Erik Burckart, PointSource

by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

A holistic approach to your mobile enterprise: A Q&A with PointSource CTO Erik Burckart

Published April 08, 2014


Enterprises that find success in today’s mobile market focus on user experience and find ways to differentiate from competitors.

“It’s critical to build a thoughtful mobile strategy that focuses on the end-to-end process,” says PointSource CTO Erik Burckart. He has spent the last few years at PointSource helping clients realize the potential of mobility by guiding them through the mobile application development lifecycle. An IBM Premier Business Partner, PointSource helps businesses succeed with enterprise mobility by examining their complete landscape, both present and future, through a mobile lens.

Burckart says businesses can get the most value from their mobile strategy when they focus on user experience, the design of mobile apps, and enterprise integration. Insights Magazine sat down with Burckart to find out how successful enterprises should think about their own mobility, build high-value strategies, and evaluate mobile solutions.

Insights Magazine: You are a leader in building patterns based on emerging enterprise mobility trends. Can you speak to these trends, how they are evolving, and how organizations can keep up?

Erik Burckart: People are no longer talking about “a user.” They are talking about “the user.” The user is now educated, they have a heightened and ever changing set of expectations. For example, when an insurance company builds a mobile application or strategy, they have to take into account not just their competitors strategies—they have to take into account what people are using on their phones. What are those interactions like and how is that influencing my application?

Top 3 considerations for business leaders when evaluating mobile solutions and services>>


Burckart explains his top three pieces of advice to business leaders who are evaluating mobile solutions:

1. How is it going to integrate with my enterprise? One of the common mistakes we’ve seen in business is a lot of the mobile needs originate on the business side—operations, marketing, sales, and so on—and the marketing side might go to an advertising agency to build the mobile app, which they can build just fine, but they cannot necessarily integrate with your enterprise infrastructure. That’s pretty challenging.

2. Does it let me make design paramount? If it is an off-the-shelf solution and all I can do is add my logo to it, then that does not really let me major in design and optimize my user experience. In that case, you have to expect this third party to major in design. It is best if the company’s choose their partners to be those companies who either major in design for them or allow them to major in design, and really know that the solution that is being built is the right solution to engage their audience.

3. How does it bring IT and the business (specifically marketing) together? The convergence of IT and marketing is very important. Creating an entire solution and not just isolated to one part of the business. Building apps that are marketing-only apps isn’t sustainable in the future. Most apps are going to have to span multiple lines of business, including IT. Finding the solutions and service providers that can do that are going to be key.

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The user now has these universal expectations on how all apps should behave. It’s not defined primarily by industry or category, but it’s about needing to know what is going on within every industry. So every day new applications are introduced and their popularity and interaction patterns change how people expect to engage with a business.

To be successful in mobile you must major in design. Understanding how users want to interact with you is key. Technology is changing and so are user behaviors. Focus groups and A/B testing are important to keep user preferences and behaviors top-of-mind, and in turn, improve the overall user experience.

IM: What is your advice to enterprises that want to stay on top of emerging mobility trends?

Burckart: Enlist expert mobile advice—that advice can come from design and development firms like PointSource, it could also come from analysts and other people in the field. Mobile brings a unique set of design and development challenges, which are pretty difficult to conquer without experience. Finding an expert who has proven results, positive customer references, and an eye towards future trends is difficult but vital.

More people fail by approaching mobile as if it’s a mini version of the web. They don’t think about the intrinsic differences and unique mobile opportunities and complexities. Keep learning, keep investing in and educating your employees, and find the right partners. Find someone who will partner with you and is invested in your ongoing strategy. Avoid firms that don’t want to help you and your teams learn how to maintain mobile solutions and strategy yourself. Real success in mobility is dependent on being able to manage a viable long-term strategy.

When you look at how important mobile can or will be, you will see really quickly there is a lot of money riding on that mobile interaction going well, and you cannot ignore that, so you must build a strategy and prepare for the future. To acquire the necessary skills, we have seen some big companies go to great extents including actually buying a mobile application development company to get the skills quickly. Whether partnering, hiring, or acquiring, you have to find people with these skills, who live and breathe it, because the trends are changing too fast to catch up without help.

IM: What are some tips and tricks for enterprises to get greater value from their mobile solutions?

Burckart: To be really good at mobile you have to live and breathe it; you have to see the changes and patterns that happen. A good example of this would be Facebook Paper, a mobile app that came out earlier this year. Facebook touted it as the app they would have built had they been building for mobile from the beginning. The interesting thing about Facebook Paper is it changes an interaction behavior on how you read through news and posts. What happened really quickly is, users started to use this, it got good reviews and they liked it. Users started to say, ‘Ok, now I expect other applications to copy the patterns into their applications,’ so interaction patterns and how mobile is done change. That being said businesses should be careful if they want to change the interaction pattern because that can result in a bad user experience. Being students of what’s going on in the community and understanding the latest mobile interaction patterns can help engage users and create better experiences.

4 steps to shaping a high-value business mobile strategy>>


Burckart explains the four steps enterprises should focus on when shaping an enterprise mobile strategy to derive the greatest business value:

1. Bring in the business. A lot of people try to build mobile strategies just from the IT angle. They’ll say, ‘OK, what is our strategy to build mobile applications.’ That doesn’t really work in the mobile space, because you’re missing, “What business goals am I meeting? What things do I actually have to change in the business to meet a good mobile strategy?” So understanding where the business is going.

2. Engage the user, engage the audience. Getting a good user experience, focus, design, and understanding is important. Study the end users’ behaviors, both the current and the ideal. Understand how they wish something would work, and understand how they would want to interact with that business. That helps you build a good strategy which then leads to user experience studies and the strategy on how you are going to take the user feedback and really use it to enact change.  A good mobile application strategy is key. The right strategy will allow you to build an application that people love and that will engage them.

3. Build a sustainable mobile application design and development lifecycle. What this means is, how do you execute the design and development of applications. You have to have a design-centric organization structure. You have to be able to iterate and be agile, because mobile always changes. We’re adding more devices and we’re adding more things around wearable technology. If you can’t keep up with the trends then you won’t be positioned well, both in design and development, to create a mobile strategy that engages users.  

4. Differentiate. A lot of businesses are looking for out-of-the-box applications they can just buy off the shelf and use. At this point in the mobile adoption cycle, it’s time for businesses to start spending a little and differentiating. Our experience is they will see a large payoff from the results when they invest in certain areas. Looking at how you invest and how you can differentiate—and that doesn’t mean differentiate through wacky user experiences. It means differentiate through building something custom instead of buying an off-the-shelf product. It understands your users’ needs, understands how to engage them and building something custom. That’s the best way to differentiate.

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IM: You have written about the mobile application development lifecycle. Can you explain what this lifecycle is and what enterprises should do to best understand and navigate through that lifecycle?

Burckart: Mobile application development lifecycle is really about the whole end-to-end—how you create these applications and continue to get feedback. To walk through some of the steps:

One of the first things is to understand the user and business requirements. Understanding what is needed for this mobile application as far as business requirements and KPIs, and really understanding your audience. Defining your user base, what they want to do, what it takes to engage them, and what they are interested in. I normally call that defining the who, what, why, where, and when.

The next is to define the how. Understand how you are going to solve the problem or the user experience that someone wants. So we define the user experience, we define the interaction, we define what is looks like and how the brand is represented, how marketing comes into play, and we define the architecture and how it integrates with all the enterprise pieces, and that’s the how.

After that we start to do the development. We actually do the creation of the application, and hopefully iteratively, about every two-to-three weeks, you are doing testing, and when you get to the point where you have a minimal viable product, or MVP, you launch a friendly test—with a contained audience that won’t leave you if the experience is bad.

Next steps are deployment, actually going out to the app stores, doing a marketing launch after the deployment to let people know the app is available—spending marketing dollars and advertising wisely to engage agencies and get the investment out there. Then launching marketing and training internally.

Lastly, doing the analysis on analytics—monitoring what’s going on—and understand the business requirements needed to optimize the experience and iterate on it. Through the whole process, engage the user base and audience so you ensure you have the best user experience.

IM: Integration is top of mind for many business leaders. What are some best practices for integrating mobile into enterprise systems?

Burckart: Service oriented architecture always helps. The nice thing about this is it allows for one point of integration. But in mobile, it presents some challenges with the new app economy. How do all these devices now connect?

Burckart's 5 must-haves for a thought-out business mobility strategy>>


1. Know your audience and your competition. Understand your users and how they want to interact with you. 

2. Clear business objectives and KPIs [Key Performance Indicators]. How many users are using this function in your mobile application? How much revenue are you expecting?

3. Plan for the future. Think ahead instead of just one point in time. “You can’t spend 6 months building an app then be done,” explains Burckart. “An app must have a future plan.” They must be invested in overtime or they will break, the user experience will be poor and the app store ratings will suffer. You must be committed to the app as a long term solution and plan to deliver without false starts. Starting an app, then dropping it an ignoring it, is what we call an orphan app.

4. Buy-in conversions. Bring in appropriate business units and get them engaged in decisions and how mobile can change the business.

5. Building a sustainable, right-size architecture for the future. Understand what other apps are needed and how you will support and manage them in the future. You have to have the right-sized architecture for how you are going to build the mobile application and support and manage that in the future.

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When there is a service-oriented architecture, we have two main best practices on how to do the integration and expose that to a mobile application. One is, pay close attention to optimizing and delivering the data to mobile applications. So in short, that means, let’s make sure the data that’s coming out of these systems isn’t too much for a mobile device. Applications, while very smart, can slow down with too much data and user interactions suffer. The second practice is managing APIs. One of the challenges is, if you have ten versions of an application out there, how do you deal with the fact that version 1, 2, and 3 are using one set of APIs and versions 4, 5, and 6 are using another, and so forth. Managing your APIs and what versions are used is very difficult.

So those are the general two principals. Beyond that, there are two other principals that we look at when doing integration with or without a full services oriented architecture in place. One is how content is managed, updated, and kept in sync; and number two is how you tie in enterprise security. Often we use IBM Worklight’s application updates and security integration to help solve these two principal integration challenges. To further help keep content in sync, we have created a solution with IBM Worklight and IBM Web Content Manager called Meticulous which helps keep the content within your mobile application current and accurate.

IM: How is PointSource using mobile technology internally?

Burckart: At PointSource, we definitely eat our own cooking. We built our own resource planning system that does our project planning, forecasting, hours tracking, expense management, and project tracking. We have this available on mobile as well as through desktop web. Our whole team can input data, receive push notifications and access project data from any device. In the sales sides, we have a catalog app for our field sales team, so instead of printing excess materials, we have an app that lets them show client references, collateral, videos and other marketing tools. It provides our sales team with a walking library of collateral on their tablets or phones.

We found a lot of our employees use it and it’s become a very powerful app for us. We’ve also used our mobile content management system called Meticulous to fuel our website. Our web infrastructure will be available partially as an installable application into our field sales app, and it builds into the whole mobile way we do things, so we can share content wherever we are with or without connectivity.



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