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Mobile app content must drive development goals

Mobile apps live or die by their data. An app's content must reflect the business workflow, support the app's purpose and simplify data access while being secure and user-friendly.

When it comes to mobile applications, content is king. If it weren't for the data they present, few apps would have any benefit. At the most basic level, app content should be easy to view, find and access, without other design elements overshadowing or interfering with the process.

But it's more than just a matter of using the right fonts and colors. Users should be able to access exactly the information they need without weeding through useless data or processes. They should be able to digest the information without knowing where it originates, how many data sources are involved or how the information is assembled.

To make this work, the app must be able to connect to and ingrate with the necessary back-end services to ensure that users have exactly the data they need when they need it. The app should facilitate and simplify data access, and the content should be optimized, refreshed and free from errors.

Developers must plan how data will be pushed to or pulled from the app as well as how data will sync across multiple devices and services, if applicable. Plan for offline operations and disruptions in services, too. In addition, determine what data will be stored on the device, what will be cached, where data will be stored, and what will be managed and accessed through external services.

Even the simplest mobile app requires attention to detail.

Another consideration is how users connect to the network. Will they rely solely on their cellular services? Wi-Fi connections? Both? The type of network connection can affect the amount of data the app can efficiently transfer to and from a device as well as when those transfers can take place.

The app's content should reflect the business workflow and clearly relate to the tasks at hand. It should reveal and support the app's purpose and the issues it's trying to address. The reliability of the information is essential to the app's effectiveness and ability to persist over the long haul.

Security and privacy

Developers must not forget about security and privacy -- the two go hand in hand with how an app presents, manages and transfers data. No matter where the data resides or how it gets moved around, it's important to ensure that all sensitive information is protected. Implementing a mobile app without paying the strictest attention to security and privacy can open up an organization, its employees and its customers to untold risks.

Address issues related to authenticating and authorizing users as well as safeguarding the data at rest and in motion. Technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer, Transport Layer Security and virtual private networks can safeguard the information. Developers must also ensure that whatever data protection mechanisms are put in place can integrate seamlessly with existing enterprise systems such as directory services or management tools.

Security can get particularly tricky when it comes to third-party cloud services that provide or store app content. In such situations, developers are at the provider's mercy to ensure that sensitive information is protected from cybercrime and other mischief, whether in the form of outside attacks or inside duplicity. Developers must be able to verify that the service provider is taking the steps necessary to protect sensitive data.

Most major service providers are aware of the importance of safeguarding their customers' data and realize how much is at stake if security is breached. In fact, many services provide better protections than some organizations deliver in-house. The fact that an organization controls all its own data does not exempt it from implementing carefully planned security measures.

In this video, find out which components are necessary to devise a successful mobile applications strategy.

Regardless of where data resides and how it's protected, don't forget about compliance. Mobile app data can be subject to specific laws and regulations depending on the type and where it resides. Even mobile device features, such as GPS, can be subject to certain restrictions. Laws and regulations can vary substantially from country to country, so developers should understand what they're up against before they start messing with the data.

Quality assurance

Quality assurance (QA) is also critical to implementing a successful application. Ideally, developers will incorporate automated testing into the build process and continuous integration environment, but they should try to get as many people as possible to actually try out the app so there is hands-on feedback early on.

QA doesn't stop with testing: Design an analytics component into the app to monitor and track user activity. This helps application builders learn how the app performs. From this information, it's possible to determine whether the app is operating as expected and identify areas where issues might exist. This will give developers a better sense of how workers use the app and where they get bogged down so improvements can be targeted where they're most needed.

Finally, be sure to offer a way for users to easily provide feedback about the app. In this way, developers can discover what users really think about it, what works and what doesn't work. The more feedback app builders can gather after the application has been implemented, the more they can improve the app in subsequent releases.

Building apps that matter

Finally, when building enterprise mobile apps, particularly for internal use, it can be tempting to go with the cheapest and easiest way to get the application out there. But users want apps that are intuitive, useful and will help them get their jobs done. Delivering apps that are simply adequate could cause users to turn to third-party alternatives, whether or not they've been approved for business use.

Even the simplest mobile app requires attention to detail. An app should enhance users' productivity and make their jobs easier and more efficient. Before beginning any development, have a concrete definition of the app's purpose and its intended audience.

Next Steps

Part one: Need-to-know mobile app dev basics

Part two: Developers must focus on UX

How developers can boost mobile app performance

This was last published in September 2016

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