App Developers Balance Ease of Use, Enterprise Needs

Do you design for ease of use or to make life easier for enterprise IT? Trying to balance those two potential customer needs is a balancing act that any mobile app or service developer needs to consider, according to leading BYOD developers who spoke Thursday at the Business Insider Ignition Mobile conference in San Francisco.

Though the apps represented on the panel discussion are all consumer-friendly -- Evernote, Box, DropBox and Workday -- the execs from all the companies agreed that enterprise IT has valid needs and requirements, like easier manageability and better security, as well as integration with Microsoft Windows. But almost all the developers also agreed that they weren't going to make corporate IT desires the dominant part of their design strategy; instead, end user ease of use has to come first, to make sure people will actually use the product in question.

If software developers did everything that IT directors want, said Dave Engberg, CTO of Evernote, the resulting product "tends to be an unusable piece of crap." 

Engberg, like others on the panel, much prefers the new style of corporate engagement, where Evernote engages with enterprises whose employees are already using Evernote.

"It's a weird dynamic," Engberg said. "We come in and 20 percent of the company is using Evernote. Then IT needs to decide whether to block us or sanction us."

Getting the enterprise IT sanction, of course, can lead to the big-number sales that can significantly boost a software or a service's bottom line. Box COO Dan Levin talked of "CIOs in Kansas City" who wouldn't even consider software that didn't interact with Microsoft Windows. For deals in tens of thousands of seats, Levin said, there needs to be assurances about security, privacy, and integration with Microsoft Active Directory. Box and DropBox have both made noise recently about adding more enterprise controls, in order to help snag those big-number deals.

But yet Levin also said that "the top-down world [of IT department leadership] is done. BYOD is here to stay."

So if there is a fine balance, odds are that developers will err on the side of usability first, management later.

"It feels like we're at the end of the feature checklist," said Sujay Jaswa, VP of sales and business development for DropBox, meaning the sometimes-long list of features needed before IT would approve an app or service. "It's now all about making software for people."

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