Transitioning from PCs to Mobile Devices
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 15, 2013
The post-PC era is not marked by the extinction of personal computers, but rather by the prevalence of portable computing devices that have ended the unchallenged dominance of desktop and laptop computers in the lives of consumers. This phenomenon is the new norm. It can no longer be dismissed as a bleeding edge technology that major players provide at a high cost or a gimmicky feature that the average user doesn’t demand.
People spend less time on the Internet using traditional means and more time glued to their always-connected devices. Not only is a company's presence in that realm very advantageous, its absence is costly in a tangible way.
Consider these four points when entering the mobile space or improving what’s already there:
1. Enterprise integration expertise is crucial
In the past, applications were internal or, at most, used by customer-facing staff. In the last 10 to 20 years, we started thinking of web applications. But now we have mobile devices. It is not a viable long-term strategy to add adaptation layers to existing enterprise software to make it compatible with today’s world. Companies need to evolve their approach and build their enterprise software from the ground up with mobile apps in mind.
A company's mobile device services and internal infrastructure cannot exist independently if it is to offer a useful service to the customer. It has to at least allow customer-inquiry services, and at best, allow customers to interact with the company through service requests, information updates, and so on. Only software architects with the knowledge and experience in integrating enterprise systems can accomplish this.
2. Consider security
Mobile devices create a new realm of risks, authentication policies and the need for strong but not too-inconvenient layers of protection. While some of the existing practices — such as user password policies and multiple levels of authentication — will continue to be adopted, there are new things to consider, such as giving the user the ability to disable mobile access and remotely remove sensitive cached data if the device is lost or stolen.
3. The web apps vs. native apps debate
The new HTML5 standards have almost eliminated the technical need for native applications, especially API’s that give a web app access to device features such as GPS and cameras. Currently, native apps seem to have three advantages: A) Performance, but that may not always be the case due to improvements in browser technology and support for the latest web standards. B) Predictability due to not depending on web browsers, with all of their variability and weaknesses, as an extra layer between the software and the device. C) A native app has more presence on the device’s “desktop” as it occupies actual real estate in the system, as opposed to being a mere bookmark in the user’s browser. This can be fixed by wrapping up the web app in a native app shell that can be installed directly on the device, as Facebook did for its early iterations of their Android app before abandoning the effort due to point A.
4. Ensure that your mobile device presence is meaningful
Users are sophisticated enough to differentiate between an app that provides meaningful services, and is therefore convincing enough for them to keep on their devices, and an app that is merely an empty “us too” shell of an app. This becomes painfully obvious when, say, an insurance company’s app doesn’t take advantage of a device’s GPS to show the user the nearest agent they can go to or contact. The absence of obvious features like that would be noticed by anyone, but also it is important to make an investment in the right research and talent to develop features that may not be so obvious to the end users, such as banking apps that allow depositing checks using the device’s camera as a scanner.
Mobile devices have created an on-the-go mentality where applications are expected to be easy, fast and practical. Apps can be uninstalled as easily as they are installed, or forgotten if found less than useful. A serious investment should be made in choosing the right strategy and the right talent to create mobile device presence and integrate it with an existing system in a way that keeps it meaningful and expandable for the long haul.
Kal Nasser is a software developer with X by 2, a technology company in Farmington Hills, Mich., specializing in software and data architecture and transformation projects for the insurance industry.
Readers are encouraged to respond to Kal using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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