App fatigue is hardly a new phenomenon. Between mobile devices, desktop computers and tablets, consumers are working with dozens of apps, toggling from one to another to access information and complete tasks.
In the enterprise, this phenomenon is beginning to be a problem: Employees are wasting time bouncing from one work app to another, attempting to piece together data from each, says David Lavenda, co-founder and vice president of Marketing and Product Strategy at Harmon.ie, a company that deploys topic computing in an effort to address this problem.
“Like a lot of things, this started in the consumer world — with mobile phones, tablets and the cloud — and it’s leaking into the enterprise,” Lavenda recently explained to PYMNTS. “Technology affords people the ability to install their own apps and use whatever they want. You can bypass central IT. That’s what it’s led to in the business world.”
Considering the array of work apps now available for the enterprise, it’s no surprise that they can overwhelm professionals. The technologies range from cash management apps — like accounting and expense management — to HR and time-tracking apps to project management, vacation requests and beyond. Lavenda pointed to SAP and Oracle, which offer dozens of project management apps for businesses and their employees.
They’re solutions that promise to boost productivity, efficiency and the bottom line. But the truth isn’t that simple.
Harmon.ie’s latest survey, released last week, found that the average professional uses nearly 10 apps at work, with email and messaging solutions the most commonly, and frequently, used. It’s difficult to quantify how much productivity is lost due to an employee going back and forth between apps trying to collect information, but, according to Harmon.ie, about 40 percent of survey respondents said it took more than five minutes for them to find an early draft of a project.
Lavenda quoted historian Melvin Kranzberg to explain the issue with apps: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”
“It really depends on how the apps are used,” the executive said. “The promise of apps was that you could use whatever you want. If I’m a team leader, I can pick the project management software I want to use. The freedom of that is a good thing.”
“The problem,” he continued, “becomes when everyone picks their own apps, and nothing overlaps. How do you get everything to work together? That’s where we’re headed.”
One solution, of course, is to buy from only one vendor, creating vendor lock-in and taking away that choice Lavenda said was a positive feature of the app world.
Technology may have introduced this conundrum, but, according to Lavenda, technology can solve it.
APIs, for example, have the ability to facilitate communication and transmission of data from one app to another, but that’s only one solution, he said.
“The ability to do that, and the mechanism for doing that, is really important,” the executive noted. “There are a number of ways of doing this. One way is with integration products and projects through backend integration. But while these solutions can display all information [from multiple apps] in one window, then it becomes like a noisy Twitter feed. The information is not connected.”
Lavenda said the answer exists in artificial intelligence (AI) and topic computing, which can not only extract information from various apps, but also identify the information the user needs to see. He offered one example of an app notification containing information on a customer’s account. AI can identify the necessary information from that customer account that can be found in various documents, emails and other apps, extract that information and display that data for the employee without the professional having to manually search for this information across multiple apps.
The impact on company bottom lines could be significant. A research report released by Sage last week calculated that hundreds of billions of dollars in economic growth was lost because small businesses were spending loads of time on manual tasks, causing a drop in productivity. Automating access to information contributes to regained productivity, said Lavenda.
“We know a lot of the problems associated with this come from the consumer world. More people … are using many devices, many apps and many interfaces, and it is very difficult to focus,” he said. “You miss things because you don’t see the big picture. The price of dropping the ball on tasks because you’re not aware of them, because you’re not able to address things in a timely manner, the cost to the business can be quite catastrophic.”
The only way to stay on top of ongoing projects, cash management and other key functions of the enterprise is to “keep toggling between apps, [trying] to piece together the information in your own mind,” he said, which is hardly an efficient way to work.
But using the right technology to interconnect the mountain of apps in the workplace can mean better spend management and greater productivity.
“You save money because people can be more efficient and focus on what they want to do,” said Lavenda. “They use the best apps they want for the task, but information becomes more disconnected, and dropping the ball on something important is going to be a bigger piece of the puzzle than just saving money.”
“There has to be a way to connect things together in a meaningful way,” he continued, “otherwise it’s not a tenable infrastructure. There will be many companies who embrace artificial intelligence as a way of extracting information from different systems and tying it together so people can focus on work, instead of apps.”