Mobile Forms Apps Vs. "Enterprise-Grade" Mobile Forms Apps

there is an enormous difference between mobile forms apps and Enterprise-Grade mobile forms apps

In many ways, data is the lifeblood of corporations, governments, educational, and other nonprofit organizations.

A key aspect of how this data is "born" and gets used has been and will continue to be paper forms. Forms remain the quintessential method of capturing critical data to feed into back-end systems of record/databases, and are filled in millions of times each day globally.

With the majority of people on the planet now having a computing device on hand at all times (i.e. smartphones,) businesses, governments, and non-profit agencies are now looking to upgrade their paper forms to more valuable mobile forms (with new kinds of form data - images, video, sound, GPS location/time stamps, etc.,) that can be accessed from smartphones with a wide variety of screen sizes (some very small.)

However, it is important to take note of the fact that there is an enormous difference between regular mobile forms apps and enterprise-grade mobile forms apps. A simple mobile forms app can be useful in pockets of an organization, where the richness and sophistication of the form is low, where data integration with corporate databases and system of records isn't required and where security and authentication is not a pressing concern. Once you go beyond that, "enterprise-grade" becomes a critical descriptor to understand.

Based on our work with major enterprises and organizations, we've assembled a checklist of enterprise-grade requirements for mobile forms software.

Enterprise-Grade mobile forms builders:

  • Need to operate when there is no signal. (In real-world usage, there are many situations where there is no signal, the signal is weak/intermittent or it is not usable/slow because too many people are logging in - at conferences, on trains, etc.)
  • Need flexible deployment - on a cloud outside a firewall, in-house inside a firewall or on a private cloud
  • Need to have arbitrarily complex multi-table relational data structures that can reflect real-world data requirements (inspection reports, health records, maintenance histories, etc.)
  • Need to operate smoothly, intuitively and easily under the most technically challenging use case - i.e. on a small mobile device with limited screen real-estate - i.e.smartphones. It is important to emphasize that making digital forms run well on phones is so critical because they are 1oX more prevalent than tablets
  • Need to have a rich API so that they seamlessly and easily can integrate and inter-operate with any back-end enterprise systems (SAP, Oracle, SalesForce, IBM, etc.) or SQL and no SQL databases
  • Need to support enterprise-grade security and authentication
  • Need to be able to build "dispatch" applications where data from some corporate system such as SAP, SaleForce, Oracle, Sharepoint, etc. can be used to pre-populate certain fields in the form
  • Need to be easily extensible into a general-purpose low code system so that there are no limits regarding what can be done with the data

In addition there two other important requirements:

1) Line of business professionals should be able to build these enterprise-grade mobile forms apps themselves because they have the desire to do so, they have the domain knowledge, they know exactly what they need in terms of the app's functionality and they also often have the requirement to modify the app on the fly.

2) They also need to be able to build and modify these apps quickly (minutes vs weeks or longer,) because app development is NOT their primary job.

(Note - the data collected in the forms needs to be integrated into back-end systems by IT/developers because they are the group who typically (and for good reasons) wants to control the info that gets written and extracted from corporate databases and systems of record.)

Getting data accurately and quickly entered via smartphones, and extracted to or from core systems of record is so fundamental to modern business, that it is worth taking the time to consider whether "enterprise-grade" forms are what you need.

Two other key requirements you should consider are the skill level needed to build enterprise-grade forms and the time it takes to build these forms.

Understanding enterprise requirements for data collection apps drove us to create Alpha Transform. The software helps people who cannot code build enterprise-grade mobile app forms for field workers in 20-30 minutes.

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About Author

Richard Rabins
Richard Rabins

Co-founder of Alpha Software, Richard Rabins focuses on strategy, sales, and marketing. Richard also served as CEO of SoftQuad International from 1997 to 2001, when it owned Alpha. In addition to his 30 years with the company, Richard played a key role as co-founder, and served as president and chairman of the Massachusetts Software Council (now the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council), the largest technology trade organization in Massachusetts. Prior to founding Alpha, Richard was a project leader and consultant with Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), and a management consultant with Management Decision Systems, Inc. Richard holds a master's degree in system dynamics from the Sloan School at MIT, and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and master's degree in control engineering from University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. He has served on the boards of Silent Systems, Legacy Technology and O3B Networks, and is co-founder of Tubifi

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