Technology Spotlight: Harness the Power of the App

Mobile apps have become popular in all industries — mostly by necessity. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 56 percent of American adults own a smartphone. The increasing popularity of mobile devices means that mobile app use is only going to continue its rise. As a security dealer or integrator, are you doing all that you can to cater to these potential customers?

Your current and future customers are using their smartphones and the apps on them, and your business can also benefit from them. For security dealers and integrators, a mobile app can help employees on a sales call or troubleshooting visits, saving time and money. To harness the power of the app, you can use an existing one already on the market or create a proprietary app in-house.

 

Apps to Consider

Do your salespeople or technicians showcase products and solutions to potential customers while visiting them on site? If so, they could use an app to show the variety of solutions and technologies available — complete with images, videos and more details.

Those sales and technical pros could also use an app that records customer details and documents installation sites. This simplifies many aspects of their work — from getting a quote to installing hardware — because you have already documented the floor plan and placed products virtually on the map, or at the very least have written, detailed instructions for the installation. This makes life easier for your sales and installation teams, and leads to a better service experience for new and existing customers.

If your company monitors security systems that audit card reader swipes, you can create an app for your technicians. Many security systems provide an application programming interface (API) to monitor usage of certain doors or the status of other equipment. An app can take that Web service mobile, allowing support technicians to access necessary information through the app while they are on site. The app can also manage trouble tickets and provide historical issues with specific locations.

In addition to apps that help your employees, security dealers can benefit from consumer-facing apps. Some apps allow consumers to access their security cameras or locks from their mobile device. My firm recently improved and optimized a digital lock app for Yale Real Living that enables homeowners to access and control their digital locks. The app also allows users to customize their experience, check the status and remaining battery life of the locks and receive pre-programmed alerts via text message or email.

Beyond physical security apps, mobile security and mobile device management are important. There are apps in the marketplace that test network vulnerability and lock down access to device sensors. These can be a profitable addition to your traditional security services.

 

How to Design a Security App

Apps for your employees to take on site will most likely be used on a tablet, which gives them a lot more real estate to work with. When designing any app, you should start with the basic elements of design. The most important thing is to keep it clean — you want the message to stand out, so do not let key information or graphics get lost in fancy backgrounds or fonts. The layout should be concise with the information or photos as the focal point.

Functionality is critical to an app’s success. If the app looks great, but is cumbersome to use, your employees or customers will not use it. The user should have easy access to the key features with a simple interface and presentation. Research similar apps to see how they handled their layout for menu placement and other design aspects to get ideas.

For example, my firm built the WESCO Data Center App (available on iTunes) that they use for distribution. The app is divided into categories like “data center solutions,” “location finder,” “news & amusement” and “settings.” This information is neatly displayed using a menu wheel — a clean way to make a menu more interesting and more fun to use on a day-to-day basis.

If you are using your app to display photos or videos, the content should be well-organized. For WESCO, we gave videos their own category instead of including them in the catalog of products to keep it simple. With videos, it is best to have the video play on two-thirds of the screen. Dedicate the bottom third of the screen to thumbnails and a title description to allow easy navigation between videos.

Your app should follow your branding. Font should be easy to read and consistent — choose one and use it throughout the entire app. The font family may have bold or italics options that you can use to emphasize words, but do not go beyond that. Professional apps should not use a curly or script font; instead, keep it simple and easy to read.

Color choices are also important. They should be simple, visually pleasing and work well with other colors. Contrast is key with text — if the background is a dark color, use a white or light gray color for the text. If you have a lot of images, a darker background will contrast better against the light backdrop of professional product shots. You want to make sure the image stands out so don’t include a pattern or anything that will distract from the content.

 

What about Security?

Tablets allow each user to set a password, but the app itself should also be password-protected. In addition to requiring users to log in, make sure the app logs the user out if the app closes out or the tablet goes idle. The user should have to log back in every time — even if annoying, it is a security feature used by a lot of apps with secure information.

You also want to avoid going through third-party or proxy servers to access information. The most secure apps connect users directly to whatever service they are accessing. For example, a banking app would connect directly to the processing company’s mobile banking site or the financial core’s banking service.

There are also apps available specifically for mobile security purposes. For example, SnoopWall allows users to take over control of their phone in the event it is lost or stolen, preventing anyone else from accessing their data. Myntex for Blackberry provides a security swipe of the device. For network vulnerability testing, Websense is an app that authenticates or identifies users for user- or group-based filtering.

 

Christi Johnson is a graphic designer at Franklin, Tenn.-based Metova (www.metova.com), a custom mobile app development firm.

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