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Business users shift multiple times a day between computers and mobile devices, so it’s not surprising that the winning business applications have figured out how to seamlessly blend the experiences by relying on persistent underlying data living in the cloud. There was a time when I thought mobile-only or Web-only would be effective in enterprise cloud applications, but increasingly I have seen adoption take off when the company has thoughtfully blended the two use cases.

Benefits of the blend

I’ve been working closely with Insightly for the last two years – Emergence Capital is an investor – and I have watched its usage take off over the last six months. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that signups and engagement exploded once the company rolled out substantial upgrades to its iOS and Android mobile apps. Until early 2014, the company was built primarily for Web users, and while Insightly offered a mobile app, it lacked many features and only a small percentage of customers used it. Today, the mobile apps are nearly at feature parity, resulting in a 53 percent increase in new users working seamlessly between the Web and mobile apps. This shift is also reflected in higher retention and Net Promoter Scores (NPS).

Last November, I had the opportunity to hear Stewart Butterfield, founder and CEO of Slack, speak at the Emergence Enterprise Mobile Forum, and I distinctly remember him discussing the importance of the “blend.” He commented that until they had a platform that worked on all devices and operating systems, Slack didn’t fully penetrate a company. But as soon as they covered it all – boom – Slack took over as the primary internal communications application.

“We knew we were going to live on both desktop and mobile,” Butterfield explained. “About 60 to 65 percent of our daily active users log in from the mobile app that day, but 99.8 percent … sign in on the desktop during the course of the day.”

Likewise, Cotap, a leading mobile messaging platform for business users (also an Emergence investment), found that usage and engagement dramatically increased once it added in a Web access point. Even though Cotap is primarily a mobile tool, its Web features positively impacted adoption and engagement.

Evernote and RelateIQ are other great examples of companies that figured out the blend – in my own use, I shift between the mobile and Web apps several times a day for both. The interfaces are quite different; in fact, there are aspects of the mobile app for each that I find easier to use, in spite of the small real estate. Evernote even creates specialized applications for each iPad version, and many users shift between phones, tablets and computers on a daily basis.

To create the right blend, cloud companies must incorporate these five elements:

1. Persistent, seamlessly synced data. This is inherent in cloud applications; data syncs both ways to eliminate dual data entry, improve workflows, and speed up productivity.

2. Different user interfaces (UI), each optimized for the platform. For example, mobile users might use the camera, microphone, and notifications far more than a Web app user, so the mobile UI should reflect that demand.

3. Feature parity for core features. This should be obvious but isn’t always. Customers won’t use a mobile app if the features they rely on aren’t available or don’t work as well as the Web application. According to Butterfield, although more than half of Slack users sign on to the mobile app each day, probably 90 percent of features on mobile don’t get used.

4. Consistent, continuous, upgrades on all platforms. This can be expensive, but it’s necessary in order to remain relevant.

5. An understanding of user preferences. Users look for mobile apps that offer the same functionality as the Web app, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use them in practice. Butterfield explained, “Communication and messaging is the primary use of Slack on mobile, but the ratio of reading to writing on mobile is, unsurprisingly, quite different because people don’t like typing [on mobile], so they may get a notification that someone sent a message, and they’ll open and read it, then they’ll remember to reply when they get back to their computer.”

Mobility is a constant in the modern workplace. Users who can move seamlessly between Web and mobile business applications are more productive and efficient. Web-only or mobile-only applications are quickly becoming increasingly rare as vendors learn to leverage the cloud to create an effective Web-to-mobile user experience. What’s more, companies that blend their mobile and web apps well will see increased adoption across platforms and a resulting positive impact on their bottom lines.

Alison Wagonfeld is Operating Partner at Emergence Capital.

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