Now that it has become easy to create mobile applications, there’s a trend in enterprises to create lots of small apps – one for each department and each business process seems to be the norm. The hope was to avoid bloated mobile apps with an unpleasant user experience by breaking apps apart into smaller units that address a narrower set of tasks – so-called “micro apps.” The resulting proliferation of such micro apps, unfortunately, has completely missed the mark in achieving the goal of making life simpler for the average enterprise user. This is in large part due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how people use their devices.
Users don’t want a folder of 10 different applications (that they had to painstakingly download one-by-one) just to write a proposal, share it with their team and set up a meeting to review it. In this scenario, they should really only need a maximum of two applications: one to write their proposal and one to setup a meeting. Everything else should be a micro app – and here comes the key part – embedded within these two applications. Apple’s integration between its core OS-level apps is a key example. Take a look at Contacts – it’s a standalone application with all the features needed to manage and maintain a contact directory that could easily hit 10,000+ contacts. But most users never even open this application. Users can create, edit and use contacts directly from other OS-level apps they use more such as Messages, Phone and Calendar. This is the ideal experience enterprises should follow when building applications for their employees.
Enterprise companies need to think of micro apps as components to integrate and interweave in a single installable application to fulfil workstream-level needs for employees. The end goal should be to deliver full-scale competitive applications that enable a user to be more effective and more productive, incentivizing them to use these applications instead of other apps that are not guaranteed to follow security requirements. But like everything in this decade, they need to do this quickly in a cost-effective manner without starting each application from scratch. Micro apps offer the perfect balance: enterprises can build dozens of niche solutions, from backend services all the way to a crafted front-end UI, and integrate them together to build full-scale solutions for their users as they would think of doing with micro services.
After an employee finishes writing their proposal, what would they need to schedule their meeting? First, they need a directory micro app to invite team members to the meeting. This would integrate with a busy/free micro app so the meeting doesn’t double-book anyone’s calendar. Since it’s most productive to project the proposal during the meeting, the employee needs a micro app to reserve a projector and video conferencing equipment to connect with their manager who’s traveling. Finally, a micro app can be used for the outgoing email invitation to everyone invited to the meeting. The directory and email micro apps could both be reused by the application this employee used to write their proposal when they shared it.
By building each of these as micro apps, the IT team can architect each application and its integrations adhering to their security standards. Ideally, these micro apps would be containerized to guarantee these standards cannot be modified and expose micro services for integration with the other micro apps. For companies that have mobility management policies in place (if you don’t, you need them), these micro apps should be developed to adhere to these policies as well. In fact, enterprise mobility management vendors would be in a unique position to offer these micro apps at scale as most already have app solutions and SDKs for their customers. After building say a dozen of these micro apps to IT standards, the next full application in development may already be 50% complete on the first day of development. This development cycle, and in turn the output of productivity tools built for employees, would continue accelerating over time. IT teams could then focus on improving these micro apps as they learn more about the tools their employees are using.
It’s clear from application usage data that we’re already drowning in too many apps. If companies don’t want to undo the traction mobile has been getting in the enterprise, it’s time to be smarter about crafting and assembling applications. Micro apps, evolved and used correctly, might be what solves this issue.
Gal Oppenheimer is Senior Product Manager at Built.io, which helps enterprises deploy and integrate apps across mobile, web and IoT.