Business users are beginning to demand a new set of user-friendly tools. Recent advances in mobile technology have spurred on a new wave of such users wanting to bring their own device to work, and to view their business data on these touchscreen phones and tablets. But what exactly is this ‘BYOD’ movement, and how will it impact application design both now and in the future?
Apple’s iPhone and iPad have raised the bar in showing what experiences should be on the smartphone and tablet. With intuitive operation, fluid workflows and a seemingly endless supply of apps, it is easy to see how these devices have become favourites among users ranging from toddlers to boardroom warriors. With the emergence of Android and Windows 8 as viable contenders in this space, users now have more options than ever. All of these devices provide access to corporate email and calendars, and some even provide out-of-the-box support for editing common office document formats. The proliferation of these devices into the personal lives of business users has led to a strong desire to use these devices in the workplace as well. Hence, the ‘BYOD’, or ‘bring your own device’ movement was born.
The BYOD movement imposes some interesting challenges on app designers. In the past, usability has not always been a primary focus when building data-centric business applications. The main focus has usually been on analysing as much business data as possible and only worrying about presentation when there was a need to present something to the board. Even when usability was a main focus, app designers have rarely gone further than enabling data to be viewed on shallow dashboards that have not allowed for much exploration of the data. As more and more business users begin to use tablets and smartphones, they will begin to expect the same level of polish and usability when working with their business data that they get when they are reading the news or perusing applications like Facebook at home. This paradigm shift will have a profound impact on the application design landscape. This new crop of devices are capable of running sophisticated applications, written either directly for the native platform, or in the browser with HTML5. Designers and developers alike need to begin thinking about and building this new wave of business applications today.
Some companies have already begun to forge ahead in to this new frontier, using self-service business intelligence tools (such as ReportPlus) that allow business users to create dashboards from a wide variety of common business data sources such SharePoint, SQL Server and Excel. These tools allow business users to create and share dashboards with stunning data visualisation in an intuitive fashion, right on their iPad. If native applications are not your thing, then look for solutions that will help you build rich data visualisations for your mobile web and cross-platform experiences (for example, Ignite UI). Look for a product that has been optimised for touch, so you can be sure that the experience you deliver to your business users will be excellent. These new products are a great start, but businesses will need more developers to create the apps that business users are beginning to clamour for.
As you begin to think about reimagining current business applications for the mobile world, keep in mind that you do not always need to bring the full experience over to the device. Simply providing an easier way to browse and edit even a small subset of the data, may be enough to satisfy your users. It is really important to focus on only providing the most essential functionality and keep the design task focused. In the end you want the application to be much more intuitive than the original experience.
One thing is clear – the BYOD phenomenon is real and is here to stay. It won’t be long before tablets and smartphones are ubiquitous in the business landscape. The users of these devices will come to expect more and more from the applications they use on these devices, whether their usage context is in the home or in the workplace. It is incumbent upon application developers and designers to provide the next generation business applications that these movers and shakers of the business world will come to expect. Whether you build native experiences that are highly integrated into the platform or you build cross-platform HTML5 experiences, these business applications are the wave of the future, and you should begin building them today.