There’s an app for that

But should you use it?

These days everyone is well aware of the proliferation of apps and websites to help with seemingly every aspect of life. From booking a restaurant or car, to streaming audiobooks, to helping my second-grader practice multiplication tables, to brewing beer (my latest hobby), it seems like everything I do involves some sort of app or website. And I don’t even include myself among the many people whose social interaction involves things technological.

I’m not bemoaning the existence of iWhatevers in day-to-day life (other than at the dinner table).

A helpful app is a good thing. It is frequently more efficient and more fun than the old way, whatever that was, and it usually doesn’t cost much, if anything. So as we all become accustomed to using apps in our personal lives, it makes perfect sense to explore how the same types of apps and websites can help us at work, right?

Yes, but.

First, the good news. There are definitely inexpensive, single-purpose apps that have meaningful business value. At my office, we rely heavily on eFolder Anchor for syncing and sharing files, Trello for managing projects, Weekdone for managing objectives, Duo for two-factor authentication, and Prezi for creating presentations. I encourage you to evaluate these and other apps – in the long run, ignoring them will just invite employees to go rogue and do it on their own – but before you start, there are a few things to keep in mind.

One of my first concerns as a business manager is protecting the security and privacy of our information. The thought of employees installing the free version of some file-sharing app and syncing work files in a personal account is a frightening one, and I see it happen all the time in other companies. It’s not necessarily that I don’t trust the cloud or that I think someone from the app vendor would steal our data; it’s that the app usually copies everything on every computer on which it’s installed, and as devices and computers come and go, our data would inevitably end up somewhere it doesn’t belong.

I also pay close attention to productivity in our business. The whole idea behind most business apps is to save time. One of the dangers with adopting apps is that they’re so easy and inexpensive to try, that people waste more time than they save by searching for, trying out, and halfway implementing several apps for every task at hand. The tendency is to look for the perfect solution, but you’re not often going to get everything you want for $5 a month.

On a similar note, there’s no point bothering with a new app when the software you already have is perfectly fine for the job. The latest features always look good in demos and often seem useful, but by first defining and always focusing on what you’re trying to accomplish, you may often find that they’re just not necessary.

Or on the flip side, new feature releases in commonly used software can make some single-purpose apps obsolete. We spend a lot of money at my company on a cloud-based business-intelligence application, and the day is fast approaching that Microsoft Excel with Power BI will easily replace it at no additional cost.

So what are the keys to successfully realizing the real benefits that apps have to offer? First, take the time to implement an organized process for defining the objectives and evaluating options for each app. Then, as long as that process takes into account each app’s ability to secure data, the amount of effort involved in evaluating vs. the expected benefit, and the up-to-date capabilities of your existing software, you’ll be ready to make the leap.

Steven Ellis has spent the last 16 years working at the intersection of business and technology for Bellwether Technology in New Orleans, where he serves as the company’s vice president.



Categories: Technology, The Magazine