Important Considerations for the Next Generation of Apps

It is an exciting time to being working in technology and I thought I’d offer up some personal ideas on what vendors should be considering in the next generation of apps, and how customers and partners are playing a key role. 

These five points certainly should not be looked at as the authoritative answer to all your technology questions, rather I hope it leads to further discussions that will help guide strategies among all interested parties – vendors, partners, and customers.

1. Built for the cloud

This should not come as a surprise. Software apps need to run in the cloud. No longer should we be building software products that can only be used when users download and install the application onto servers and desktop PCs. There is already as proliferation of cloud services for everything like sharing files, collaboration, scheduling events, creating to do list, email, customer  communications, document creation, and so on. Many of these apps are targeted at small businesses and consumers, but enterprise apps need to be built for the cloud as well.

Deploying and managing enterprise software can be a daunting task, but Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors like SalesForce.com are changing the game. Plus new cloud deployment models like EMC OnDemand give enterprise businesses other options when deploying enterprise solutions like enterprise content management (ECM), enterprise capture, and customer communication solutions. 

Enterprise applications running in the cloud is only going to become more pervasive.  The best advice I give for those enterprise businesses who are in the early stages of building a strategy is to get educated. Begin by understanding the basics around what it means to run your applications in the cloud. There are different flavors of cloud computing that can be confusing to some – Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

EMC and other vendors are helping businesses to understand what it all means. Invest in new skills and the training that your IT staff will need so that they are ready for tomorrow and the future.

2. Keep it simple

The services and applications vendors build need to be simple. Historically, software applications have sometimes become over engineered with lots of small features that users never used. Think Microsoft Word or even the enterprise applications you use within your business. Many of the new cloud application services provide a rather simple approach so as to not overwhelm the user.   Take for example Dropbox,  which is a simple file storing and sharing service. The concept of storing content in the cloud is not a revolutionary concept, in fact there are many companies that are doing this. Dropbox just seems to be one of the more popular ones that is growing fast.

Enterprise apps are a bit different, but they are not exempt from keeping things clean and simple.  Enterprise apps need a lot more functionality and flexibility to meet the demands of complex business requirements. But that does not mean enterprise apps can’t be easy to use like other basic cloud services. As a younger workforce enters the business world they are bringing a different perspective on how they want to work.  You have to delight that new user and give them the tools to be most productive.

3. Take great care in security

With so many apps being developed as services that run in the cloud, consumers and business users need to feel confident that their information will be protected and safe from attacks. This has to be a top priority. There are some pretty questionable individuals who are motivated for various reasons to get access to our information, whether it is personal identity or confidential business data. 

Enterprise apps need to have a security layer that addresses user authentication, single sign-on, rights management, encryption, and other forms of application security. But it does not stop there. IT will need to look at from an infrastructure level as well evaluating their current procedures, processes, and technologies being used. The question that needs to be asked…are we doing enough?

4. Design for the mobile experience first

I think it is time we start thinking about the mobile experience first given so many users (consumers and business) are relying on their smart phones and tablets to access and act on information. That’s not to say you don’t need to consider the desktop user experience, but the mobile experience is equally as important as the desktop.  The amount of time we spend at home and work using our iPad, iPhone, Droid, Kindle Fire, or whatever device you have today,  is only going to grow. At some point the PC will become less important than the device we carry around in our hand. For many this may already be the case.

 5. Make apps smarter

We’re smart people, and apps need to be smart too. We should build smarter apps so users benefit from a better experience and businesses gain the benefits of much better productivity as well as a way of lowering the cost of doing business.  As a user we want applications to guide us through a task or problem rather than trying to make the right choices or decisions that will get us to the end. Enterprise apps do a lot of this as part of a business workflow where rules are built to make decisions along the way. Smart applications like “intelligent capture” are able to intelligently identify a scanned document rather than relying on a user to make the decision. That results in faster processing, less human error, and better customer service later on.

The use of intelligent technologies like facial recognition, voice recognition, global positioning systems (GPS), and many other technologies are finding their way into larger enterprise apps as well.  They provide information that help a user complete a task or move a process forward. 

A large partner ecosystem can also help foster making apps smarter. Partners often have domain expertise and experience working with other technologies. In many cases they have built solutions on top of a core enterprise application platform using their own in-house developed technology or by incorporating a third-party tool.  This all leads to smarter apps as it relates to the unique business environments.

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