Study: App Consumerization Drives User Experience, Customization Push

As consumers adopt more and more applications, it is changing the business model for developers and solution providers and creating opportunity for those who can keep pace with the changing landscape, a new CSC study released Monday said.

The experience of the app and its functionality are now tied together, the study said, which presents a challenge for developers to create more visually appealing and intuitive apps for end users.

"The speed, simplicity and appeal of the app experience may have started as smartphone and consumer phenomena, but this is now the model for how information systems will be built and used in the future. The digital economy is no longer just out there on the web; it is literally in the palm of your hand," the study said.

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Developers, the study said, should now take engagement, context, modalities and design into consideration. As more apps flood the marketplace, developers face heightened stakes to increase the personalization and user-friendliness of their apps, said CSC CTO Dan Hushon in an interview with CRN about how the study will affect the channel. He gave the example of an estimate of 10,000 calendar apps on the Google and Apple stores, and how the increased amount of consumer choice means that developers must work even harder to distinguish themselves.

"The bigger piece is all of this opportunity to do things differently is going to create a shift in the economics. ... It's going to be a little less about the infrastructure and a little more about the software, which is kind of the new brains and brawn of the transformation," Hushon said. "It's incredibly healthy. What we see is innovation in user experience is actually driving some of the next wave; ... it's actually going to make it more interesting and native to interact with information."

Hushon said gone are the days of a "chunky [app] with a billion tabs across the top" that is designed for everyone. Without choice, he said, there was massive app complexity. Now, more developers are working on micro applications, customized for each company or even each end user.

With that comes an increased focus on the physical appearance of the app and its visual appeal, he said.

"What we're now seeing, and I joked about this at a recent tech team meeting, but when's the last time that you actually put a graphic designer on an application team as an enterprise?" Hushon said.

NEXT: The Move Away From Functionality Toward User Experience

Engineers don't usually build very good front-end systems, CSC's Hushon said, joking that you wouldn't hire an engineer to be your interior designer.

"We're starting to see the back-end systems peel away from the front-end user experience," Hushon said.

Hushon said CSC has a whole team of user experience staff members who mock up traditional design and then translates them into HTML and style sheets. The shift has been enhanced by the move to the Web and mobile model, he said, and it is part of what's driving the decline in the PC shipment market because people don't want to use their old PC when their mobile devices work fine.

Allan Thorvaldsen, CEO of Panorama9, said in an email to CRN that the growth in cloud makes it much easier to shift from focusing strictly on functionality to concentrating instead on smoother user experience. Doing so, he said, has helped companies such as Salesforce, Zendesk and Dropbox really distinguish themselves in the field.

Thorvaldsen said Panorama 9 always looks for "constant and never-ending improvement" through feedback on its products to improve the user experience and has hired internal designers and user interface developers. He said it all comes down to one thing: test, test, test.

"We constantly test our user interface. We're always asking ourselves if we can eliminate anything (buttons, pictures, tabs, text, etc.) on our app and website dashboard. Furthermore, our biggest asset to producing simple product is hiring developers who design as well as program," Thorvaldsen wrote in the email.

The challenge with all of this becomes a shrinking target market for channel players that don't change their approach, Hushon said. The key going forward for the channel, he said, is to stay on top of the game. One way to do that, he said, is for become partners to become their own "customer zero" to fully understand the product and where to improve it.

"I think there's more opportunity now than ever, but I think that its shifting," Hushon said. "There are going to be brand new companies that the channel is going to want to engage with that are better at the new style networks than the old style networks."