In this age of instant communication and apps for just about anything imaginable, it's easy to believe everything we need to manage our businesses is at our fingertips. With our smart phones and tablet computers it's easy to lose sight of the technology 'behind the scenes' that is still needed to run our businesses. I'm not suggesting that these tools (smart phones and tablet computers) aren't tremendously useful, because they are. But we need to use them in ways that truly help improve business processes and communication. And, so far, I haven't seen an app that will manage your workflow, track everyone's time, balance your resources, and manage your digital assets, all while you're playing Angry Birds. So, let's consider some of the good and not-so-good aspects of our shifting technology paradigm.

To me, the best thing about smart phones and tablets is that they allow us to view information, essentially, in real time. They can provide a portable dashboard to keep us up to date on everything from financial performance sliced any way you want down to the status of individual project tasks. This works best when these apps are tightly integrated with the technology solutions that truly manage all the workflow and data that drive our business processes. And, when done well, we have access to the information and knowledge, not just the data that we need to inform our business decisions.

Another great thing about smart phones and tablets is that they can be great input devices. For instance, an automated workflow task can be completed from a remote device as long as it's integrated with the workflow system. Review and approval can be done on a tablet from any location, removing potential bottlenecks in the creative process. Time entry can be managed in a simple format and then fed into the time tracking system. But, all of these examples assume the appropriate integration with the underlying applications that are managing the business processes. You might have a great time tracking application on your phone, but if it isn't integrated with you enterprise time system, then it's going to lead to double entry and opportunities for errors.

The last point leads to my biggest concern with apps in the business world. There is a cool factor to apps that can be very enticing and can distract us from the real functional needs. In a real life example, I talked with someone about the great app they had found for managing their purchases with their company's purchasing card. They were advocating getting this great app for all P-card users, but they hadn't investigated whether the app could integrate with the existing finance system. It couldn't, and would have resulted in more work rather than less to manage this process.

There are many great apps out there today, and many that add value in the workplace. But we need to avoid thinking that disparate stand-alone apps can manage our businesses. There is a tendency to forget about the complexity of our enterprise systems and how important it is that they be tightly integrated. So, use your portable technology tools to help you be more efficient, enhance your business processes and improve your bottom line. And when your clients requests mobile app development from your team, stand by those same principles.