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Mobile Apps, Mobile Mind?

Last night a young friend’s four-year-old sat on my lap playing on my iPad 2. His mother told me that they had discovered strange charges on their credit card. Yes, little Lyndon had downloaded some apps! They’ve since taught him to recognize the word ‘Free’ and said it’s OK to download apps that use that word apps in the App Store.

Information technology so simple a four-year-old can use it represents such a departure in the IT world I had grown used to until early 2008. I’ve spent a lot of time since then downloading and using mobile apps, a rejuvenating departure from working exclusively with more traditional homegrown and vendor ERPs since the early 80s. Compared to those systems, successful mobile design is out-of-the-box thinking on steroids! Mobile apps have surely rocked my world and taught me a lot! One of many fascinations of mobile is that it asks new things of us technologists and, in turn, the business units we serve.

If we’re going to build successful mobile apps ourselves, we’ll have to cross over to the parallel universe of the mobile mindset, a different mindset than the one that created our typical ERP. OK, all you shape shifters (or four-year-olds!) out there, here are a few important things I’ve observed that you might consider if you choose to cross over to the other side!

1.    Great mobile designs aren’t just ERPs on a mobile device. Just connecting your ERP to a mobile front end probably will NOT add up to goodness the way your end user sees it. End users might want an app that draws together some aspects of a few of your ERPs rather than all aspects of one.

2.    You and your business unit combined may not be the best ones to design your User Interface (UI). Mobile technology takes the point of view of the end user. The UI is the intoxicating elixir of mobile. Entertain having your end users do the design. You’ll be surprised what they come up with.

3.    Furthermore, your business unit’s objectives may not be on target with what their end users want. Checking the objectives with end users before you get started may alter the design significantly for the better.

4.    Great designs aren’t always expensive to come up with. Provisioning user design sessions using white boards, scraps of paper, crayons, and colored markers isn’t expensive -- the kind of activity Lyndon might enjoy! The greatest designs are often the simplest.

5.    Good mobile apps are often far more than functional. They can entertain, inform, add beauty, build loyalty, evoke feeling, engender appreciation, …. The list goes on. Good mobile creates value far beyond what you could in the past. 

6.    Challenge your institution to streamline policies and procedures to adapt to an influx of mobile capabilities. This is difficult and may not be welcome in some quarters. But many institutional policies and procedures developed 20-30 years ago need revision in an age when business units seek solutions from a rapidly changing smorgasbord of mobile options.

7.    When you encounter resistance, respectfully but firmly question where the resistors are coming from. What’s their point of view? Challenge givens, including your own. Fixed actions and emotions ordinarily spring from fixed beliefs about things, often rooted in experiences decades ago. Some people will react negatively to your advancing mobile technology – often from a fixed belief that has gone unexamined or an emotional reaction to something they’ve seen or heard. Encourage people to get to the core – to articulate their fear or thought process. What ‘can’t be done here’ may turn out to contain a latent opportunity with a little nudging.

Alternatively, just move on until you find an open mind to partner with you.

So far from my experience, a mobility of mind and freedom of action – the childlike freedom my young friend Lyndon exhibits – incubates successful mobile technology. Agility, creativity, freedom and freshness of thinking, applying information to new use cases, thinking beyond the boundaries of information silos, dreaming bigger, reaching out to new audiences, creating beauty – these are new things to strive for, new value to create.

Best wishes in your exciting endeavors!

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