Transforming the Business with Data-Rich, Rapid Mobile App Development

Richard Rabins, CEO, Alpha Software Corporation
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If you’re reading this article while sitting at your desk job, you’re part of a minority. The proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise has enabled a new mobile workforce, with recent research finding there are 2.5 billion workers (TechCrunch, 2015)who work primarily standing up and moving around. And these workers are increasingly accessing business apps on tablets in addition to mobile phones. In fact, Forrester believes that by 2018, 20 percent of tablet buyers will be enterprises. These workers are in the field, at customer sites or on the factory floor, and work in industries from manufacturing, to oil and gas, to healthcare. Mobile applications have evolved to keep pace with the changing needs of this new workforce, and now provide access to a vast array of data sources and information with just a swipe. These applications will increase productivity, streamline customer service and provide cost effective marketing . However, technology is advancing so quickly, and the expectations of remote workers are rising so steadily, that IDC found that 30 percent of mobile apps built in the last 12-18 months have failed and need to be replaced (John Jackson Directions 2015 Presentation).

“Using development tools that can produce apps more rapidly is crucial for enterprises to help bridge the gap between mobile app demand and supply”

Let’s look at why today’s mobile apps are already falling behind remote workers requirements. In the past, enterprise apps were only capable of gathering data in the form of numbers and letters. Over time, characters were added, then photos, graphics and illustrations. Eventually, data visualizations were made possible by the advent of analytics. Today, mobile devices can capture a huge variety of information that wasn’t possible a few years ago. But many apps are still mostly information access tools and have limited capabilities for collecting and storing rich data. By taking advantage of the built-in capability of smart phones and tablets, mobile apps can now capture GPS information, bar codes, photos, videos, audio, ink, etc. and store it – even when the remote employee is working offline.

The amount and variety of data that today’s mobile workforce can access on the go, from anywhere, can be truly revolutionary for the business. Think about a field worker who travels from job site to job site inspecting worksite damages and accidents. Using business apps of the past, she would have only been able to write in a few notes about the situation. But what if there was a lot of damage, to the point that it required her to take pictures or videos, or both, to tell a fuller story? She would have had to take the pictures separately, and upload them or email them along later. And, what if she was disconnected from the Internet? The promise of mobile is that people can work anywhere, on any device, at anytime, but the vast majority of mobile business apps require an Internet connection to be productive. If the worksite does not have suitable WiFi, 4G or 3G connections available, then the business app may not be able to sync back up to headquarters, thus delaying information access or capture and hurting productivity.

With sophisticated tablet and mobile apps capable of dealing with richer media, pictures and video can be uploaded directly to the app, which is connected to the server, even when offline. The folks back at headquarters would have the images instantly, thus speeding everything up and becoming more efficient. With electronic ink, he could draw directly on the image, take notes, and make annotations. The worker could even capture voice annotation. This allows the field worker to efficiently capture and share a wider range of valuable information, much faster and with far more accuracy. Having this capability could also trigger business processes faster and speed up the overall workflow in companies.

The natural next question is: how do we do this? The benefits of data-rich mobile apps are clear, and boosting efficiency for the mobile workforce should be top of mind for enterprises. However, many companies lack the developer staff or capability to create these apps in-house. Gartner recommends Rapid Mobile App Development (RMAD) tools as a way to solve the problem, noting, “Using development tools that can produce apps more rapidly is crucial for enterprises to help bridge the gap between mobile app demand and supply.” RMAD tools use a low-code or no-code approach to app development, allowing folks with little programming experience to quickly build a mobile app under the watchful eye of IT. RMAD tools include backend integration and front-end app development, so even line-of-business staff can build mobile and tablet apps, such as mobile optimized form apps. And the best RMAD tools control the front-end and back-end as well as employ a coding-optional approach so IT staff can go into the app at any time and add code to handle business policy, data governance, security and more.

Considering the amount of mobile workers in the world today, upgrading the way these workers conduct their business can really separate enterprises from the pack. By using RMAD to evolve their enterprise mobility, businesses will see the benefits in more ways than one.

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