Are micro-apps a cure for the COVID-19 induced digital transformation blues?

Profile picture for user jbowles By Jerry Bowles May 1, 2020
Summary:
SpotCues is a small company with a big idea for managing vital business processes remotely.   

Business man hand with mobile phone and app icons © warakorn - Fotolia.com
(© warakorn - Fotolia.com)

One of the many cruel but invaluable lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is that digital transformation is no longer an option but the key to survival for enterprises of all sizes. Most organizations have business continuity plans to mitigate various disasters. But it's unlikely that many would have considered the possibility that in a period of a few short weeks much of their workforces would be working remotely (if at all), especially at the kind of scale we're seeing now.

The new reality creates an enormous number of challenges for companies that have put off digital transformation for various reasons including fear of complexity and scale or siloed data or employee resistance and whose business processes still require face-to-face interaction such as field visits, paper based processes, physical inspections, physical signatures and so on. Many organizations have had to scramble quickly to re-engineer or make alternative arrangements to maintain business continuity. 

Praveen Kanyadi, co-founder and VP products, at SpotCues, a Mountain View, CA-based communications and productivity platform that allows organizations to rapidly mobilize their workforces, believes his company has the answer: a suite of lightweight, single purpose 'micro-apps' that can be bundled within a single app to handle many business processes that would typically require more extensive digital transformation.  As he explained:

Traditional enterprise applications pack all features into a single application, making the user experience and navigation quite complex. Micro-apps are essentially large complex enterprise applications broken down into multiple single purpose apps. This allows a large or complex transformation initiative to be developed and rolled out in small increments rather than having to develop and deliver everything at once.

Unlike typical apps that require navigating through a gnarly user interface, micro-apps are simple HTML "cards" that present themselves contextually and through AI driven intelligent search. Said Praveen:

Basically, micro apps allow organizations to digitize and automate their business processes in a way that enables employees to perform their daily tasks from anywhere using their mobile device. Some examples would be Inventory Lookup, Time Card Entry, PO Approvals, Price Requisitions, Service & Maintenance Requests, Expense Requests/Approvals, Asset Tracking, Lead Entry, Quotations, and so.  Microapps can also digitize data entry, converting manual paper based checklists, inspections, approvals into digital checklists along with digital signatures.

My take

To proponents of the 'deep IT' rip-everything-out-and-start-from-scratch approach, the SpotCues framework may sound a bit like digital transformation lite, but Kanyadi assures me that it is real digital transformation - just a bite-sized approach that allows companies to break down their digital transformation initiatives into a series of small, more digestible, initiatives. Such an incremental approach, he says, allows companies to start benefitting from the value of digital transformation quickly while cutting down on the usual problems of employee resistance, training, spotty adoption and so on that can slow things down to a crawl.  

And even the mighty Gartner has blessed the micro-apps framework and is recommending leveraging this technology to develop fit-for-purpose apps: 

Microapps allow easier and more agile delivery of fit-for-purpose apps across digital touch points. Application leaders should incorporate this concept in tandem with mesh app and service architecture (MASA) and emerging multi experience development. 

The pandemic and the resulting business carnage are stark reminders that organizations need to automate and digitize their business processes. But, as we know only too well, digital transformation is hard because a lot of systems, processes and people are involved. Adopting an incremental approach, such as micro-apps technology, helps break down the complexity of technology, change management, and process reengineering. Small victories are better than big failure any day of the week. This is particularly true in a time of international business crisis.