Mobile App Design - Process over Product
Thu 20 Sep 2018
British cartographer Edward Weller (1819-1884) asserted that the value of a map lay predominantly in its creation, rather than its eventual use. Although he produced hundreds of maps throughout his career, his fame and fortune were derived from the pioneering use of lithography to produce and distribute cartographic products. His journey was one of respectful reinvention: respect for the art and science of geography, coupled with the reinvention of user engagement. Ultimately, it was the improved accessibility and timeliness of his lithographic printing process (realized during the creative process) that made the British Empire navigable and governable during that period.
Weller’s experience is typical of key technological disruptors. Today, mobile devices and applications keep our appointments, keep us in touch, and (in Weller’s image) keep us heading in the right direction. We all still have appointments, and still cultivate the close relationships that have defined the marine insurance industry since inception, but the nature of the interaction has changed. Lloyd’s has moved toward a digital marketplace, and at EIMC we saw an opportunity for enhanced digital interaction with clients on the go.
The virtually endless supply of mobile applications belies the complexity inherent in their development. Rather more than a process, the decision to enter the mobile space represents a corporate inflection point involving business process, division of responsibilities, and efficiency metrics. App development shines new light on everything from corporate branding to cyber security.
Development efforts are often hampered by a tendency to create technology in the image of our analog past. In other words, framing a capability to automate a legacy process is easier than examining alternatives to the process itself. Effective app design therefore begins with a clean sheet: What do we do, how do we do it, and how would we do it in a perfect world? In some cases, those questions are difficult enough by themselves. In other cases, enthusiasm to innovate outstrips internal capacity for evolution and requires tempering.
EIMC is a survey, adjusting and risk management consulting organization. Three lines of business offers three different approaches, so our app is fundamentally a decision tree to classify requests, collect relevant details, and assign the right resource. We emphasize timely communication, so our design included a status update function to keep clients apprised anytime, from anywhere. Internal reflection on the service request handling process led to creation of a new team to truncate data flow and mitigate administrative burden. We also identified a need for enhanced client relations management software to capitalize on our newfound data collection tool, and improved our training methods to disseminate digital reference materials rather than relying on a traditional mentorship model. Beta testing and bug fixes offered time to refine new architecture, which had the added benefit of engaging both staff and clients in the spiral development phase. While early development is necessarily limited to small team, beta testing allows broader engagement and brings together traditionalists and “millennials” in our own process of respectful reinvention: respect for the relationship-centric focus of senior leadership, coupled with reinvention of client engagement.
Just as Weller promised, the process of mapping our way into the mobile space dramatically exceeds the value of the product, and has emboldened us to explore technology enablers in ways previously thought unattainable for small business. Our team represents the same depth of knowledge and experience as always, enhanced by improved accessibility and timeliness. Weller was right. A map really is worth more than the sum of its parts.