How do you grow your internal mobile app portfolio to 112 different apps – and stay sane? Paul Lanzi, the mobile apps team manager for Genetech/Roche, spoke at the Gartner Catalyst conference this week in San Diego, where he shared some of his hard-earned experience and revelations.
Roche is one of the world's largest biotech companies with over 80,000 worldwide employees spread across 162 different countries. It has numerous drugs and other healthcare-related inventions to its credit.
You can see the splash screens and names of some of the company’s more popular mobile apps here, such as "Peeps" for the corporate personnel directory.
Lanzi set out to make Roche’s knowledge workers the best mobile-equipped workforce in biotech. They have more than 13,000 iPads, 10,000 iPhones, and 18,000 Blackberries at the moment. Half of their users have more than 55 apps, and some even have more than 300 apps on their devices. That is a lot to manage, to be sure.
So how did he get to 112 apps and counting? Here is his program.
Know your intentions
His driving force was the ability to execute his business process from end to end using a single app. That was a tall order, but the mobile apps team didn't get to that situation easily. Indeed, their first app (a SalesForce.com add-on) took them close to eight months to develop, with all the various infrastructure pieces, including security, middleware gateways, authentication, and identity management.
But once all this was in place, the second app took much less time. "Indeed, we were able to leverage 80% of the non SalesForce-related Web services that we built for the first app," Lanzi said.
COTS are for sleeping on
Genetech used a number of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, including their middleware solution, but for the most part developed their own code.
"Don't use COTS to sleep your way into your mobile strategy,” Lanzi said. “The way you need to differentiate your apps is to pull the data together for your business in one app, and you can't really do that with COTS."
Invest in your user experience design
There is a different between interface design and user experience. Make sure your developers know how to distinguish the two. Lanzi mentioned their early experience with their "On the Road" app that was documented as an example of what not to do.
Foster inter-department code sharing
Lanzi spoke about "fostering" the coding that was already developed for his apps so that others in the organization could more readily build their own apps. That "fostering" got other teams to think and develop mobile apps.
"Even if I could scale my team to three times its current size, I still could not meet the demand of all the mobile apps that my users want me to build," he said. So Lanzi put in place a series of common code libraries for his iOS native apps for functions such as jail break detection, identity management, and authentication, and gave these out to all of their internal developers. They are working on common HTML5 libraries and other Web services too.
Monitor constantly what your users are doing with your apps
"From the very first day you deploy your app you have to monitor what and how your users are doing with it, so you can make it better," Lanzi said. "If you build in the monitoring, you can do it for close to zero additional dollars.”
It’s important; don’t minimize it. “This isn't a job to outsource to some intern. Don't entrust the job of talking to your users to anyone other than yourself," he said.
Lanzi isn't talking about just seeing if the app is working, which you should do anyway, but what features are being used or not used.
And some of these results are surprising: "We put in a few last minute features that are being used by everyone in the Peeps app," Lanzi noted.
Don't forget about upgrades
"The day your mobile app goes out the door you will need to upgrade it,” Lanzi said. “You have to come up with your own upgrade strategy, and the app has to know when it is time to upgrade itself." Some apps require mandatory upgrades on the part of the company’s users, because of business logic changes or for regulatory reasons.
You may not have as many internally-developed apps in your app store as Genetech, but your apps will be better from following their principles. "We have no tolerance for bad apps around here," said Lanzi, and I would agree with him.