Microapp working to improve interactions

When it comes to enterprise apps vs. microapps, most distinguish microapps as “tiny processes that perform targeted actions in a larger more complex enterprise app.” While this definition is mostly true, it doesn’t give you the bigger picture of how microapps are improving the way we interact with enterprise-scale applications. 

In fact, microapps can dramatically streamline workflows across an organization. This doesn’t just make the lives of your team members easier, but it also reduces costs, boosts productivity, and makes your organization more agile and competitive. 

To fully understand why businesses are using microapps for this purpose – and how they are doing it – we first have to define enterprise apps and their inherent limitations. In this context, we can start to talk about microapps and their benefits. 

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What Are Enterprise Apps? 

Enterprise apps are the tools and technologies that run an enterprise – and there are a variety of characteristics that make them “enterprise-grade.” Compared to consumer apps, enterprise apps offer more regular updates, hosting options, and more in-depth customer support. They operate at a larger scale, satisfy more nuanced use-cases, and can integrate with a variety of apps, services, and data systems across an organization. Stability and security are also essential to modern enterprise applications – so these apps undergo more rigorous testing and include more advanced end-to-end encryption features.

A good example of an enterprise application is the MariaDB Enterprise Server. According to MariaDB VP Max Mether, the enterprise version of the MariaDB database satisfies larger, enterprise-scale use-cases that require more stability, security, and additional services. MariaDB Enterprise Server also includes extra features related to certification, support, plugins, monitoring tools, security alerts, bug-fix notifications, and 24×7 support. 

It’s important to note that enterprise users are typically interacting with multiple enterprise apps, so they are frequently context-switching between the different app interfaces. Moreover, they are using up to three different devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone) from multiple locations (home, office, cafe, etc.) while interacting with these apps. As we discuss in more detail below, this context-switching creates delays and interrupts concentration. 

Here are some examples of enterprise apps that enterprise users could interact with on a daily basis:

Key points: Enterprise apps help businesses organize their operational infrastructures, communications, and other key tasks. Enterprise apps are scalable, secure, stable, and flexible. They offer additional services like in-depth customer support, monitoring, additional plugins, updates, and hosting. Enterprise team members are generally interacting with a lot of different apps, switching between them, and using different devices in different locations to access them.

What Are Microservices-Based Enterprise Apps?

Before we move on to the topic of microapps, we need to introduce the topic of microservices and microservices-based enterprise apps – because it’s the “pluggability” of microservices-based architectures that allows modern developers to quickly build microapps that they integrate with enterprise apps. 

In recent years, enterprises have embraced the trend toward microservices-based app architectures. This is due to the tremendous scalability/agility benefits that microservices architectures provide:

Microservices-based apps are more scalable and agile because of how they are different from traditional monolithic applications. Monolithic apps hold all of the code for their services and features within a specific piece of programming. In contrast, microservices-based apps break monoliths into their component services and run each service as its own autonomous mini-application (or microservice). Finally, the individual microservices loosely connect with each other – typically through REST APIs – to form the larger application. 

Here are four ways that microservices-based enterprise apps are more scalable and agile than traditional monolithic apps:

  1. Easier to replicate processes: When workload demands go up, the system only has to replicate the microservices affected by the increase in server traffic and demand. This is faster and easier than replicating the entire application.
  2. More economical usage of resources: Instead of needing to replicate the whole system, microservices-based architectures only divert additional resources to the parts of the app (or the microservices) that require them. This saves on processing power, server resources, and the costs of maintaining the system. 
  3. Faster development cycles: Developers can quickly and more cost-effectively create products, services, and enterprise infrastructures in response to changing demands.
  4. Pluggable, flexible design: It’s faster to add, upgrade, or remove individual services and features – including microapps. There is much less chance that a new service or feature will negatively impact other parts of the system.

Key points: The pluggability of microservices-based apps makes it easy to quickly develop and integrate new features into an existing enterprise application. In other words, if you have an idea for a new feature – or microapp – you can easily develop the app or idea and connect it to a microservices-based enterprise app. For example, if you have a microapp idea that could overcome a workflow bottleneck, developing the microapp and integrating it into the enterprise app is fast, inexpensive, and painless. 

The Limitations of Enterprise Apps

Developers are skilled at building stable, efficient, and secure enterprise applications. The problem is that developers are not necessarily skilled at making apps easy and more convenient to use. In fact, most enterprise apps are clunky, slow, and bloated with rarely-used features that the average user never interacts with. Users generally interact with only 10% to 15% of the features in an enterprise app on a regular basis – and developers do not always make these few features quick and easy to access.

This isn’t the developers’ fault. It simply happens because developers don’t always know what it’s like to use the application on a daily basis. 

To make matters worse, business users typically interact with at least a half-dozen (or more) of these clunky enterprise apps on a daily basis. That means users are continually (1) logging in and out of these apps; (2) trying to remember passwords for different apps; (3) context-switching from one app environment to another; and (4) hunting through dropdown menus for the exact feature they need – if they can even find it. However, none of these actions have much to do with the actual “work” that team members need to perform! 

These small delays and context-switching add up to cause workflow disruptions, decreased levels of concentration, and delays across an organization. The effects are devastating. In fact, according to a study from the University of California, Irvine, researches found that it can take up to 23 minutes for a business user to regain concentration and get back on track after a context-switching workflow disruption. 

Let’s review the ways that enterprise apps cause workflow problems:

  • Context-switching: Context-switching from one app environment to another and reorienting to the new layout interrupts concentration levels – taking workers as much as 23 minutes to get back on track. 
  • Putting off tasks: Users subconsciously put off certain tasks because they don’t want to break their stride to enter another app. A manager could delay approving an expense request by hours or days – just because it takes an extra step to enter the expense approval system. 
  • Login delays and lost passwords: The constant need to enter passwords and guess and reset forgotten passwords creates a noticeable workflow disruption.
  • Hunting for app features: Users lose time while hunting for the exact feature they need in a specific application.
  • Forgotten tasks: Users can lose sight of what they were previously working on before switching app environments. 

Considering what we have covered in this section, enterprise applications present clear workflow challenges. While developers can do a lot to smooth out these challenges by updating apps based on user feedback, another solution is also available: microapps.

Microapps are ultimately made possible by the pluggability of API-led development strategies. Developers can quickly create microapp solutions that streamline workflows – then “plug” the microapps into the enterprise app via the enterprise app’s API.

Key points: Enterprise apps are essential to getting work done in an organization. However, users are interacting with so many different applications that it creates workflow bottlenecks and disrupts team member concentration. The average user only interacts with 10% to 15% of an enterprise application. This translates into more workflow delays as team members hunt for the specific feature they need to use inside the app. Microapps are helping enterprises overcome these challenges.

What Are Microapps?

As we have already established, microapps are tiny, autonomous applications built for a single purpose. Each microapp performs a focused action within a larger application. In the context of enterprise apps, using a microapp to perform a focused action like this is a powerful way to overcome workflow bottlenecks.

To understand how this works, let’s examine a workflow problem that relates to expense approval systems. In a typical setup, a team member submits an expense request in the system. The manager receives a notification of the expense by email. The manager needs to exit the current work environment, log into the expense approval system, navigate to the expense, and approve it. Next, the expense goes to the next decision-maker in the management chain – and that person completes the same process.

These expense approval steps are workflow disruptions that destroy decision-maker concentration and productivity. To avoid disruption, decision-makers often delay entering the expense approval system until they finish what they’re currently doing. Or, they will wait until a number of expense requests accrues. This slows the entire approval process, making the enterprise less agile. 

Here’s how a simple microapp improves this workflow bottleneck:

  1. A team member submits an expense request in the system.
  2. The manager receives an interactive push notification from the microapp. 
  3. The notification describes the expense and offers two buttons, “Approve” or “Decline.”
  4. The manager clicks “Approve” and the request moves to the next decision-maker.

In this microapp workflow, the manager does not have to context-switch into a new environment. There is no need to log into another system or hunt for the information. The information comes directly to the manager – as a simple yes or no question. This is like having an assistant outside your door, asking simple questions about scheduling meetings, approving expenses, scheduling e-courses, ordering supplies, etc. The microapp serves you the question and returns your answer to the enterprise app with minimal interruption.

Key points: Microapps overcome workflow bottlenecks by simplifying the process of interacting with enterprise apps. Users can rapidly answer a simple question in the microapp without leaving their current work environment. This minimizes delays, improves team member productivity, and preservers team member concentration. 

3 Key Attributes of Microapps

Now that you have some context, we can look at the three key attributes of microapps as defined by DreamFactory CTO Jason Gilmore:

  1. Laser focused: The microapp is laser-focused on a specific task. This task might be expense approval, course registration, calendaring, etc.
  2. Responsive: You can interact with a microapp on your desktop, iPad, or mobile phone equally well. 
  3. Notification-driven: You don’t have to look for the information. The information comes to you. It usually shows up in the activity feed of your workspace environment, and you might receive a pop-up notification on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop device. 

Key points: The three key attributes of microapps relate to their laser focus on completing a specific action within a larger app, their responsiveness and ability to be used on any kind of device, and their notification-driven nature. Once the microapp receives your response, you’re done!

“Disposable” Microapps with a Short Lifespan

A fourth attribute that you can apply to some micro microapps is a short lifespan. For example, you might be working on an event or project, and create a microapp that only exists for several months. After preparing for the event or completing the project, the microapp has served its purpose and you can discard it. 

Years ago the idea of creating a “disposable” short-lifespan microapp would have been ludicrous because of the tremendous developer time that goes into a single application. However, automated developer tools are making microapp development quick, simple, and codeless. Moreover, pluggable API-led development, microservices-based systems, and automated low-code/no-code app development tools mean that you can rapidly create microapps for specific use-cases and integrate them into your existing systems.

How to Generate Microapps in Minutes 

With DreamFactory’s new Citrix Workspace integration, you can access the Citrix microapp builder, which automates the entire process of developing microapps in an easy-to-use, code-free developer environment. By connecting to Citrix Workspace through DreamFactory, you can access a powerful point-and-click portal where to create all kinds of microapp solutions in minutes without writing a single line of code! 

The Citrix microapp builder generates microapps with beautiful, modern user interfaces almost instantly. Plus, DreamFactory lets you connect these microapps to twenty different databases – including Microsoft SQL Server, MongoDB, Oracle, and MySQL.

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

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Conclusion

As you can imagine, the sky’s the limit when it comes to developing microapps that overcome workflow bottlenecks, employee productivity problems, and other enterprise application challenges. In the years ahead, we expect to see a lot of interesting developments in the way businesses are integrating microapps into their existing infrastructures. Do you want to try creating a beautiful microapp in just a few minutes with DreamFactory’s Citrix Workspace plugin? Contact the DreamFactory team for a free hosted trial of our platform now.