In case you missed it, the world is using their mobile devices to manage their lives, both personal and professional. Phone and tablet apps are not only used to track steps, find Pokemon and keep track of personal finances — companies are also creating apps that eliminate the need for paper and eliminate errors. While internal, team-facing apps are seemingly less sexy, if done correctly, you will wonder how you ever survived without them. Your team wants the ease and efficiency that apps bring to their lives in their workplace, and so do you.
But, where do you start? How do you make sure what you are doing will be successful? The first step is to understand that you are building something that will be a key part of your employees’ experience at your company. It will enable them to work smarter. Hopefully, your internal app will even make their work more enjoyable. Does it still seem like a complex project to start? Here are some words to live by as you begin to work on your own app:
Understand Your User
This is one of the most difficult parts of any software project, but a big part of creating the best user experience possible. Just as you can’t be everything to everybody, your software cannot be “tailored” for every user. An app is a targeted tool. You need to pick one audience and focus. If the app is for your sales team, then the folks working on the production line are not going to get value out of it.
Think hard about what your need is. If it is to improve overall productivity, understand where your gap exists. Once you have narrowed it down to one user, talk to them. Learn how they work. Figure out what matters most to them. When they come into work each day, what is the first thing going through their head? What is their first and last task? What makes them tick? What do they feel is the right tool to help them work smarter and more efficiently? Then and only then are you ready to make the investment in your app.
Mirror Consumer Apps
“But this is business, not a place for Instagram or Twitter! Our apps need to be tough, strong business apps, not weak little games that people use in their free time!”
You couldn't be more wrong. An app that people use in their free time is likely a great app. Why else would people spend hours sending images on Snapchat? Learn from them. What makes them great? They are easy to use. They "feel" responsive and intuitive. They make your phone an extension of you.
Strive for this type of user experience in your business app. The biggest barrier to app adoption in the business world is changing the way people work. By providing them an app that feels the same as their go-to email client, they will feel at home and be more likely to give it a shot. Mandating app usage can be done, but instead build something that your users will want and that will turn into a need.
Simplify Existing Process
Make things easier! Create an app that guides users through their daily process. Prompt users for needed information at appropriate intervals. Create drop-downs with pre-filled options to eliminate error. Create a field for that bit of information you always wish was included, but is often omitted. Your data quickly becomes clean, concise, constantly backed up and readily available.
Eliminate Human Error
Ditch the pen and paper! Allowing humans to fill out paper and free-form opens up the possibility of error. It introduces a dependency on clean, legible handwriting. They are also writing on something that can quickly be destroyed or lost.
Build a Training Tool
“But I have a training team that already does this!”
Maybe so, but nothing reinforces the process like an app. Build your app to guide users through tricky processes. Let the app be the on-demand, 24/7 trainer. Let the app reinforce proper procedure. You will see decreased training time and increased knowledge retention.
Embrace an app for your business. If you can't build it yourself, don't worry — there are many shops out there that can help. Keep in mind that when you are ready to go, don't just dip your toes in the water. Jump in! It may be scary at first and a large investment, but the outcome will be worth it.
Dan Ward serves as co-founder of Detroit Labs, a mobile development company and apps maker.