Feb 03 2016  ⋅  digital strategy, recommended

Really, apps still kinda suck.

When you think about the apps on your phone, there are many great ones that inform and entertain us and let us communicate. But take a second to think about the apps from service companies, like the ones from Delta, Hilton or FedEx. They all are sometimes perceived to be kinda buggy, clunky, or even just plain useless. Let me explain:

Booking a room at the Hilton through their app is more a story about ‘cannot’ then ‘can’. While you can book a room or see your reservations, there are so many more things you cannot do which are otherwise considered essential to your experience as the customer: You can’t see if your room has already been cleaned, you can’t order more pillows, can’t chat with your concierge, can’t order a late check-out, reserve a bike, a spa treatment, etc.

When you book a table at a restaurant through OpenTable, you cannot pre-order your meal, order flowers, get a wine recommendation, pay your check or call a cab after dinner, etc.

When you use a telematics apps for a modern car, you can check where it’s parked and open or close it. But you cannot make an appointment at the dealer, can’t pre-order spare parts, can’t share your ETA with friends, can’t find and pay for parking, etc.

You get the idea. The products we experience every day are surrounded by so many ancillary services that–if you think about it–it’s really inconsistent to not see these represented in the apps that are meant to make things easier for us.

So who is to blame? Designers for not being creative enough? IT for bogging everything down (because we hear that all the time)? Managers for not recognizing the full potential of apps? The answer is actually: None of them.

The problem lies with the data and how data is generally very hard to extract from the silos it is “trapped” in. Organizations regularly find themselves in the mindset where it’s "okay" to have their software stoically keep its data to itself; you might even go as far as saying it's kept “hostage”. Vendors tell you that that’s only way to keep it safe – by either buying their entire suite or not doing anything with it at all.

Going back to the Hilton example (and, of course, this is all speculative) but the problem probably already begins with the system that manages bookings and the guests' names. That's probably this DOS-based interface that’s just horrible to use, got no live feed from booking websites, no internet access and sits on an old server in a basement, or worse, a mainframe.....but it’s the thing the company once bought for a ton of money because it worked, say, with their former keycard reader [or: insert any other arbitrary reason].

So if you wanted to introduce app-based workflows into a system this old, you only have very limited, that is to say, no options.

But it shouldn’t have to be this way. What if our data silos wouldn't have to be so 'silo-ed'? This is essentially why SaaS and the Cloud ever emerged; their standardized API infrastructure was a great first step towards making information more easily exchangeable between services.

But things are very much still in the dark ages if we look to on-premise business applications, which is where most business-critical data still resides. There is no infrastructure like APIs for on-premises software. So there is no easy way to standardize the mess of proprietary software, legacy interfaces and a hodgepodge of databases.. Well, at least not yet.

In the future, we will use ‘Service Layers’ as a way to standardize and share data access. Service Layers are a common way for applications from different vendors to exchange information with other sources, regardless of whether they are in the Cloud or On-prem. If you think of different APIs, databases and backends as different languages, then a ‘Service Layer’ is the interpreter that seamlessly translates every request on the fly, and directs it to the correct, connected service.

Once companies have found a way to unite their data silos, this will open up unprecedented ways to offer better customer experiences within their apps. Standardization will further help create new business models in the Enterprise as a Service (EaaS) economy, through incorporating third parties into your apps for anything from processing payments, making AI-infused suggestions, to entirely handling the fulfillment–while the broker receives a commission for exposing these services to their customers.

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