In all of the focus on BYOD policies and security questions in the mobile enterprise, one thing has been missing: employees. Mobile applications have received their fair share of the attention, as have IT's concerns for security of information, networks and communication. What's missing is the understanding of employees' needs, user experience and motivations for using mobile.
Bernd Christiansen, CTO of Citrix OnLine, said in an interview in 2012,
I have the best office in the company as I overlook the parking lot. I get to watch our employees at their most productive during the day as they walk from their car to the front door. As soon as they hit the front door their access to resources are locked down and their applications and services aren’t designed to be easy to use.”
The understanding of mobile and employee needs in the workday hasn’t changed much from that view from 2012. The focus should be on access to resources, easy to use applications and services, and fitting the person’s needs.
Access to Resources
One of the long standing uses for mobile is for unconstrained access to information. Not only has mobile access to information been valuable when out of the office, but it's also common for use in the office. In office use often relates to searching for needed information, posting questions to colleagues in professional organizations or professional related forums, or making use of easy to access reference materials in mobile apps. The mobile has become a regular part of workflow for many.
When organizations supply smartphones to employees, the employees will still keep a personal smartphone to use. Work phones often operate under constraints for security (files access is only from secure resources), limitations on search, limits on location services, inaccessible cameras and additions such as applications for organization wide communication and collaboration. All of the mobile's content can be wiped, if lost or used by someone other than the intended owner. Most employees personal phones don't fall under the same controls and they try to keep it that way.
Employees will keep their personal phone to have personal information and valuable resources within reach. Divisions or groups find unsanctioned communication and collaboration resources better suited for their workflows, so the applications are not loaded on their work provided device.
Ease of Use
Designers and developers have quickly learned that the most frequently used resources on mobiles are the ones that are (relatively) easy to use. The two biggest constraints driving ease of use are the device size and the context for mobile use — environments where many things vie for the user's attention and focus. Mobile apps designed with these constraints in mind are the apps that get used. The ones used most frequently provide focus on one or a few tasks that are easily accomplished.
Ease of use comes down to how easily and quickly the person can knock out their tasks. If the app is slow — or perceived to be slow — it leads to a search for alternatives. Being able to easily understand how to use an app is essential, particularly ones used infrequently (every month or two). Simplicity in the interface is an essential quality.
Fit Employee’s Needs
Each person has preferences for apps and services based on what their needs are, as well as what sort of interactions and interfaces best meet these needs. User needs, as well as the understanding of what is easy to use, comes down to individual preferences. A lot of user preference is asserted over calendars — an app genre with divergent approaches for entering events, displaying events, monitoring activity that may change available time (traffic, weather, other’s calendars, etc.) and even the type face used.
One recent trend is small apps loosely joined: where a user may have two or more applications for a task type and each app handles a different need. One calendar app may be used primarily for entering events, while another is preferred for monitoring travel times and the fluid shifts that will impact meeting times, and another for viewing the day’s agenda and pulling related materials for the day’s events into a clickable link from that each event.
Tool types with diverse user needs are often tough to get right as they don't funnel down to an easy to build one-size-fits-most model. The big need is to sort out how to secure the end points and the data traffic between the device and service. Attention should also be paid to files that document creation tools use. Getting people to give up document creation tools in which they are productive is difficult, particularly on mobile and tablet devices.
Putting Into Practice
Organizations are shifting from systems of record to include systems of engagement, which has changed the patterns of use for information creation. Information entered into text documents in a capture phase is copied and pasted into online collaboration or enterprise social network services — often directly on mobile devices. Shifting away from these patterns is difficult, as many people have found they are far more productive in this workflow.
Enterprises have gotten away for years with a one-size-fits-all approach, but mobile demands a many-sizes-to-fit-one. This creates a different design, development, deployment and management paradigm to work in. A common approach is breaking down larger apps into multiple, easy to use sets of apps that meet task needs. You'll need a good user experience design team who combines experience with mobile and patience to work through iterations to hone in on getting it right. While this approach is still somewhat new, you'll see the proof in employee's use of the apps.
About the Author
Thomas Vander Wal is a senior strategist at Design for Context. He has designed and developed for mobile since 2000 and since 1995 has been designing, developing and managing web, intranet, collaboration and social platforms, and their underlying systems with a focus on meeting users needs, to reach the goal of ease of use. Design for Context consulting firm specializes in usability and user experience design, with a focus on complicated and complex system and making them easy to use.
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