Low-cost IT experiment No. 3: Mobile apps
The smartphone is now the dominant platform for roving users, and a well-tuned smartphone app can be both an advertisement and a real service to customers and end-users.
Creating smartphone apps, however, can be a headache. The demand for experienced mobile app developers is high, and some manufacturers, like Apple, are increasingly picky about what they allow on their devices.
A simple solution is to build a mobile-ready Website. Basic frameworks such as jQTouch make it easy to put together a site that displays information on Webkit browsers, such as those in use on iPhone and Android devices. All it takes is rewriting some HTML, and users will be able to search through your data conveniently on their phones.
This Web approach works well with APIs and doesn't require manufacturer approval of the content or the app. The user simply creates a bookmark to your smartphone Web page and the content does the rest. The jQTouch framework, for instance, lets you specify an icon that will appear on the user's phone just like an app from the app store. People who use their phone to visit your Web page can store the bookmark with this icon on their front page. It's another channel for distributing apps.
This approach will reward some businesses more than others. If your workers are on the go, then easy access to the company's Website from a smartphone will be popular. The key is to identify the data and transactions that matter most to these workers or to knowledge workers who frequently work away from their desks. Small-screen UI design is tricky, so it makes little sense to offer much beyond the most essential options.
In many cases, the IT department may not know what transactions are the best targets for the company's users. It may be valuable to confer with the sales force and business development team to help establish a game plan for exposing the appropriate data and services to users once you get your smartphone-friendly prototype in place.
Check out low-risk IT experiment No. 4: Geocoding