What to Look for in Enterprise Mobile Applications
Today’s rugged tablets and smartphone-like handhelds offer a familiar, consumer-like experience for employees—especially millennials who grew up with screens as a central feature of life. Navigating apps is second nature, which simplifies introducing mobile apps to the workforce in the field or on the warehouse floor.
There is one potential flaw in workforce mobile applications; employees expect them to be as well-designed and easy-to-use as the social apps and games that are part of their personal mobile experience. Whether organizations are buying off-the-shelf, industry-specific apps or working with an independent software vendor (ISV) to customize or custom-build mobile apps, it pays off to consider the needs and wants of the end user.
Why Do Good Enterprise Mobile Applications Matter?
Ensuring mobile workforce applications meet user expectations can heavily influence a company’s employee engagement. Complex technologies can be frustrating for workers, and when that happens employees are less likely to feel engaged with their work.
Think of the last time you opened a new app on your smartphone. Did you have to consult a user’s guide to figure it out? An app that performs as expected — with an intuitive user interface and buttons and navigation that respond appropriately — will speed adoption among workers of all ages.
User-friendly functionality also makes training easier and allows companies to bring new workers up to speed faster. When the technology itself is intuitive, the training lift for employees is might lighter. Companies may also notice that user-friendly mobile applications have a positive impact on the bottom line because of the reduced need for complex, time-consuming training on tech usage.
Employees that don’t have to hunt around for the next button to push or task to perform will be much more efficient on the job. More importantly, a well-designed mobile app and user interface can mean the difference between increased situational awareness regarding risk factors in the workplace.
This principle holds true across a variety of work environments. In busy warehouse environments, for example, people work on ladders, lifts, and on high-traffic floors, which all pose dangers to a distracted employee trying to operate a confusing technology solution. Law enforcement offers another critical example, where anything that diverts attention from situational awareness is a potential danger.
On the surface, good app functionality may not seem like a big deal. But with a labor shortage threatening most industrial verticals, companies need to take note of practices and processes that might frustrate workers and harm retention efforts. Labor experts aren’t calling this period in history “The Great Resignation” for no reason. If a laborer doesn’t like the software they have to use at work, they can easily find another job right now that provides a more user-friendly experience.
What Does a Good Mobile Work App Look Like?
When looking for a great app, the simplest answer is to find one that simply works well in your environment while mirroring the users’ physical workflow. Here are some elements you can look for when your software partner presents you with an app design:
- Uncluttered screen layout. All screens should be simple, clean, and appealing to the eye. Your eye should follow the elements in a logical fashion, starting at the top left of the screen. Text should be minimal, with a font size large enough that it is easy to read in any circumstance. Colors should be complementary and used with purpose, to draw attention to important words and features. Overall, the screens should be comfortable to use in any light, including outdoors in bright sunlight.
- Simple and intuitive navigation. Choose a navigation scheme that is popular in consumer apps. For example, a taskbar that runs across the bottom of the screen is a common approach used in many social media apps. Icons on the taskbar take users to pages with specific functions or to different areas of the app. Drop-down menus are also frequently found in mobile apps, signified by a cluster of three horizontal bars in the upper left corner of the screen. Incorporating drop-down menus can avoid clutter and help simplify screen layout. Also, the menus can differ from screen to screen to provide choices relevant to the context of that page.
- User-appropriate controls. Tiny buttons and bulky work gloves don’t mix. For tough environments, you need a rugged device that includes a glove-sensitive touchscreen that works in any weather, like the Panasonic TOUGHBOOK®. Be sure your user interface design presents tap targets (buttons) that are large enough to be usable by gloved workers and that sit in a clear space in the screen. Also consider the design of finger controls and data entry options. For example, scrollers for inputting dates are easier to use in the field than calendars or keyboards.
- Voice-to-text dictation for data entry. When keyboard-style data entry is unavoidable, consider giving users the option to dictate text rather than type it. Advances in speech recognition technology have been significant, and voice-to-text solutions have greatly improved in accuracy in recent years—particularly when they are trained in the specific terminology of your industry.
- Easy-to-learn functions with minimal steps. As a final consideration, how closely does the application mirror the workflow of each user’s role? How well the app performs in helping users do their jobs efficiently is the ultimate measure of successful design. Getting there starts with role-by-role and step-by-step analysis of workflows for every function and user. The app should present information and tasks in appropriate, role-based “swim lanes” with end-to-end process steps that are easy to learn and follow.
Granting mobile capabilities to your workforce represents a significant investment for your organization in both hardware and software, and both will affect the user experience. The good news is that rugged mobile devices today, with Windows and Android operating system options, offer the opportunity to present a familiar, consumer-like experience for employees.
Pairing User-Friendly Enterprise Apps With Rugged Mobile Hardware
Beyond the operating system, your choice of a mobile platform should work with your workforce applications to deliver an ideal user experience. Look for mobile devices with long battery life (such as the Panasonic the TOUGHBOOK A3 tablet and the TOUGHBOOK N1 handheld), because battery life is a key factor in user satisfaction. Then pair that device with a mobile app that is designed with the end user in mind for an overall package that optimizes your mobility investment.
Mobile apps and the hardware that support them are only one part of the employee experience, but they are an important one. Taking steps to invest in the software and hardware technologies your employees need to get the job done shows them that the organization cares about their comfort, safety, and concerns.