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What enterprise software developers can learn from consumer apps

Michael Nadeau | Feb. 2, 2017
With employees frustrated by complex, confusing enterprise apps, companies have been taking cues from consumer world and mobile-first development approach to eliminate paperwork and bolster ROI.

Fernandes says that his team had two objectives when developing the app. First, it had to be accessible to students. Second was to fail quickly and figure out the pain points of using the app. They needed to ensure that advisors got the information when they needed it and that the app integrated well and presented student data in the tools that other stakeholders already used.

"Faculty want to teach and do research," Fernandes says. "They don't want to interact with another system."

USF took a methodical approach to assessing how it would develop the app. It first considered custom development, but decided to go with the Appian platform in part due to reduced costs from being able to develop faster. The team was surprised to find that the project did not turn out to be especially difficult.

"A lot of things were not complex to develop," Fernandes says. "It was mostly integrating data and automating the process."

An eye toward development culture

Fernandes' team also looked at the university's culture and how it developed applications. This was important because they knew this project would not be a one-off, and they wanted a platform and approach that worked in their environment and allowed them to "make sure [an app] works and then go to the next app," Fernandes says.

One of those next apps helps medical students sign up for the lottery process for the hospitals where they conduct their residencies. Med students must enter multiple criteria and preferences, and then their forms are routed to various locations. The new app has cut the time to complete the process from three months to a few weeks, according to Fernandes.

Further down the road, Fernandes sees his team building apps to take advantage of the internet of things (IoT). For example, washers and dryers on campus might alert students when they become available or have finished with their laundry. Fernandes also sees opportunities for mining and analyzing the data generated by students using apps to help advisors and faculty become more effective.

For higher education, one of the most important performance metrics is student completion rate, or the percentage of students who graduate. While it's too early to know for certain if USF's app is improving completion rates, Fernandes says that anecdotal evidence suggests that it is helping. Use of USF's app makes it easier for students to sign up for assistance, and in the future, Fernandes hopes to apply predictive analytics to flag students who might need help before they get too deeply in trouble.

Fernandes has this suggestion for anyone developing enterprise apps: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. [The idea of an app] is that you don't train students. Make it simple, useable and absolutely secure."


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