This is the third post in a monthly series titled HOTS, which stands for "Heard on the Street." In this series, we'll talk about what we're hearing from our customers as well as the broader enterprise procurement community. You can read the previous HOTS post here.
"Will ZenPurchase work on my phone?"
A customer asked me this in a meeting last week. It wasn't the first time I've gotten asked this, and it certainly won't be the last. Here's why:
- This person was often on the move - visiting suppliers, attending meetings, traveling to various parts of their global supply chain. She definitely needed software that could travel well.
- Mobile-friendly is now a key differentiator for all enterprise software and especially procurement software.This is great news for startups, and very scary news for incumbents who have been paying lip service to mobile.
- Procurement professionals have higher expectations (as they should!) of their software vendors. We specifically built our SaaS product to ensure that it would flourish on ANY device - desktop web, smartphones, and tablets of all shapes and sizes. ZenPurchase has always been Mobile First (more on this below).
What is Mobile First?
Mobile First doesn't mean "let's build a mobile app before we build a desktop app." It's a design philosophy based on simplifying the user experience and reducing clutter on the screen, no matter the size of the display. Designing for a mobile layout first forces engineers and designers to be more creative and focus on what the user truly needs. It also eliminates the lazy and all-too-common practice of dumping a ton of icons and text on a page "just because we have room". The design philosophy is explained fairly well in [this blog post] on Design Shack.(http://designshack.net/articles/css/mobilefirst/).
The Mobile First philosophy matters for Procurement because current software vendors have historically ignored the user experience in favor of adding new widgets and tabs and what-not. This makes it daunting for new users to understand what's going on and results in 12-month implementation cycles. That's simply unacceptable in today's world.
Different Mobile Approaches
There are two fundamental approaches to mobile:
1. Build a native mobile app (i.e., an app specific to a certain device that has a different interface than the desktop web application).
2. Build your web application based on responsive design principles to ensure that it displays well on any device.
With so many device shapes and sizes today, building a native mobile app is a significant time and financial investment, and it's getting worse. Ensuring that an app looks good across iOS and Android, on a 5" or 6" or 7" or 8" screen, can a real time sink and gets in the way of adding new features. In addition, deciding what functionality needs to be part of a mobile app is a series of difficult decisions. On the plus side, a native mobile app typically will look less cluttered and is easier for the user to access.
ZenPurchase followed the second approach - we built a responsive web application that scales well to any device size. The big advantage of this approach is that it delivers the same experience to the user on any device, and thus the user doesn't have a separate learning curve for the mobile and web versions. It's also much easier to maintain over time. Our customers can rest easy knowing that their mobile experience will be a pleasant one no matter what device they're using.
Mobile is Powerful
A recent article on Re/code makes the following observation:
Today’s smartphones pack more processing power than NASA’s Voyager 1 satellite that launched in 1977, explored Jupiter and Saturn and made history when it journeyed into interstellar space.
Imagine how much more powerful mobile devices will become over the next decade. Today's Procurement departments expect much more on this front than the incumbents have been providing, and tomorrow's Procurement departments will need software that travels well and is truly mobile first. Here's to a very productive, very mobile decade ahead.