Enterprise App Developers Need to Keep Focus on User Needs
By Ron Miller
Those of you creating apps in the enterprise might be doing it the way you've always done it. You build a set of requirements and you develop the app, all the while rarely talking to the folks who will be using it. The fact is you can learn a lot from talking to your users.
It might seem like a simple notion, but too often the user is ignored. At the E2 Conference this week in Boston, several mobile experts spoke on a panel on Developing Multi-Platform Apps for the Enterprise where panelists discussed approaches for building apps on multiple platforms and techniques for building good ones, regardless of the platform you used.
Brian Katz, who is the Director, Head of Mobility Engineering at Sanofi, says that apps shouldn't be driven by what your programmers happen to know, they should be driven from the requirements and go from there.
"You don't make your choice based on what your programmers know. You look at the requirements. If your requirements point you to native needs, you have to go native," he said. Katz added, "When you focus on user needs, you build the apps they want. When you do that, you build successful apps."
Katz said one way to do this was to go on what he called "ride alongs." You follow the user around for a day and you see what they have to do and see things like places they aren't allowed to have a cell phone on (such as some medical settings) or places where there is limited connectivity and you can build your application to take these things into account.
If you simply asked the user what they did, you might build a great application for them that they couldn't use half the time because they weren't allowed to use their phones or they went to places with little or no service. And as a result that application wouldn't be very useful for the end users. It's hard to build a good app without the whole picture.
Chris Willis, who is chief marketing officer at Verivo, an app development platform who spoke on the same panel, says one way to do this is through analytics. When you attach an analytics package to an app, you can see how many people are using it. If nobody is using it, that's a clear sign you missed the mark, but if people are using it, but only using some of the functionality, that's a signal that you included stuff that was too hard to use or people simply don't need and you can retool after you find out the reasons behind the issues.
Katz says it's important to remember a couple of things. First of all your job is to be a business enabler and secondly, app building is an iterative process. When you finish building an app, you're not done. On the contrary you've just started.
It's an ongoing cycle. People are always going to want changes. What you can't do however is give into every wish and create what he calls a "craplication" with everything under the sun. If you create an application your users don't like, you'll know because nobody is using it --and they will find unsanctioned alternatives. That's why your apps have to be as good or better than the consumer offerings.
Katz says however you build the app, it comes down to focusing on the user and if you do that, you can't go wrong.
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 Share Alike/Attrbution License.
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