From Mobile-First to Process-First
For the better part of the last 10 years, mobile-first has been the catchphrase for designers, CX/UX/UI professionals, and front-end developers. The phrase is straightforward. It describes a user interface that accounts for how a person uses an application on a mobile device — how the app looks and is organized, the sequence of screens and possible actions, and how the app captures, uses and conveys information. This was revolutionary in 2010 when most mobile apps were simply scaled down versions of websites or web pages that had been edited to fit a small form factor. Mobile-first thinking changed the way designers and developers worked, shifting their desktop-centric approach to one that centered on a mobile device. It has become the de facto standard.
Now that we’re nearly a decade beyond mobile-first design, things are evolving again. Mobile-first is giving way to process-first. For mobile apps that are used in a business context, business processes have become the primary consideration and organizing principle for design. The confluence of mobile-first thinking and mature business process management has given rise to this new way of approaching mobile apps. Nearly every CRM and ERP can manage cases, incidents, tickets, requests and issues. Call them what you’d like; they are the first step in a business process that typically ends with a happy customer, more revenue, less overhead or better productivity — sometimes many of these at once.
Just as mobile-first design has its core elements — an emphasis on visual hierarchy, responsive design, and progressive enhancement — process-first thinking includes defining elements that, when employed, ensure your apps address real business process needs.
There are three core considerations for a process-first app. Collectively, they have a favorable effect on the most frequently measured KPIs in a business: revenue, profitability, productivity and customer satisfaction. For a service organization that has a large field-based workforce, they enable these same KPIs on a service-specific plane: customer satisfaction, service revenue, service cost (profitability), and technician productivity/utilization.
- No superfluous action options — One of the most easily overlooked virtues of Apple’s iOS is what it doesn’t allow you to do. Along any single path within a given UI, the user is allowed to do one of two things: move forward or cancel. This is quintessential user-focused and process-first design. While process-first apps don’t necessarily need to be single-purpose, they should be as close as practical. This makes the user experience as highly intuitive and outcome-focused as possible, eliminating the potential for distraction and going off-task. Process-first apps let the user move forward while removing the potential for error or misstep.
- No secondary databases — Process-first apps are conduits to multiple systems of record. They enable real-time updates to people who work in the field and to people who work within databases. This means that the apps are tightly integrated with any number of enterprise systems. With the majority of service organizations using more than one enterprise system to manage operations, process-first apps need to be able to invoke data from many systems and send data back to the appropriate location, making it actionable whenever and wherever it’s needed. Apps that rely exclusively on a single database are by default not process-first because business processes, like customers, are managed using multiple systems.
- Easy configuration — There are business processes that a business adheres to because they serve customers, and there are business processes that a software vendor advocates because that’s how the software works. Process-first apps align with the former. Process-first apps actually mold to and enhance the processes that are resident within a business or a department. They do not ask users to change the way they work. In fact, they improve current practices and procedures so users see improvements in their productivity, allowing them to move on to more complex tasks and issues. And of course, business processes change, new ones are added, and old ones retired. Process-first apps are flexible and can be quickly updated to adapt to evolving customer, market and user demands.
Mobile-first design was revolutionary less than a decade ago, and it continues to dominate the way apps are built. With the advent of process-first design, businesses are investing even more determinedly in the value of mobile apps.