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Experts say adoption more likely if user’s experience with app is kept in mind
Despite strong employer and employee demand for work-related mobile apps—also known as enterprise mobile apps—actual use remains "stubbornly low," according to a recent survey, which found that workers generally consider the products to be helpful but humdrum.
Companies are building or purchasing apps to help employees fill out time sheets, approve direct reports' expenditures, book travel, communicate, share files, and accomplish the same work tasks on the go as they do in the office or at their desks. But while the apps can boost productivity, they just aren't fun or easy to use, workers say.
Only 12 percent of the more than 4,000 U.S. office workers screened for the study who have access to apps actually use them on the job, according to the report, Functional But Unfriendly, by San Francisco app developer ArcTouch.
"While respondents overwhelmingly agree that apps help their productivity and efficiency, they are generally underwhelmed by their experience with enterprise mobile apps—indicating that enterprises are not satisfying employee demands for their apps," the report said.
'People generally are pleased with the utility of the work apps they use, but there's a missing layer of delight that's lacking compared to the apps they use outside of work.'
Demand for enterprise mobile apps has grown as companies seek to help employees take advantage of flexible work schedules and locations and be productive even when they don't have access to work computers, ArcTouch noted.
In 2015, research firm Gartner projected that by the end of 2017, demand for enterprise mobile apps would grow at least five times faster than the ability of internal IT organizations to produce them.
ArcTouch, working with communications and market research firms, also surveyed 487 full-time U.S. office employees who use at least one work-related mobile app at least once a week. Some respondents used only off-the-shelf enterprise mobile apps, others used only custom apps, and a majority used both. Among the findings of the online survey:
--85 percent of respondents believe that the app they turn to the most—whether their company created it in-house or purchased it—saves them time, and 83 percent think the app makes them more productive.
--61 percent give their most-used enterprise app an "A" in usefulness.
--45 percent were "somewhat pleased"; 40 percent were "strongly pleased."
--70 percent didn't consider their most-used app to be intuitive.
--13 percent considered the app to be elegant.
When developing mobile apps, said ArcTouch co-founder and Chief Experience Officer Adam Fingerman, companies should focus on features that make the user experience better. Based on the survey results, he suggested that apps need improvements in design and reliability.
While enterprise app developers may face a challenge in making their apps as elegant and fun as those created for personal use, it's a challenge they need to take on.
"People generally are pleased with the utility of the work apps they use, but there's a missing layer of delight that's lacking compared to the apps they use outside of work," Fingerman said in a news release. "We think that companies competing to attract and retain the best talent will need to provide the best toolset, and that includes offering compelling mobile apps that make work more enjoyable. To do this, development teams must think beyond the code and technology and become experts in user experience design."
Justin Lake, co-owner of Denver-based mobile app development and consulting firm Venado Technologies, told SHRM Online that enterprise apps are often unimpressive because the apps try to do too much rather than performing a few tasks well.
He called that "a recipe for failure." Employers should "identify the key areas of the employees' workflow while they're on the move that would benefit from mobile access. Start small with the features that bring the most value to the user, then iterate over time to add relevant functionality as needed."
Mitch Berry, vice president of enterprise mobility management at Indianapolis-based software and services firm MOBI Wireless Management, said 85 percent to 90 percent of its clients' employees download and regularly use the thousands of third-party and work-related mobile apps that his firm deploys and manages.
MOBI helps companies integrate those third-party mobile apps with wireless carriers and their own corporate IT systems.
"The feedback we're getting is that mobile apps enable employees to perform their jobs more efficiently," Berry said, adding that the five most popular enterprise apps his firm sees are Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, Box , Google Apps and Concur.
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a Philadelphia-based freelance reporter and writer who covers workplace issues, healthcare, business, personal finance and entrepreneurship.
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