Move to the Next Frontier of Business Productivity

Move to the Next Frontier of Business Productivity

Posted on May 12, 2015 0 Comments

This article was previously published in a slightly abridged form on AppsTechNews on May 7, 2015.

There’s no denying that today we live in an application age. With so many common consumer tasks—paying bills, booking travel, buying entertainment, changing appointments and more—easily accomplished with a handheld device, we have all raised our expectations for service and response.

Mobile App Advantages

Speed of data delivery can make or break a business in the application age. In many industries, sales, customer service and other external-facing employees make up well over 50% of staff. These employees are speaking in person and over the web daily with customers holding smartphones. Competing in these circumstances may mean the difference between showing your customer real-time inventory or getting an e-signature before your competitor does via their phone.

Mobile applications have another clear advantage over desktop ones. They can be accessed by simple taps and swipes rather than complicated navigation, menus, mouse clicks or key combinations. They are usually colorful and easy to use, often featuring large, simple instructions (arrows right, left, up and down) and wizards to work within small screen interfaces. Rich, modern designs make statements users identify with.

The Productivity Factor

It’s not surprising that with “an app for that” just an app store search away, “digital natives” discover that they can solve many of their challenges with little IT intervention. In a survey of 700 IT decision makers done last May for Progress by research firm VansonBourne, we found it takes an average of six months to develop a new business application, with fully a quarter of respondents admitting to between six to 12 months. Yet even with increasing demand from the C-Suite to produce apps faster (43%), only 18% of respondents believe there organizations are agile enough to deliver apps fast enough.

These statistics are alarming when it’s considered that numerous studies have shown high employee abandonment rates of enterprise software in recent years as mobile adoption has grown. Frustrated staff turns to independent solutions and hacks to make their lives easier, unaware of the larger consequences that affect the business. And today’s IT departments can’t keep up, losing oversight and control of security and critical data.

Increasing employee engagement with the business, however, has a huge upside. The Workplace Research Foundation found that increasing employee engagement investments by just ten percent could increase profits by $2400 per employee, per year and increase customer satisfaction by 12%.

Framing Our New Reality

Obviously, the application age doesn’t mean that all of your enterprise applications must be designed like Twitter. But to meet critical organizational goals, IT must look for ways to bridge the business productivity gap. Analysts call this tension between business and IT resources different things, but the challenge is the same for every CIO. In the words of Geoffrey Moore, “Why do consumer applications feel so much cooler than those in our organizations?” The three ideologies at play here are:

  • Systems of Record and Systems of Engagement. Moore, the author of Crossing the Chasm, describes traditional enterprise IT as the building and maintaining of systems of record. Businesses must now build systems of engagement to effectively and efficiently collaborate, share and transmit information. In Moore’s view, the business needs to IT-enable engaging, consumer-style app experiences to reduce the complexity inherent in multiple systems of record.
  • IT to BT. Forrester Research calls for IT departments to move away from a technical-dominant focus as process and technology become business drivers. This is accomplished by taking shared responsibility for meeting the objectives of the business units you serve. Understanding the effect that complexity, slow delivery of products and poor communication has on users can propel IT to develop new soft skills. These efforts will naturally lead to improved apps and will help transform Information Technology organizations into “Business Technology” organizations.
  • Bi-Modal IT. The introduction of agile development methodologies and teams are helping larger enterprises “act like startups” by putting some grease to the wheel, but Gartner analysts suggest CIOs take a “bi-modal IT” approach.” Mode 1 would be reserved for the traditional IT model of developing and delivering technology services with an emphasis on scalability, safety, accuracy and efficiency. Mode 2 is agile or “nonsequential,” delivering IT services flexibly at speed so that teams within business units such as HR, sales and marketing can act like digital startups. Your mode two employees become experts in a business unit and anticipate, embrace and deliver for change.

CIOs must provide dynamic, situational applications focused on marketing, human resources and other disciplines. This requires answering questions like:

  • How do you deliver both types of applications, given the app backlog?
  • How do you support different types of devices, and a wide variety of UX and UI requirements?
  • How do you cope with a lack of mobile experience?
  • How do you decide whether to build web-based apps, native apps or something in the middle (hybrid)?

Moving to the Next Frontier

The next technology frontier is employee-facing applications. IT can take some of what marketing organizations have done to create engaging apps for customers to transition to apps that employees will use to manage customers effectively.

IT can apply these mobile, social and analytic capabilities into apps that drive productivity—workflow and process-based apps to manage production, supply chain and more. Apps that can be delivered rapidly to support critical launches, customer events and other time-sensitive operations.

Low Code, High Efficiency

One way to conquer the new frontier is by adopting a rapid, low code application development approach. Low code app dev platforms, available as a service in the cloud, on-premise or within a hybrid hosting environment, enable app creation and deployment with visual interfaces. Familiar point and click, drag and drop, step by step screens turn endless lines of hard code into simple clicks within a browser.

The right PaaS will enable a single development and deployment effort across mobile, web and desktop. Some providers offer a model-driven approach where the user defines the application model and the solution automatically generates the server component. The correct PaaS will support multiple devices and geographies, and leverage the cloud to minimize and speed infrastructure set up and maintenance.

Most importantly, such an approach can provide compelling mobile experiences, so that employees will actually use business software and gain productivity benefits.

95% of the VansonBourne survey respondents who currently use PaaS for rapid application development and deployment reported improvements in application deployment; 93% reported improvements in development.

Most noticeably, PaaS organizations typically develop and deploy new apps within three months; some reported apps deployed in two weeks. The productivity gains for employees and IT organizations are plain to see. So why aren’t your organization’s apps cool—and fast? That may be a question your competition has already answered for you.


Mark Troester

Mark Troester is the Vice President of Strategy at Progress. He guides the strategic go-to-market efforts for the Progress cognitive-first strategy. Mark has extensive experience in bringing application development and big data products to market. Previously, he led product marketing efforts at Sonatype, SAS and Progress DataDirect. Before these positions, Mark worked as a developer and developer manager for start-ups and enterprises alike. You can find him on LinkedIn or @mtroester on Twitter.


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