMobile

Back in my youth when I was a systems programmer, things were relatively simple in terms of platform support.

Your software ran on the mainframe, so your main headache was testing out the new version of IMS or the latest Cobol compiler to check that existing applications still worked before you made things live.

Even then, there were enough elements to consider, like operating system, database, TP monitor and other applications.

It was most efficient to bundle newly released software into packets, test them all together and release a tested version every few months.

But at least the data and applications all ran from a datacentre: things became far more complex with the introduction of client/server computing, where applications were split between servers and large numbers (sometimes tens of thousands) of desktops.

Corporate IT reacted by introducing standard desktop initiatives, restricting desktop software to a pre-tested bundle rather like in the mainframe days.

These days IT managers not only have to worry about applications whose data lurks in the cloud, but also face demands that applications can be accessed not just on laptops but on a range of mobile devices.

Major software applications frequently have versions available for mobile devices, and end users, used to logging on to Facebook and the like via their iPads, expect to be able to use these devices to access their work applications.

This demand has increased as many companies have encouraged flexible working practices, where it cannot be assumed that everyone is working from their office desk.

It is important for enterprises to understand their user population and their different needs, and a one-size-fits-all mobile strategy is unlikely to be effective.

You need to consider what is necessary in terms of policies on data encryption and security, and which devices you are going to support.

We have all read the horror stories of sensitive data being lost via stolen laptops, and this issue will only grow with the new, smaller form factors seen in smartphones and tablets.

The rise of the tablet and smartphone brings opportunities as well as challenges for enterprise computing.

There is the possibility of capturing data at source: meter readings can be submitted at once, orders taken by sales reps sent to head office in an instant, and asset location and safety data made available to engineers working on industrial plants.

Hospital doctors can access electronic health records while on their ward rounds, and can even look at X-rays and test results.

Providing applications for external customers also opens up a range of new possibilities.

For example, aTesco app allows customers to order goods for home delivery, book delivery slots, look at their frequently ordered items and even scan the barcode on products in their kitchens to add them to an order.

Once customers invest time in setting up their details on a mobile app they are more likely to be loyal to that supplier.

At one time Tesco’s home shopping website was so new that, as an early user, I received a Christmas card from their development team. Not so now: the Tesco grocery app has been downloaded more than two million times.

Being able to interact with your customers closely via mobile apps could create significant differentiation for companies that exploit this opportunity well.

However the emphasis needs to be on providing useful functionality in your app, not just treating it as a way of advertising your brand.

Consumers expect apps to be highly intuitive and useful, and actually work.

A surprising number of apps, even from well-known companies, have very apparent reliability issues, and this in turn can reflect on your brand.

There are also excellent tools to help track usage of your app in great detail.

A company called Flurry Analytics provides a very detailed analytic tracking capability than can be embedded in apps, letting you see the number of times the app is used by customers, the average session length and a host of other aspects of usage: a marketer’s dream.

Actively exploiting the new devices requires new skills. If you want to develop a corporate app for the iPhone or iPad then you will need developers that know Objective-C and understand the intricacies of mobile app development.

Every company needs to pro-actively develop their mobile device strategy, not merely react to it when prodded or hope, ostrich-like, that iPads will suddenly become unpopular.