How to ensure your enterprise tablet app creates real value

November 28, 2011

The tablet is a disruptive innovation. But most of us haven’t yet figured out where the disruption—and resulting value creation—will occur. Put quite simply, we’ve not yet answered the question, “What will the tablet replace?”

The consumer calculus in evaluating whether to buy an iPad is simple: What utility does the iPad offer that my existing devices don’t? Today, not much. It can do a few things better and more elegantly. But a dearth of consumer-oriented tablet software means buying a tablet today is far more vanity than necessity.

For businesses, the calculus is a bit more nuanced: What’s the ROI on the hardware and software investment? What’s the competition doing? What’s the replacement cycle on our existing hardware? Above all: How is this device + software going to create—rather than redistribute—value for our organization?

Most companies don’t have great answers for this. The reason is that there aren’t a lot of business-specific applications that harness the tablet’s unique attributes. So what are those attributes, and by extension, what must a tablet app do to take advantage of them?

We at StoryDesk have developed a framework to evaluate the utility of a tablet app. It’s reflective of what, in our view, separates the tablet from other devices. Further, it helps ensure that we’re creating value for our clients rather than just shifting it.

In our view, successful tablet applications tick the following boxes (at a minimum):

  1. Interactive. This means that the app responds to user activity or choices in a way that satisfies the user’s specific needs or goal. That’s a bit abstract, so let’s use an example. A restaurant menu is a list of food. It doesn’t move or change or respond. A restaurant menu on an iPad might let you tap on an item and see photos of a dish. If this piques your interest it might let you watch a video of its preparation. If your interest sustains, it might let you see the recipe and share it with a friend. The static menu doesn’t respond to your selections. The iPad app lets you travel deeper and deeper into the information without getting lost. That makes it interactive.
  2. Transactional. We define transactional in broad terms. Put simply, to be transactional the app must “close the loop” with respect to the desired business outcome. That can mean a purchase; it can just as easily mean user data/analytics that help target messaging or capture a lead. The iPad is a bi-directional wireless communications device. We must take full advantage of this capability to be more effective about whatever it is we intend to accomplish.
  3. Mobile. It’s a lot easier to pull a tablet out of a bag and start working than it is to do the same with a laptop. Always on and always connected means that an app can be used to perform quick, discrete tasks on the go. The tablet’s size and form factor lend itself to computing in situations where a traditional device would be unmanageable. Mobility creates new occasions for computing.

The sum of points 1-3 must show demonstrable value. Ultimately, a successful tablet app does stuff that can’t be done, or is done poorly, on existing platforms. Once this is achieved, repeatedly, we’ll have a much better sense of what categories this device will disrupt and where the value will accrue.


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