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Q&A: How micro apps improve employee efficiency and productivity

(Image credit: Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

Organizations are constantly looking for new ways to increase employee efficiency, but often only further perpetuate the problem by introducing yet another new app or program. Looking to address this ongoing issue, San Bruno, California-based company Sapho offers a micro app platform that allows businesses to build a single, social-media like feed through a notification-enabled app, web browser or messenger client. IT Pro Portal editor Désiré Athow connected with Sapho CTO and co-founder Peter Yared to discuss how the rise of micro apps can help organizations today. 

Is there a common problem you see organizations are running into that impacts their ability to operate efficiently? 

Big data has been in vogue for years, but many businesses are having a lot of difficulty harnessing value and gaining insights from the voluminous amounts of data they collect. However, there is an often-ignored set of data in the enterprise that is truly actionable, data that I call “active” data. Active data is “in-flight data” that represents things that are changing or need some sort of action taken to move forward. Active data includes data like open purchase orders, new PTO or family leave requests, sales opportunities that are changing in scope, orders that are shipped late and so on. 

Enterprises should focus on the data that matters most to specific users now, so they can be as productive as possible. Data should be personalized and delivered to employees in small, digestible sets. It's easy for IT teams to get lost in the process of building out big data infrastructure and forget that data needs to be usable, actionable and personalized. If IT arms employees with the personalized active data they need, productivity will easily increase. 

How can organizations move beyond emphasizing employee efficiency and move more toward overall effectiveness? 

By building small, task-specific apps that deliver simple solutions to complex problems, it enables employees to be more effective.  A lot of times, employees are overwhelmed by the amount of data buried in their enterprise systems, so they just avoid accessing it. By monitoring for system changes — or “events" — and pushing them proactively to users, versus forcing them to go looking for them, the “micro” approach enables employees to be ahead of the curve. Businesses should focus on the big picture of what they are trying to achieve: a system of engagement that modernizes system interfaces and delivers an effective way to work. 

How do you view the current state of today’s enterprise offerings and how do micro apps come into the picture? 

Today’s offerings are outdated. With the influence of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on our daily lives, we’ve come to crave that same personalized, mobile feel in our work apps. We aim to transform clunky work apps into usable consumer-feeling apps so employees are more likely to use them. Rather than having to login to multiple systems to access critical data, we surface one-click tasks and actions into a feed for employees. 

What are some real-world examples of administration from an admin/developer perspective? 

On the administration side, there are three examples that are quite nice to share. The first is how we embed SDK's from the leading MDM solutions like AirWatch right into our .war file. This allows administrators to easily deploy and provision their mobile micro apps without having to reinvent the wheel. 

The second is the speed at which developers can work with the lines of business (like marketing and sales) to develop applications that are actually usable. In the past, IT departments would get an application request, go into the bunker and emerge six months later with a "final" product that totally missed the mark - like the remote control with too many buttons to choose from. Now, developers can iterate on an application in real time with their end user in the room. This is allowing IT teams to add value faster by producing products that end users are actually excited to use because they are purposefully built with their input to solve a real problem in their workflow. 

Finally, the dashboard that we provide administrators offers a unique view of the actual usage of the micro apps, their frequency of events, and the response time to these requests for actions - it becomes very easy to identify human bottlenecks in workflows. 

What are some real-world examples of usage from a user perspective? 

A great example comes from the CEO of Super Deluxe, a Turning Broadcasting Company, Wolfgang Hammer, who implemented our platform to improve engagement and to keep multiple teams across the organization informed on the state of current projects. Unfortunately, they had multiple teams who all worked in different silos, which meant information was spread across hundreds of systems. This information sprawl made it difficult to keep teams on top of critical production timelines. 

The team tried tracking apps and software, but they were clunky, slow and often left out key data. By adopting our technology, they were able to quickly unify data across all of their systems and deliver actionable updates to their team via simple, single-purpose apps. Now they have a complete 360 view of every project from production schedules, to finance, to marketing execution. For them, they have been able to remove the human bottleneck of information delivery and get things done faster. Ultimately, we’ve orchestrated their systems to work together, which wasn’t possible before. 

How do micro apps work, in terms of functionality? 

We help organizations provide a single interface to their existing business systems. Each interaction is put into a secure micro app that connect workers and execs with important data and critical workflows. 

We do this by targeting all of the occasional workflows for a given system, and let IT customize the secure apps. So Sapho doesn’t replace the interface for the entire finance system, for example, but what we do is make it really easy for everyone outside the finance department to approve purchase orders and get key metrics from the finance system. 

Can companies build their own micro apps or rely on an available toolbox of apps?

Yes, organizations can leverage both the pre-built templates for various systems that we support (IBM Domino, SAP ERP, Salesforce) and can build their own micro apps with our simple, drag-and-drop app builder. The templates we include provide the most commonly requested micro apps that our customers want to build, such as micro apps for PO and PTO approval. Our micro apps come with the customizable connectors to all of the enterprise systems that are used within an organization. These connectors make it easy to connect to existing systems so that employees can be up and running quickly. 

What is the process for IT decision makers that are considering implementing micro apps into their organization?

Unlike other solutions, ours sits on-premises and connects directly to existing business systems, unifies data, tracks changes, and then surfaces actionable updates to employees. We help triple employee productivity with a system of engagement that modernizes enterprise applications to improve the speed of business. Also, organizations can now build secure, single purpose apps that provide employees with actionable data, tasks and insights from their systems. The result is a set of micro apps that provide proactive notifications, updates and one-click task completion from a variety of device, browser, intranet, email or messaging clients. 

Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Peter Yared
Peter Yared is the Co-Founder & CTO at Sapho. Previously, he was the CTO/CIO of CBS Interactive and the founder of five enterprise infrastructure companies that were acquired by Sun, VMware, Webtrends, Sprinklr and Prograph.