Any cloud-based ERP deployment today is going to include a strong mobile component — that’s a no-brainer. How else are customers going to interact with your organization other than with the tablets and smart phones that are fast supplanting PCs? How else are your employees going to enter orders and confirm deliveries? What sales person today would prefer a cumbersome laptop to a tablet when making an informal presentation?
The Shift to Mobile Devices
Mobile devices are the dominant means by which users interact with the net and this will only increase in the years ahead. A recent Forrester report revealed ERP apps, especially those embedded within SaaS programs, are among the fastest growing areas of tech right now. Yet, far too many ERP mobile apps come up short (just ask the people that use them). Developers need to consider and avoid the following when designing mobile apps:
1. The mobile component of the ERP deployment was seen as an afterthought
An untold number of organizations design mobile interfaces as add-ons to legacy or upgraded systems. Often this results in dumbed-down versions of that company’s desktop UIs, which is a little like cable companies developing warp-speed networks that extend everywhere but the last mile to users. Why bother? Mobile devices are the dominant means by which users interact with the net. Ergo, mobile apps should be a dominant consideration when designing an ERP implementation.
2. ERP mobile apps aren’t built collaboratively
Companies have highly evolved techniques for test-marketing products before they debut. In the future, as customers demand a more collaborative, transparent role in product development and as companies transition to relationship, community, or subscription-based marketing models, the design of an app’s user experience will matter every bit as much as the design of their products.
The onus is on developers to engage their clients and end users in extensive discussions about what mobile capabilities they require. And preferably when they’re both are in the same room, in order to optimize the sharing of ideas.
3. ERP apps seldom take full advantage of the cloud
Fast as they are, the processors inside smart phones and tablets are left in the dust when compared to the speed with which a cloud-based ERP platform can handle tasks such as rich-data transfer and complex calculations. The gaming industry has learned this lesson, and it yearns for the day when browser-based games become the dominant platform. Faced with far fewer users and far more simplified rendering needs, cloud-based ERP implementations can fully harness the cloud, right now.
4. Most mobile apps lack even basic intelligence
When devising ERP apps, ask yourself can my customers select their own preferences? Does the app make it easy to track and deliver to users information about their previous sessions? Can the app make product or contact suggestions, based on user input? And can the app readily point out and clearly explain any potentially adverse consequences of a customer or employee selection, recommending an alternative when possible.
5. Mobile ERP apps are designed in isolation
Single function apps might be okay for entertainment or other non-business functions. But when customers download a company-developed app, they expect it to manage all their dealings with that company – and in a seamless way. Similarly, employees such as delivery personnel and others on the front-lines of the organization want to switch between an app’s functions without learning-curve issues.
The answer, of course, is bundled apps within a unified dashboard of some kind.
6. ERP mobile apps fail to gather sufficient business intelligence
Gartner estimates that in a few years, fully one third of ERP mobile app usage will be related to business intelligence, but the revolution has hardly started. Geolocation via GPS as well as photo transmission and object recognition via mobile cameras will add unique capabilities to a company’s BI toolbox. Thanks to prodigious cloud-based processing, the range of possibilities once again depends solely on the app’s design.
Designing quality apps has become eminently doable, especially when the underlying ERP platform is tailored to make building them easy. A scalable cloud environment makes them run fast and smooth. A rapidly growing end-user base is already enamored with mobile devices. Any company that can design ERP mobile apps that a consumer enjoys using, will gain a long-standing advantage that should more than justify the effort involved.
(Don Phan is Director of Demand Generation at Acumatica. He is an expert in digital marketing and passionate about mobility. He currently resides in the D.C. area.)