Going Mobile: It’s All About Empathy

Rick Knowles

Do you ever get frustrated with technology at work?

Whether you’re a corporate executive, a manager, or an employee, it may seem like archaic backend systems and complex processes make your job slower and more complicated. Sometimes you might wonder if the IT decision-makers even understand how you actually do your job, or how your role fits into the bigger corporate picture. Sound familiar?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just cut through the complexity to make your job easier and more efficient? Technology on your smartphone is so easy-to-use that it makes you question why it can’t be that simple at work too.

It’s a fair question, and it’s finally being answered.

Now it’s all about you (the user)

New technology agreements like the Apple and SAP partnership are changing everything by flipping the focus from the backend to the user. This has the potential to transform the entire work experience by providing employees with mobile apps that have intuitive functionality on familiar devices to make their jobs easier. It also highlights the importance of understanding employee roles and having empathy for end users in order to develop effective enterprise mobile apps. It’s all part of a new approach aimed at bringing the customer experience into the enterprise.

Don’t forget: Employees are also consumers

There’s much talk these days about the customer experience, and how successful digital transformation demands a customer-centric approach to your business. In the midst of all this, sometimes business leaders forget that employees are also consumers who are used to quick, efficient mobile apps, and they increasingly expect that same experience at work. That’s why employees are one of the main driving forces of digital transformation, according to the SAP eBook, The Digital Economy: Reinventing the Business World.

Employees are leading the charge to bring mobility and ease-of-use to the workplace. Based on the findings of a 451 Research report, 50% of employees already use their smartphones for business purposes, and 70% of responding businesses have a corporate mobile strategy in place. However, even with the evolution of corporate mobile strategies, most mobile initatives to this point have not been proactive; they are simply a response to the growing number of employees using mobile devices for work.

Business leaders must start treating employees as customers. Companies need to rethink employee roles and workplace processes to drive innovation and productivity, and it all comes down to one thing: empathy.

Empathy in the enterprise

Empathy has become a common theme in the corporate world recently. The Wall Street Journal states that many companies are trying new strategies that involve empathy. The Harvard Business Review released a list of The Most Empathetic Companies based on the 2016 Empathy Index, and a recent Forbes article states that in order to deliver innovative, user-centric solutions the process must begin with empathy.

So it’s not surprising that the key focus of creating a successful mobile enterprise app is having empathy for the user. SAP CEO Bill McDermott said, “Mobile is no longer just about apps. It is about enabling a single, cohesive value chain that begins and ends with empathy for the individual user on the device of their choosing.”

Putting the user first and having a deep understanding of the work they do in their role can drive a far more meaningful outcome when it comes to designing, redesigning, or creating a mobile app that will transform an employee’s job. Rethinking their role and the processes surrounding it can drive new innovation and productivity, but it all starts with having empathy for employees.

Empathy means understanding employee roles

Empathy is about having the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from that person’s frame of reference. In other words, it means truly comprehending what someone does in their role and how it fits into the bigger picture, knowing how they accomplish the responsibilities of their job, and grasping the challenges that they struggle with along the way. It also means working with them to make their job easier.

Designers and developers must take the time to deeply understand employee roles in order to address their painpoints and find innovative solutions to completely transform their work experience. This can be done in the following three ways, according to this article on empathy and design thinking:

  1. Immersion: Place yourself in the full work experience with the user
  2. Observation: Carefully watch and examine what people are actually doing in their roles
  3. Conversation: Talk directly to users to accurately capture ideas and understand personal stories and work experiences

So don’t be surprised if an IT developer comes to sit with you for a while and asks you how you do your job. It may seem unusual at first because things have never been done that way before, but take the opportunity to share your ideas. It could be to your benefit.

Focusing on the user benefits employees – and the bottom line

From a business perspective, enterprise mobility can improve cost efficiency, streamline work processes, and shorten turnaround times. From an employee perspective, it can also empower them to accomplish more and be truly engaged in their roles, which in turn benefits the company through higher productivity, a happier workforce, and less turnover.

According to the Apple e-book, Enterprise Blueprint, valuing user needs and experience results in mobile apps that are far more likely to deliver on their potential. This can lead to higher adoption rates, greater productivity, and a new sense of ownership among employees. For example, British Airways leaders said they knew they had a successful mobile app when the employees took ownership and started referring to it as “our app” instead of “the new app” or “the company’s app.”

Going mobile: The fun factor at work

In the end, you must understand how and when people will use your mobile apps. This includes the time and location of actions on the platform as well as the processes being undertaken. It’s all about creating the best possible mobile app with the right functionality to make your employees’ jobs easier, more productive, more engaging, and possibly even … fun. That’s right, fun. Believe it or not, gaming capabilities can also be incorporated into enterprise apps as a reward element, or a competitive component that lightens up the work experience.

The right contextual native mobile enterprise app can go a long way toward kick-starting productivity by engaging seasoned employees who may be losing interest in their roles, while at the same time encouraging tech-savvy millenials to be more productive in the workplace.

It’s just another way to look at the broader picture focused on understanding employee roles and having empathy for the end user. Empathy should be at the heart of your mobile digital transformation.

Learn more about bringing the customer experience into the enterprise.

Discover how the Apple and SAP partnership is revolutionizing mobile apps for the enterprise.

Find out why context matters for enterprise mobility.

Learn how to cut through complexity with enterprise mobile apps.

For an in-depth look at how the digital era is affecting business, download the SAP eBook, The Digital Economy: Reinventing the Business World.

To learn more about the driving forces behind digital transformation download the SAP eBook, Digital Disruption: How Digital Technology is Transforming Our World.


Rick Knowles

About Rick Knowles

Rick Knowles is senior vice president (SVP) and general manager (GM) of the partnership between SAP SE and Apple, Inc. In this role, he oversees the strategic roadmap in building state-of-the-art applications for some of the most complex business systems in the world. Rick has been with SAP for close to 20 years, where he has held executive positions such as SVP and chief of staff, GM of One Customer Experience, and SVP and chief operating officer for SAP Americas, the company’s largest geographic market. You can follow him on Twitter @RickKnowlesSAP.