The New Work World and the Apps That Will Define It

31 Oct 2016 by Technomics

In a world defined by applications, the effect they have on the workforce has been greater than we ever imagined. Join BlueMetal’s Matt Jackson, an app development expert, as he discusses what has led to our mobile app explosion, what workers expect and how businesses can meet — and even stay ahead of — expectations.

Note: Complete audio transcript found after author info.

Headshot of Matt Jackson

Matt Jackson

As national general manager of BlueMetal, Matt leads an innovative team of expert consultants to help clients define and build solutions for the most complex business and technical problems in the marketplace.

Audio transcript:

Episode 4 - The New Work Wold and the Apps That Will Define It

Published October 31, 2016


Announcer: You're listening Technomics. Connecting you to insights on digital transformation and the marketplace, with your hosts: Robyn Itule and Jeremy Nelson. The hosts' opinions are their own. Enjoy the show!

Robyn Itule: Jeremy where have you been.

Jeremy Nelson: Where haven't I been I think is a better conversation. Unfortunately the answer is here.

Robyn Itule: You have been out on a lot of client calls lately and I applaud your support.

Jeremy Nelson: I have, we love our clients.

Robyn Itule: We do.

Jeremy Nelson: That requires some time.

Robyn Itule: But it’s also really fun to get to be face to face with them.

Jeremy Nelson: Oh absolutely. Of all places I like to be, it’s with our clients helping to make sure they get what they need.

Robyn Itule: And you have lots of ways to connect with them. Even if you're not face to face I presume.

Jeremy Nelson: Oh absolutely. In fact some of the projects we're doing right now and that have required me to be absent have been around enabling clients to communicate more effectively from where they are without having to fly all over the country. Which is something that I'm sure, they just want you face to face. I can't say that I blame them.

Jeremy Nelson: Well I mean, I can't either.

Robyn Itule: While you were out, I got to have a really great conversation with Matt Jackson who is part of the BlueMetal team. And we were talking about applications in the workplace. What was really interesting for me was this idea that so much of what they are working on and developing right now, the impetus for it isn't coming from the enterprise, its coming from the consumer space. So things like Pokemon Go are really starting to reshape the way that enterprise IT are thinking about their applications.

Jeremy Nelson: That's fantastic, well it’s not fantastic I missed it. But what a great conversation. I as a frequent subscriber to launching Pokemon Go on my phone, I can definitely see the business implications there.

Robyn Itule: Have you captured any in the office?

Jeremy Nelson: I've captured quite a few in the office.

Robyn Itule: Any like real zingers?

Jeremy Nelson: No, it’s the typical Pokemon fare. Most of it is airports. That's where I've really got my good ones.

Robyn Itule: Which sounds like you've collected quite a few.

Jeremy Nelson: I have, more than I should probably admit to.

Robyn Itule: Well you got to catch them all. Coming up next, we are going to have a great conversation with Matt Jackson and we might talk about Pokemon Go again.


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Robyn Itule: Alright without further ado, let's dive into our interview with Matt Jackson, director of services and part of our BlueMetal team. Matt, welcome to Technomics.

Matt Jackson: Thank you, looking forward to it.

Robyn Itule: Awesome, so this season we're talking about workforce enablement, so it’s all the things that revolve around the universe of our works lives. And today we're really trying to pin down what are the applications that are going to drive us into the future and help businesses like ours and other companies run smarter. So without really taking any more time to really get to the heart of this, what is the biggest contributor to growth and use of apps in the workplace?

Matt Jackson: Yeah I think it’s just a total demographic and expectation shift among modern workforce and modern employees. If you think about their personal lives, the advancements in technology with mobile devices and the app model, but then also just a shift in work life balance. People working remotely, people not necessarily tied to a desk in an office, and all those things come together and create an expectation of a modern employee that they're going to be able to access systems, access company data, and perform work activities wherever they are and whenever they need to do it.

Robyn Itule: I think there is a case for saying that a lot of those enterprise applications offer some pretty lofty goals in their ability to help people who like you who are fairly mobile in their day to day jobs increase their productivity or feel empowered to create that better customer experience or facilitate collaboration. Do you think that the enterprise app universe is living up to it right now.

Matt Jackson: I mean it’s definitely behind the consumer space. I think software manufactures, ISVs, that really target consumers are much further ahead of the curve. But that's actually lead to that expectation within the workforce. So people see it in their personal lives and any type of thing that used to be a website. Whether you're buying clothes online or paying your bills is now an app. And you get very used to task based applications to get your personal work done. You expect that when you come to your job. And so when I think about the applications that we build for our clients. The expectation there is that the employers are going to be providing tools that the employees can use to be more productive, just like they are in their home lives. And that's really driven our growth. If you think about where we've come in the last few years, two major developments have happened. One, the app model. So moving away from just at your desk terminal to using responsive web applications or native applications. And then the cloud. So it’s not just about getting a tool into the hands of an employee. And I think the data's there and I think the explosion, not just in use of the cloud but in trust of the cloud, has really allowed us to help our clients move their enterprise data up to an area where its more accessible to those mobile users. So the enterprise, to answer your question directly, the enterprise is a few years behind the consumer space. But I think that that's driven the growth that we've seen and they're rapidly catching up.

Robyn Itule: I mean regardless of whether we're talking about the apps that we're using in our personal life or the apps that we're using when we come into the office, there is a pretty robust library that is out there. So if you're a company who is really starting to build out what that application library looks like, where do you start and what should it include?

Matt Jackson: I mean that's a great question and it hints at a further layer here. On one hand, you want to make it easy. If a company had the company app and it could provide all of the enterprise services that an employee may need, it would be easier to find on a device that already has dozens or hundreds of apps. But that's not what users are used to. They're used to opening an app that does a specific task. So I think when we're working with clients, its finding that right balance of do you start to introduce individual applications? I think for Insight I've probably got 10 or 12 apps on my phone. Some for travel, some for collaboration, email etc. Or do you try to maybe make a more comprehensive app. If I travel I don't go to the Jet Blue ticket app, and the Jet Blue travel app, and the Jet Blue reservations app, I go to the Jet Blue app right? And so in that sense they've made it easy to find all of the functionality. So to boil it down, I think what we see more is that your relationship with your employer, with your workforce, with your teammates is such a pervasive part of your life that encompassing that all in one blanket application is a bad user experience. And really to satisfy the needs of all the different ways that you may need to work remotely or work through applications. Chunking it into individual apps allows you to do two things. One create dedicated experiences for what you're trying to do. So you might have a collaboration app for sharing documents or information. You might have an expense app for filing expenses and receipts. You might have obviously an email app. Or you might have a legitimate enterprise app and we'll probably talk about that a little later in the conversation. The other thing that it allows you to do though and I think this gets to the other part of your question is where does an enterprise start? And by chunking it out into individual task based applications, it makes it much easier to capture some low hanging fruit. Whether that's purchasing an app that's already out there, that you can then adapt for your workforce, or by building one natively. You can start small and start to introduce functionality over time rather than trying to boil the ocean on day one.

Robyn Itule: I really, really thought that you were going to kick that section off by saying your relationship with your mobile device. Which would actually be the most appropriate segway for my follow up question which is: how are the apps that we are using personally influencing business apps and what features do you anticipate we're going to start to see in those applications that are really emerging in that consumer space right now that you indicated really does really have the bleeding edge.

Matt Jackson: Yeah absolutely and there's many factors that play there. But I think one of the things is that just creating an amazing user experience. I think if you turn the clock back a few years, a lot of companies and maybe less so on the consumer space, but a lot of companies were building just responsive web applications. Which have their purpose. They're great for if you're working on your laptop and you need to transition to your tablet or something like that. But it’s not a great experience on a smaller device. So if you're using your phone or even maybe a watch, they don't translate very well. So I think that the consumer apps have really raised the bar for the user experience expectations and it can be little things. It can be brand, it’s no longer acceptable to throw up a greyscale or black and white interface on an app.

Robyn Itule: Throw up is the exact right way to describe something like that graphically.

Matt Jackson: Yeah that's your reaction to it. But you're really looking for something that's branded, something that's beautiful, something where you don't have to click through ten levels of menus to get to the activity that you want. And we're partners with a number of different mobile platform providers. But I just think take the IOS, the native platform experience that's capable if you're building apps on IOS. And there is guidelines. And as a partner with Apple, our team needs to go through strict training, and there's standards that we need to follow when we design apps. And those are driven by tremendous amounts of user research and making sure that the applications that are out there are consistent, are beautiful, are easy to use. And the Facebooks and the Twitters of the world are spending inordinate amount of time thinking about that user experience. The benefit to an enterprise, a company's not going to be able to invest as much in that. But by following some of these standards, by working with a firm like Insight and the BlueMetal team, you're going to get the benefit of those years of experience and the adherence to those best practices in your enterprise app. So I think just that consistent beautiful easy user experience is the bar that's been set.

Robyn Itule: Exactly how far down the road is it going to be before you see this real like game theory approach to enterprise applications. When is going to be the tipping point where we see like the Pokemon Go, gotta catch 'em all approach to like doing your expenses in Concur.

Matt Jackson: Yeah we laugh about it but actually we got a call a few weeks ago from a past client that is building, it’s an ISV, but they build enterprise software and they had an idea to gameify, its basically identifying resources. So if you're a field worker and you're out in the field, and you're trying to identify a resource, and it can be specified for different companies, but we build applications for the insurance industry, for the communications industry, where they've got to be out there inspecting locations, doing an appraisal. If there's an accident, going and doing an evaluation of the impact. And so, thinking about that where you're blending real world with an augmented reality, there's actually some great use cases for that in the enterprise. And so we got a call right after Pokemon took off saying, "Hey, I need to launch V2 of this app, we need to do augmented reality. I want to gamify some of this stuff." Now gamification can mean many different things. It’s not just augmented reality. So I think if it’s the expense reports, maybe you get points and you get a bonus at the end of the month if you're the quickest to get your expenses in on time. So I think there's plenty of ways that you can look at that. I think if anything, just creating more immersive experiences. I think the Pokemon thing is fun because it is competitive. But also because you get to enter this alternate reality. And we look things like Hololens and the work that we're doing in that space with customers that want to create these super immersive experiences. Some of its gamification, some of its virtual reality. But I do think you're already starting to see that bleed its way into the enterprise space.

Robyn Itule: It'll be fun. I'm sure there's going to be some great stories about things that have gone really well with that and other ones that have just gone so sideways, all you can do is laugh.

Matt Jackson: Yes absolutely.

Robyn Itule: We need to take a short break so let's come back right after this.


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Robyn Itule: You mentioned a few minutes ago one thing that got me thinking more about cloud. I mean cloud is such a big, big, big conversation and everybody's trying to figure out how they can create that access and you mentioned trust with cloud which I think is one of the major things around adoption. So as it pertains to cloud applications or more workplace enterprise apps, what are the pros and cons in each of those categories. Is there something big that leads people to the cloud or something big that keeps them in their own space?

Matt Jackson: Yeah I mean yes and no. I mean from our perspective, we work with a lot of regulated industries. So healthcare, financial services, government, defense, and understanding their unique needs is really important. So partnering with a firm like Insight and BlueMetal, we have the benefit of years of experience understanding the regulations in those industries and what's important right? We were one of the first, actually I think we were probably the first in the country working with a local health systems, Stewart Healthcare to meet meaningful use criteria by deploying, and I'll explain what that is, but deploying a patient provider portal in the cloud. So this was part of a big push by part of Medicare reform to improve people's awareness of their health record. That's what meaningful use is trying to drive in this case. And so there was a requirement for health systems to get patients, after they have an encounter, they go to their doctor, they see a specialist, to be able to log in after the fact and see all the notes. And then to be able to aggregate that across multiple visits so they can see a comprehensive list of all their medications. Or the history of maybe an illness that they're managing. And so there was a big driver there, a financial incentive from the government and health insurers, to get this up quick. And so we worked with Steward Healthcare and just understanding the complexities of a hospital or a health system. We understood that getting it to the cloud was going to be the fastest way to market. But that was going to be a huge hurdle to put billions of records, personable identifiable health information in the cloud. It required very advanced understanding of security and identity management, threat detection, encryption, multiple layers of encryption, so I don't want to scare people away but I do want to recognize that there is a real concern there when you're putting health information, financial information, defense information. But other people are doing it and I think that was kind of the turning point is seeing that the early adopters were out there and it was safe. And when you actually boil it down it makes a lot of sense. And we've worked with clients who've luckily not for our sake, or by our doing, but historically have had large data breaches. And you can almost go one by one and realize the data breaches were caused by some mishandling of information or credentials within their own data centers or their own networks. And the companies like Microsoft or AWS or some of the other cloud providers are spending billions of dollars on security. That's one of their top focuses. Whereas every individual enterprise cannot spend billions of dollars on security. So I think there's a mind shift among technology leaders in enterprise, CIOs, CTOs, that the cloud is potentially a safer place to put your confidential data as long as you do it right and you follow best practices, than leaving it in your own data center. And then if there's a breach, if your data gets stolen, quite frankly that's Microsoft's problem, let's say if it’s in Azure. It’s not necessarily your liability. So I think there's been this shift over the last say three or four years to say, "You know what, rather than worry about all of these breeches and these threats on our own, let’s work with a cloud provider that spends billions of dollars and thousands of person hours really thinking about how to protect data." And then I'd say the other kind of lead into that is so many companies have moved into online productivity tools like Office 365. They don't want to manage Exchange, they don't want to manage AD [assumed], they don't want to manage Sharepoint, and for some reason, they were very comfortable moving those tools online. Maybe because they were brands that they understood Exchange, Sharepoint, AD. But we worked with for example, financial services firms that would say, "Hey we're never going to put our data in the cloud." And we'd say, "Well you realize last year you put all your email in the cloud. And that has all the same sensitive data that your enterprise systems have. So what's the holdup?" And the light bulb goes off and they say, oh yeah if all of our email is up in Azure effectively through Office 365, its probably safe to put some of our portfolio data up there as well.

Robyn Itule: And it all does come down to trust. As soon as somebody sees an example of it working well, then you're really off to the races. So great example there showcasing how a sensitive industry like healthcare can really take advantage of providers who are offering like you said that focus, billions of dollars, hundreds and thousands of man hours to make sure that they're going really deep in an area to be really effective and efficient and secure. That's got to be just a table stakes consideration for anybody looking to make development in this area. But there are some areas that we're never going to get to just because it’s not the core focus of what a particular business is doing and that's where some of the bigger challenges that IT faces like collaboration apps and other efficiency applications that employees are using on their own but without the permission of IT. So how do you get a handle on shadow IT with respect to some of these materials, and how do you start to mitigate the risk.

Matt Jackson: I mean yeah, you're absolutely right and if you think about how people use their phone and what they're doing and tools like DropBox and other non-enterprise approved collaboration tools. It is a challenge and I think there is an educational component. I think there are tools, there is mobile device management tools and Insight provides a lot of help with enterprises around how to manage that. But ultimately, my philosophy is you need to make it easier for them to use the enterprise tools than it is for them to use the consumer tools. So building applications, for example we use an amazing, I've mentioned it a couple times, but expense management tool at Insight. So that when I'm on the road, it’s easier to just open up an app and take a snapshot of my receipt than it is to put my receipt in my wallet, take it back to the office, scan it in and add it to my expense report. So in that sense, that's not highly confidential information, but in that sense, it’s much easier for me to upload it via an app and dispose of it before it could ever escape, than it is for me to carry it along and potentially lose it. And I think if you apply that same philosophy to enterprise data, you've got to give your employees tools. For example, take OneDrive. So OneDrive is tied to Office 365, you can put security policies on there, you can put digital rights management on there. You can map drives right from your laptop or your phone. It’s just as easy or easier than DropBox. And DropBox has enterprise solutions as well but just to compare those two. But if you're putting employee information or account information up in DropBox to share with colleagues, there is a huge risk there. If you deploy a tool that is not only as easy to use but an integrated in with your security systems and integrated in with your other tools, then you're actually providing your employees with a solution that's easier than the consumer solution and so they're going to gravitate towards that. And I think if you extend that towards all the areas where you're potentially leaking confidential information, you'd find that an investment in a really good mobile experience, a really good cloud experience, can actually mitigate that risk.

Robyn Itule: Such an important point about making those applications even easier to use than what is commercially available. I actually happened to overhear a part of a conversation today with respect to HR management and recruiting and getting recs approved. And the comment was, "You know, it’s actually easier to do this on the mobile application than it is on the desktop site." And I laughed a little bit to myself knowing that I would be able to use that little anecdote in just a couple of hours. But to me, I put myself in the shoes of a working professional and there's a number of places where I feel like there are gaps. And one of them is productivity. I personally lean on applications like Trello and Todoist to help me organize myself. So if I may opine for a minute, I think that there's some thought that needs to be put into ease of use still. And the other thing that's always near and dear to me is thinking about how do you brand these solutions because to me that's the other major gap that exists here is. You bring people into an experience that just feels foreign because it’s not the same look, feel, color, voice, tone, and approach. It’s almost like you have to have applications that really fit in to the culture of the business.

Matt Jackson: Yeah and I mean Trello is a good example, we use that quite a bit. And there's a little bit of a mind shift here too. Maybe to contradict everything we've said, maybe there's a place for consumer apps in the enterprise. You think about a Trello or there's a suite of project management tools out there, cloud based that are exceptional. And we use those to manage our projects. We didn't build an application to manage our projects. But I will say we have an enterprise account. And so we manage people's access to that. We've done some due diligence to understand that they have a good security model, that we're not going to leak our data. That other tenets aren't going to be able to see our project information. So I think that there is a due diligence responsibility on the IT side to say, "Hey, there may be a suite of consumer-ish apps or maybe they're just public apps that are targeted towards the enterprise, that are appropriate and have a role within our organization." And again, that can actually improve the user experience, they're seeing that an organization is open to adopting a leading edge. And I think Salesforce is probably the best example and you know Microsoft has a good tool with CRM. But you know with Salesforce now part of the family, I think that there's, or part of what you see in enterprises. There is a general acceptance of that being a core enterprise application even though it’s not hosted in the data center. I think one of the key things though to improve that user experience and improve security is thinking about identity. So brand is a big part of a cohesive user experience. But identity is maybe a subtle and more technical part of it, but it’s just as important. So understanding there's a lot of tools, we do these types of projects all the time, but understanding how you can create an experience. Whether somebody's in the office or whether they're working from home or the road, being able to log in once and access a suite of tools makes the accessibility and user experience so much better. The likely hood that if you decide as an enterprise to use Salesforce, it’s a lot easier and Salesforce supports it to federate your identity. So they log into their laptop when they sit down, or on their mobile app on their phone and they log in once and they can access all those resources. So identity, we haven't talked about it yet but when you're thinking about these suites of applications or apps that are hosted on the phone or tablet, or you want to be able to get them on your laptop or the phone, having a consistent ID, a consistent login, once secure password, not 100 passwords that are written on sticky notes on your desk is a huge improvement in both the experience and also the security of those systems.

Robyn Itule: There is a very long list of application discussions we could get into. About a bazillion, that's an accurate number.

Matt Jackson: Yeah, exactly a bazillion.

Robyn Itule: Examples that we could be drawing inspiration from and arm chair quarter backing a little bit on their effectiveness. But for somebody who is looking at adding to that library of applications to help develop their workforce in terms of productivity, collaboration, other functionality with travel, expenses, the myriad things that every workforce needs their employees to be doing routinely to keep things above board on the up and up moving forward. Make it simple for me, in one line, how would you coach them to start thinking about their application environment.

Matt Jackson: Yeah one line's going to be tough. But I think start small. Pick individual tasks and build apps that support those tasks. So like find areas, and I know I'm on line three, but it’s all the same theme is that find discrete processes in your business and maybe this is new terminology, but amplify them. Find ways where you can develop discrete applications and get them in front of your users quickly. That's how you're going to show the greatest value. It’s how you're going to transition. We started this conversation talking about workforce expectations, this is all being driven by the consumerization of IT. So start small and get stuff out there quickly.

Robyn Itule: That was actually a very, very good summary. You could basically Tweet that which is great.

Matt Jackson: Yeah, thank you.

Robyn Itule: Well Matt, I so much appreciate all your thoughts on this and really enjoyed getting to catch up with you and I'm so grateful you were able to join us for a great episode of Technomics.

Matt Jackson: Yeah thank you, I think it’s an exciting topic. I think it covers the modernization of IT in the workforce and we love helping clients and helping our own teammates work more efficiently.

Robyn Itule: Thank you so much Matt Jackson, director of services with our BlueMetal group at Insight. Thanks for listening to Technomics. If you want to find more episodes, you can download the podcasts from iTunes, Google, or your favorite podcast provider. And for more stories on intelligent technology, visit