Six Considerations for Building Killer Internal Apps

Digital transformation is a wide-ranging term. One of the areas of interest is internal applications. However, after years of building external-facing applications, competing with the digital denizens to capture and keep customers through attractive, responsive and easy to use interactions, did we forget about internal citizens?

Most internal applications were built around silo approaches to suit business processes. Frequently, they are using the technology du jour with little real thought of the user experience (UX).  Most enterprises have a significant number of these applications. Worse, a number of them have to be interacted with to perform a single process.

Realizing that internal user-facing applications represent a huge target for improvement, firms are turning their attention to replace these with a new generation of applications. Here are some of the major reasons and/or considerations for this change: 

  • Meeting modern UX expectations – Users of internal applications have experience of what a modern application looks like from their daily interactions for personal use on connected devices. Therefore, their expectations of the user interface are well in advance of what’s being provided to them internally. Read more on best practices for UI design here.  
  • Attracting and retaining a new generation of employees – Leading on from the last point, the workforce demographics are changing to ones who grew up with the web as a part of their daily lives. For this and future generations of employees, legacy internal applications are an unattractive artifact that impedes getting things done. Studies show that this is a major factor in job satisfaction to them, and obviously therefore a major factor in attracting and retaining them.
  • Allowing rapid change for business success – The heavyweight model imposed by legacy user-facing applications impeded change. Businesses are recognizing that the wave length of change is shortening. The outside world talks about constant delivery, but the internal application environment often requires manuals, training sessions between exceedingly long change cycles. This is often a competitive issue, especially where the function is a target of external industry fintech.
  • Enabling interactive business processes – The silo structure of the applications really does not address the fact that many of the business processes supported crossed the silos, or required a number of applications to be involved to complete the task. Having solved the initial challenge of a single sign-on didn’t address the fact that the user interface of each application had been designed in their own sandbox, which leaves the user with the mental gyrations of dealing with each.
  • Supporting technology change – The maturing of web application has led maturing web technologies. Much of the required application infrastructure is provided by web majors such as Google and Facebook, with an emerging and vibrant open source community constantly adding features and function. The plethora of technologies used in the legacy applications, apart from moving towards end of life, also meant that sharing was largely not possible. Each one has its own UI components, even if it already existed in another technology. New generation web technologies, especially around JavaScript, have modernized development and deployment processes. Inherently, they support a move towards more frequent change cycles. The tools and techniques to build applications and processes that provide for a high level of UX are key components of this environment. In financial services, OpenFin is an example of a container technology that can be used to provide a secure user application environment. Independent of platform, it has features such as an inter-application bus that can be integrated with legacy-technology-based user applications, such as Java and .Net.
  • Increasing long-term productivity – Last but not least, we are leaving money on the table due to the waste of time and effort created by the disjointed, unappealing set of today’s user applications. In addition, let’s think about the known costs associated with maintaining legacy technology. Addressing the entirety of a business function and engineering a user application as part of a seamless workflow, with all associated high-level UX factors, generates the potential for significant improvements in productivity. There are serious efficiencies to be gained, all of which have a long-term ROI and will help secure buy-in from the business. 

Putting the business case in place is the first step.  However, to get the full long-term benefit requires a number of actions which I’ve covered in part two: Critical Technology Factors to Creating Killer Internal Apps.

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Topics: Digital Transformation