Combating feature bloat for the mobile era

More features. More bells. More whistles. Products are simply getting loaded down with more, and that’s not a good thing.

In a time when all interactions took place on the desktop, bloated software was at least usable as we had a big screen, a keyboard, and a mouse that could easily click in targeted places. However, on a mobile device, that paradigm has changed. The screen size is simply too small – our fingers too big – and users have become accustomed to using small, task-specific apps to accomplish quick actions.

Feature bloat: an attempt to be everything to everyone

Feature bloat occurs as more and more features are added to a product. As this happens, a product becomes harder and harder to use. Unfortunately, this is a result of two very common factors: the product team and new customers.

In most software companies, the product team works in overdrive. And, when the boss calls for a flashy new feature, the team creates it, rinse, repeat – simple enough.

But, more often than not, feature bloat is the unintended consequence of a growing and increasingly diverse customer base. Frequently, as customers are added, features are also added to help close deals or to help meet the requirements of a fringe use case, even though the majority of customers will never use them.

For software vendors on the precipice of a major sale, adding a new feature seems like a small price to pay to bring in new revenue. Multiply that choice by a hundred (or a thousand) customer requests and you end up with a product that is so loaded with options and features that it goes far beyond its original purpose.

It’s a bit ironic, though. Customers that purchase a new product because of the added features frequently become overwhelmed after using the feature-heavy product for a short while. This piece in Harvard Business Review nails it. The author simply writes, “adding features improves the attractiveness of a product, but ultimately decreases customers’ satisfaction with it.”

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Internal app developers have the opportunity to de-bloat their existing systems by building micro apps that integrate with their systems, yet are designed for a smaller screen and a more mobile-centric workforce.

Simplify software with micro apps and push computing

If you think about your existing systems, removing them is most likely not an option. So how do you simplify the way employees use software that has already been implemented? One option is to build micro apps – apps that serve a single function and can be delivered through any channel, such as a mobile device, web browser, or messenger client – based on your existing systems.

Micro apps are bloat-free by definition. They are small, single purpose apps that help people complete a single action. They deliver personalized and relevant information to employees. These apps are designed and built by IT to simplify workflows, surface actionable information to employees, and to improve productivity.

Micro apps also leverage push capabilities. This allows for information to be delivered, or “pushed,” to employees before they request it. Push technology simplifies software as employees no longer have to log in and search for information they need – instead, the systems intelligently delivers information with no user intervention.

Let’s take the should-be-simple activity of approving an employee expense report from a mobile device. For many managers, here is what happens with existing software:

  1. Receive email about the submitted report
  2. Click on link in email, which brings them to a new application
  3. Log into expense system (assuming mobile access is supported – if it isn’t, finish task later on a computer)
  4. Navigate system to find the expense report
  5. Review report
  6. Approve (or reject) report

It is steps three and four that are a challenge with bloated software. Often times, it takes far longer that it should as employees have to remember a system password and then find the right place in the software to review expense reports.

This bloat is everywhere – at one of my previous employers, it used to take me 15 minutes every quarter to remember how to enter my goals as the system was so complex, with so many modules, that I could never remember what to do.

With a micro app that is built on this same expense systems, the new workflow would look like this:

  1. Receive a push notification about the submitted report
  2. Swipe right to open details of report
  3. Approve (or reject) report

In this example, there is no software to login to and no expense module to navigate to, even though the micro app was built on the same system that posed a problem in the first example. Everything needed to complete the task is available through a single screen. And, the experience is what employees expect as it is the same experience they get with their consumer mobile apps.

With micro apps, feature bloat frustrations can be a thing of the past.

Sapho for simplified software

Sapho is the best way to put actionable business information into your employees’ hands. Instead of forcing employees to log into hard to use systems, Sapho enables organizations to build and deliver secure micro apps that tie into these systems and deliver important information and their associated actions directly to employees.

 

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Natalie Lambert is the Vice President of Marketing at Sapho. She joins from Citrix where she held multiple product marketing leadership positions. Before that, Natalie was a principal analyst at Forrester Research where she was the leading expert on end user computing.

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