How custom apps will change the way we work

Paul Higgins /

By 2016 there will be a predicted two billion ‘smart connected devices’ in the world (source: IDC). If you use your tablet and smartphone predominately for email and calendar, you are not alone, but you’ll soon be a dying breed.

The untapped potential to use the same devices to change the way you work has never been greater. Take, for example, the process of ordering a taxi. In theory this should be a simple task: a quick phone call and the cab arrives.

This ‘simple’ process turns into waiting on hold for five minutes, or better still, using a voice-automated service that puts you in a loop that gets you frustrated and annoyed.

For people who have migrated to a taxi app, the experience is bliss. Download the app in a minute, order and then track the cab to your door.

To help illustrate the power of this app, I will recount a pressure situation I experienced the other day. I jumped out of a cab at Melbourne airport and remembered my glasses were on the back seat. I was to catch a flight to Karratha in 15 minutes and running a two-day course in sunglasses was going to be hard to explain! I used the app to get the taxi back and all was solved in under five minutes – demonstrating the power of a smartphone.

I could go on with productivity-saving app stories and I am sure you can think about your own powerful example(s). The great news is this is just about to get even better. Not only do we have commercial apps, but an emerging trend is customised apps developed to remove headaches for you at work. That’s right: technology working for you in a way you would never have imaged. 

When I run productivity workshops across the country, the single biggest single time-waster is email. People spend hours and hours on it and I once heard up to 90% of email is spam (where spam is defined as email that doesn’t positively improve your life). This blog provides some tips on email, however it is not addressing the root cause: we do too much in email that could better be handled by an app. Email was not invented to transact data; it has just evolved that way. 

OK, I hear you say, what does that mean? Well, developing a customised app can replace either an email or a paper-based process. I remember at uni in the ’90s experts were predicting we would have a paperless office by now. We might use less paper, however there are still too many tasks completed with paper that are open to human error. Think of the paperwork that occurs in your role and then multiply that across your organisation – there are big dollars at stake here.

Customised apps will change the way people behave at work. The opportunity to quickly move past diagnosing the problem to providing fun and easy to use solutions is upon us. Think of how far the web as come in the past 10 years. 

So what is meant by a customised app?

Picture a business manager who takes two or three hours to prepare a static presentation in PowerPoint for a client. The client has seen thousands before and they both go through the motions, spending a lot of time in the rear view mirror and spending little time on positively changing the future. Sound familiar? Well, image if you could have an interactive presentation on your iPad where you have ‘what if’ scenarios that visually illustrate the profit impact of future decisions you make together. The client is engaged and the business manager explores innovative solutions in a fun and entertaining way. What do you get more enjoyment from: doing the admin or creating new and exciting possibilities? I will let you answer that one.

What makes a good customised app? The keys are:

• Identify: what is of highest value to users and focus on that as a priority
• Design:  should be inviting and engaging to use.  About 70% of an app’s build should be spent on design, so keep this in mind

• Intuitive: limited instructions necessary

• Bespoke: heavy user involvement in the design

• Personalised: not simply a desktop process placed on a mobile device

• Connected to other sources: leverage existing systems

• Accessibility: 120 languages and cater for all users, ie visually impaired

• Solutions: Focus on solutions and not features. Use GPS, camera and near-field technologies

• Simplicity: Do one or two things exceptionally well. No mega apps. Have several that fit into an ecosystem

• Speed: Version one is the start and improve from there. Be imperfect in your pursuit

There are three types of apps
1) Native (on device)
2) Web-based, and
3) Hybrid (a combination of both).

My prediction is hybrid apps will continue to grow. Here is a video on a collaboration with Apple and GE as an example

Where to from here?

This is a little like ‘how long is a piece of string?’ There are a lot of companies moving into this space as the initial barriers to entry are low. You have web design companies expanding their footprint, digital agencies adapting, app-specific development companies and in-house design. There is no right or wrong approach; it is what best meets your needs. I recommend taking a broad look into all options and then use a well-defined criteria (potentially combining the key points above) to make your decision. The greatest risk I see is not making a decision. 

I truly believe that apps will change the way people behave at work in a very positive way. Just think what you could do with 25% more productive time in your day – now that’s exciting.

If you take one thing from this article, it’s this: take action now.


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