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Mobile User Experience for SaaS products – Challenges as SaaS goes Mobile

Why is the mobile device important?

75% of U.S. workers are predicted to be true mobile sometime in 2011. 23% use mobile device more often than their laptops to access internet.  This increased  data usage has  forced wireless companies like ATT to invest $10 bn in infrastructure. Even  Jim Cramer’s hot picks for “mobile tsunami” include mobile tower operator companies.  So in addition to regular browsing  for news & social media, SaaS applications  for official usage  will be accessed from  mobile  more often.    The users are likely to expect a similar, relevant and consistent user experience when the SaaS applications are being accessed from the mobile devices. But they might be in for a rude shock.

There are many reasons behind this varied experience. Many SaaS applications have rich graphics, animations and dynamic content. These coupled with image resolutions,  multitude of mobile  browsers, slower internet speeds,  poor designs and lack of context  spoil the user experience and  impact customer  loyalty.  Revenues for SaaS based ISVs are largely constituted by  monthly/annual subscriptions and customer delight is the key to safeguard these revenues.  Hence ensuring a consistent and relevant user experience should be high on  priority  lists of product managers and technology groups.

Characteristics of SaaS applications where mobile user experience is getting increasingly crucial

The keystones in identifying SaaS products where mobile experience needs to be controlled are — relevance, context and  the usage. For example — applications like CRMs, ERPs, financial accounting, sales management, office information, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, field operations, etc. are very likely to be accessed via mobile devices when executives are on the move. Likely content to be accessed includes specific data, reports, pending tasks, approvals, alerts, etc.   From the usage perspective — the application while being accessed from a mobile device — should ensure that  relevant data gets displayed first and the website/app works consistently across devices. Application users have higher satisfaction ratings when the user experience is cognizant of user expectations, content relevance and the context of usage.

Complexities involved  – there are 100 new phones launched every quarter in the market. Each different smartphone accessing the application needs to be handled differently as there are multiple combinations of operating systems, browsers and screen resolution. Internet browsers being used in mobiles need to be tested as well for their capacity to manage rich features as well  look and feel.   Now the SaaS executives are faced with few options about what to do next — create specific apps, a mobile specific website or a hybrid of two. Let’s explore.

The  next steps
Step  1  — Follow  the customer –  There are commonly available tools  which will tell you the browser/device being used to access your SaaS application. That will help to track the % of users using mobile devices to access the application.  This indicates the current traffic and the pages being visited more often.   It is important that this analysis includes trending as poor user experience may have forced users to abandon mobile usage of the application.   This analysis provides snapshot of  current application usage. Then the CEO/CTO/COO in conjunction with the product manager and engineering teams can decide if the mobile visitors are substantial enough to consider a dedicated mobile strategy. If they decide the mobile users experience needs to be taken care of — go ahead and move to step  5


Step 2    Lead  the customer – To increase user stickiness – go ahead and invest in creating an “augmented user experience” where the user experience will be better as the graphics/animations display will be faster.  It is important that usage based application redesign is also considered.  The customers can always be given the choice if they want to access the full website or mobile site. The trend so far is towards building a device specific apps.

Step  3  —  Depends upon your  SaaS product’s features – If your application uses rich  graphs/animations/heavy graphics/high user interaction – it is highly recommended that you  consider step 5. Slower internet connectivity, inability to enter data while out of coverage areas & image resolution issues   will only reduce the customer satisfaction.

Step  4  —    Are location based services important – Do your customers use location based services from your product (like current location, area code, etc.)? If yes —go  to step 5

Step 5  —  The decision. It  is  important  to choose amongst  — creating a device specific app or creating a mobile specific website or  the  hybrid.
If the application access is highly concentrated towards a  specific device — then invest in creating device specific apps. The disadvantage is — porting of this app across devices entails cost. If the  applications  focus highly on providing a rich, engaged and interactive user experience –   then building the app is highly recommended.   These apps reduce the data communication between the mobile device and web server. It can access your mobile applications like location, camera, calendar, appointments, etc. Also for scenarios where users are expected to be in  the  field like — auditors evaluating factories,  sales members, etc. — users will be able to use many offline features with the app. Also many financial institutions may have device specific apps as an additional medium for mobile banking as it ensures a rich user experience.  If the environment can be controlled for an enterprise — (company X recommends the device Y for the entire workforce) — go with a device specific app. We have also noticed firms adopting the app way for – their trendiness, appeal and due to competitive pressure. We believe that while having an app makes you trendy, you should carefully weigh its usefulness and applicability to your mobile use cases before deciding a mobile app the solution to your problems.


If the users are not concentrated on a device type and application is not  graphics heavy— but the usage context is very important    then opt for mobile specific website. For example — all the official travels for a company X are managed by mycompanytravel.com. Before the tickets are booked, the Operations manager needs to approve it. The mobile version of such a site should involve quick links for pending approvals, redirect approvals, request for more information, altering priority etc. Also financial institutions like banks will definitely have a mobile specific website as they focus on ubiquitous access. There are few limitations as well. Users are being “forced” to remember the URLs of your SaaS product. Also these websites do not access mobile applications like address book, location, etc.

Hybrid usage — a mix of app and browser combines the best of both worlds. They use browser interfaces for web server interactions and also allow access to mobile applications. It allows the user to do more when the graphics being used are very rich and there is lots of transactions with the user. Also it allows the user to continue with limited usage even if there is no signal within the office or remote locations. This allows you to leverage location based services as well.   This also allows you reuse tons of business logic and existing code for information processing.   Hybrids  also support  leveraging the specific features of devices with minimum rework. Consider a rich social media application which will need ubiquitous access and graphics heavy interface. So to minimize umpteen number of device specific apps, too frequent data access and leverage multiple widgets – hybrid is the way forward.  


The SaaS revolution has elevated the customers to the higher pedestal.  As vendors’ revenues  are backed by the tighter SLAs and  renewals, user experience has to be managed and can’t be left to chance.   Many companies are now increasingly touting about their mobile channel during sales pitches and are using it as a differentiator.   So ignore this channel at your own peril !!.
InfosStretch can help evaluate your mobile experience at no cost and then work with you to strategize a mobile strategy that meets your requirements !
We have rich experience in creating apps across platforms, porting them across platforms, creating mobile specific websites and merging the best of both worlds – hybrids.
Our strategic relationships with key carriers and enterprises puts us in the unique position of understanding the complete lifecycle.
Write to saas@apexon.com for more details

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