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designing workflow apps

Designing Workflow Apps, the Future of the Enterprise

  • Brian Katz By

In my previous post, I talked about the different ways your enterprise could build an app and what the future of mobility holds for the modern app. If we dig a little deeper into this subject and look at the strategy around designing your apps and what they might look like when completed, you will have a better understanding of workflow apps and why these apps are the future of the enterprise.

APIs for the Customer Experience Win

Customer experience (CX) is king when it comes to apps. It’s more than just the user experience (UX) or the user interface (UI), but rather the interaction of both that leaves your users wanting to use an app instead of deleting it and looking for an alternative. It’s important to understand, whether you are part of IT or a line of business (LOB), that employees are customers, too. As the interface to customers, if employees don’t enjoy using your tools, that will come across to your external customers. Therefore, you have to build tools that give your employees the same type of experience they get when they are using their beloved personal apps.

This leads to a few design decisions that you can use for modern apps versus the legacy applications that you have been using for years. Start by creating an abstraction layer between your back-end servers, databases and services. This abstraction layer serves a few different purposes.

  1. First, it removes the hardcoding many legacy developers used with applications. The developers are now developing their front-end apps against APIs (application programming interfaces) without directly touching the back-end services. This enables them to more quickly iterate—as the modern app demands—and utilize agile project management (versus waterfall) for the app.
  2. Second, since it allows the enterprise to decouple the back end from the front-end app, the services can lie anywhere the enterprise wants. The abstraction layer also allows them to leisurely migrate data center servers and services to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service/Platform-as-a-Service (IaaS/PaaS) model without having to make changes to the front-end app. This fits in very well with the microservices architecture many companies are aspiring to. The enterprise migrates from a data center to a private/hybrid/public cloud, and then when they are ready, points the back-end API interface to the new location. The front-end API doesn’t have to change, and the app’s CX remains the same for the users.
  3. Third, it allows you to break up the monolithic applications and services that you had previously built into your legacy applications and allows you to become more agile and responsive to the LOB. Enterprise IT can now be seen as the partner for the LOB and provide practical solutions, not hoops that the LOB must jump through to get projects completed.

Once you have figured out how to build a responsive back end that meets your company’s needs and you have created an abstraction layer from the front end, you are ready to really dig into the design of your modern apps.

Designing Better Mobile Workflows

Start by figuring out what processes you want to address. The best way to do this is to break your users up into their roles. Your user population has many different profiles, and as you find the best way to segregate them—be it salespeople (or you may have different types of salespeople), administration, research and development, mechanics and others—you can then begin to look at the many different processes you have for each segment.

Take a role, spend a day in a life (DIAL) of that role (or more than one) and see how the users in this particular profile get their work done. Undoubtedly, you will find surprises as they use the tools that you have provided for them and some of their own. An open and non-judgmental mind is necessary to understand how they get through the day.

This knowledge is foundational to design workflow apps. As you learn how your users perform their tasks, you will see better ways to fit together the services that they need for when they need them. Instead of making your users jump from one app to the next and figuring out how to approach a task or an interaction, you can integrate apps so that your users have one app, with a single interface that follows the flow of their task. They become more efficient and flexible while getting their job done.

Example 1: The Pharmaceutical Rep

mobile pharmaceutical repTake the example of a pharmaceutical sales rep who meets with many doctors throughout the day. As doctors have much less time than they did even a few years ago, pharmaceutical reps have anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to share regulated information with the doctor, give them literature and samples and have them sign for those samples.

This is normally a three-step process, which requires three different apps. The time to switch between these apps eats up much of the time a rep has in front of a doctor. After observing these interactions, one could design a single, modern app that fit the rep’s customer relationship management (CRM), the regulated docs and the regulated sample signing into a simple workflow app that fit into the salesperson’s flow with the doctor.

Example 2: The Help Desk Engineer

service desk email workflowA second example is of how many enterprises work with their service desks and their engineers. A normal workflow for a manager/engineer at a help desk is, first, a ticket comes in, and they get an email notification. Then, they open their ticketing app, change the status, assign it and update the description, which generates another email.

What if they could change the status of the ticket, assign it and update the description without leaving their email client on their mobile device? This saves time and effort for the engineer and lets them concentrate on what they need to do, not switching tasks. By designing a modern app around the client’s workflow, you can deliver a customer experience that gets the tool out of the way of getting the job done.

The goal of any great app is to create a CX that lets the app and the device become a transparent tool for enabling the experience which is getting the job done. You end up, through creating an abstraction layer, having building blocks that you can design to fit any role’s workflow and enabling your users to have a modern mobile experience that fits into their daily work life.

AirWatch Connect Atlanta 2016 RegisterGot a question about any of this? You can bump into me at Connect Atlanta this October and ask me in person. Register here to Connect!


Read more about modern mobile apps/workflow apps:

Brian Katz

Brian Katz

Brian Katz (@bmkatz) is the director of mobile strategy for VMware End-User Computing.

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