Contextual Intelligence in Enterprise App Deployment

Glenn Gruber | December 15, 2014 | Mobile Strategy

In my most recent webinar, we looked at how contextual intelligence can help us build apps that “automagically” present consumers and employees with the information they need, the moment they need it – perhaps even anticipating the user’s needs based on clues provided by sensors on the device married with user-data we already know or have the ability to retrieve.

But utilizing contextual intelligence may really begin with the discovery and installation of apps. One slide from a recent presentation by Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans is particularly apropos to this conversation:

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Evans asks, will this sentence even make sense in five years? With the expansion of devices beyond smartphones and tablets, the definition of what constitutes an app certainly needs to evolve. The capability of Apple Watch apps—the use-cases and interactions (are glanceable notifications apps?)—are far different than their smartphone brethren. But they are/will be tied together in some manner.

And one thing is for certain. As employees, partners, and customers increase the number of devices they own, an already challenging problem becomes even more problematic: how do we get the latest “app” versions in our users’ hands on all their relevant devices?

App Discovery Sucks

We already know that with more than a million apps in consumer app stores, discovery is a huge problem for developers. But what about in the enterprise?

Currently many companies employ an Enterprise App Store (think of it as a private version of Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store) from companies like Apperian, App47 or Airwatch that allow employees to find and install apps that have either been internally developed or third-party apps approved for employee use. Once the apps are in the EAS, an organization much open a communication channel to make employees aware that the apps exist and to request they visit the EAS to download the apps onto their devices. It’s an imperfect and arduous process, and we don’t always hit our set adoption goals. But for the most part, it works. With corporate-owned devices, we can automate the installation of apps onto employee devices, but even so, we still encounter similar issues (e.g. alerting users when a new app has been installed on their device as well as teaching them when and how to use it).

A recent Capriza press release notes that enterprises boast an average of 700+ software applications. Increasingly, companies are mobilizing moving many of these, some even have full-fledged programs to migrate mobile employees off laptops and onto tablets or smartphones. Gartner predicts that by 2017, a whopping 70 percent of mobile workers will be using tablets.

Today, most companies have a handful of apps they have built internally or provisioned for their employees, if any. The most mature corporations may only have dozens. If the numbers above are to be believed, we’re talking about scores of apps, possibly hundreds for a given employee—especially when considering the gamut of smartphones, tablets and wearables. As an industry, we’re not nearly prepared for meeting the elevated app-discovery, provisioning and distribution demand at this scale.

So what can we do to improve this process?

One Approach to Solving the Problem: Contextual Intelligence
As noted above, we’re entering a new age of contextually intelligent app experiences. Similarly, app discovery and installation shouldn’t require users to seek out the application. Even the very act of launching the app shouldn’t necessarily be a manual process initiated by the user. Apps should be presented to us for use or download based upon an intelligence that recognizes the user’s tasks require or may be facilitated by the use of app X.

iOS 8 first introduced us to this concept. As you approach a Starbucks, for example, the app icon appears in the bottom left hand corner of your lock screen—an extension of the App Store’s “popular near me” function.

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Why shouldn’t our employees be offered the same capability? When a district manager visits a retail store he’s responsible for, shouldn’t his location bubble-up the apps needed when he visits the store to see how it’s performing?
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We see this trend manifest itself for app discovery in iOS 8 too, where App Store results are returned in Spotlight searches. Granted we probably don’t want our employees downloading Minecraft on company time, but this is the general direction we want to go, no?

The problem is that today’s enterprise app store platforms don’t support this kind of functionality. But it’s probably a discussion you should be having with your vendor to see if this is even on their radar, let alone their product roadmap.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how this evolves. Please let me know in the comments how your organization is approaching this problem.

Glenn Gruber

Glenn Gruber is a Sr. Mobile Strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective, but also how to leverage mobile to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. Glenn has helped a wide range of enterprises on how to leverage mobile within their business including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a leading voice in the travel sector as a contributing Node to Tnooz where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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