The importance of a planned app strategy for your business

A tangled and messy app strategy is asking for trouble

Given everything I have said in previous columns about bringing home technology to the workplace, there is a danger I'm about to contradict myself. Still, blame it on my family.

In the Chadha household there's always things going on – last minute shopping, holidays to arrange, parents and grandparents to talk to. It's a bit like running a business and, like any successful organisation, communication is critical. For the kids, it's crucial they have 'own time' to talk to each other, or friends, without parental interference. But it's equally important the whole gang talks together so we all know what's going on.

As a family, we're pretty tech-savvy and apps are a big deal for us. The downside is that every birthday I'm bombarded with best wishes via Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, LinkedIn, SMS, email, phone calls and even a couple of cards through the letterbox (yes, people still send these).

Whatsapp transformation

But one app in particular has transformed our family life – Whatsapp. We use it for everything from private conversations and family discussions (when one or more of us is away), to shopping lists and holiday planning. We also use the Apple Find Friends app, so we know where the kids are at any time. No, it's not spying – they can turn it off if they wish, but they appreciate the safety aspect without the "where are you?" phone calls.

So how does this translate to the business world, given my previous gripes about CEOs expecting domestic apps to be appropriate for their organisations? Well, it's the principle of thinking creatively about the workforce and the way it communicates.

There are still many companies that use intranets and extranets but, in a smartphone world, their roles are being restricted, accelerated by the cloud and the need for collaborative tools. Often intranet content is out of date or just plain dull and rarely interactive. I'm not suggesting Whatsapp as a business tool, but the principle is about making company communications engaging, exciting and relevant to the way people choose to work.

Don't rush into things

There are a myriad of tools available, but before rushing out to download the latest plug-and-play app and making it compulsory across the business, find out what's already being used. There may be a couple of perfectly good candidates for company-wide adoption if they're appropriate, people like them and use them regularly.

Questions to consider are: can they handle rich media, projects and workflow and is the info automatically captured – for example Google Docs' instant save facility. While some apps will emphasise real-time chat, and others workflow or project management, most of the big tools – such as Yammer, Huddle, Zoho, Podio and Google+ For Enterprise – have a bit of everything.

The important thing is that all of these systems are real-time.

In the same way as locating my children, organisations also are using mapping apps to monitor their grown-up field-based workforce, particularly for safety in conflict zones. But, as with my kids, it's essential that staff retain the right to switch off the app and that the expectation of 'always-on' is carefully managed.

App tangle

I recently worked with a rapidly growing client, with operations in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, which used 21 different systems including Skype and Yahoo, not to mention two separate email systems. Many of these were being used for the same tasks and often in parallel by the same department.

The trick is to develop a strategy that examines all elements of functionality and sets these alongside business communication needs. Once a single, or small group of apps is identified, planning should focus on ensuring central control of groups, message boards and collaborative tools, but should also allow freedom for local communication – the corporate equivalent of 'own time'.

For many larger organisations this model is becoming de facto. For example, in the US, LA Fitness uses Microsoft Lync, shopping centre giant Westfield cites Yammer, and O2 has bought into the Chatter plugin for CRM system Salesforce. To consolidate the 21 systems of our growing client, the DrPete team used a combination of the Zoho suite and Sharepoint (for the more static data).

Careful planning

Whatever app strategy is decided upon, it has to be carefully planned and integrated, requiring buy-in across the business. By making them indispensable, there is less likelihood of individuals running 'shadow' systems because they don't like the suggested app.

Without entering this brave new world, commercial and communication failure is definitely an option and a dysfunctional business 'family' is highly likely.

  • Dr Peter Chadha is Managing Director of DrPete Inc and