Our new mobile app is now available for download for iOs and Android! We had a chance to sit down with Brian White, Skytap’s vice president of products to learn what all went into the app’s design, and how it allows Skytap administrators to do their job quickly and on the go.
Noel: Let’s talk about the new Skytap Admin mobile app. Was this something that our customers were expecting, or asking for, or was this more of a response to the global trend toward mobility?
Brian: We started the project because there are many day-to-day tasks that can be done from a mobile device, and we wanted to see whether there was any customer interest. We hand-selected a set of customers, gave them a technology preview, and we got overwhelmingly positive feedback, much more than we expected, so we decided to invest in a production app. Today, we’ve already seen huge adoption, much larger than we were anticipating organically, even though we haven’t put out a press release yet. (A press release had yet to be issued at the time of this interview, it can now be read here.)
Noel: That’s great to hear! We were speaking earlier and you said that the initial goal when building the app wasn’t to replicate all of Skytap’s functionality, but to really focus on the core tasks that Skytap administrators would really benefit from being able to complete on the go, or when away from their desks or laptops.
Brian: Yes. There’s a fundamental difference between a tablet-sized surface, a laptop-sized surface, and a phone’s surface. The way we think at Skytap is that the web applications we provide should function equally well on a tablet type of surface. If you’re using an iPad with Safari, you can go to Skytap and you’ll have exactly the same full-featured experience that you would have if you were using your laptop or desktop.
For the phone, you don’t necessarily want to do all of the tasks that you would do at Skytap on your phone. It might be possible, but for things like looking into an environment with 100 or more VMs in it, or trying to run some reports on your usage in different global geographies—these types of use cases do not lend themselves that naturally to a phone.
What we’re doing is orienting the phone application around the kinds of tasks that you would typically perform more urgently, and would want to complete quickly. “I want to run an environment.” “I want to suspend an environment.” “I want to update Joe’s quota, because he’s run out, and he’s stuck somewhere” Things that you want to do on a very short-term basis. The idea is that Skytap alerts you on your phone that something requires your attention, and then you can quickly take care of it all very easily versus trying to bring the breadth of Skytap capabilities into a phone-sized form factor.
Noel: That makes a lot of sense. There are obviously a number of situations where an administrator needs to be able to act fast, and to expect or require those in that role to have access to their laptop, or PC at all hours of the day as these situations spring up—it’s not realistic, and it doesn’t allow them to get some important aspects of their job done when away from their desks.
Brian: Exactly. Part of the job of the next generation of IT leaders is, how do you give development and test teams self-service access to their environments that they need while still managing visibility and control of the application? Skytap provides a myriad of ways through notifications, user and department quotas, usage-based reporting and so on to help you keep control of your spend and to reduce wasted usage. What this mobile app does is allows those administrators to do these parts of their job very quickly without having to go log in to their laptop.
Maybe Jennifer is working in a QA department. QA has three test environments up, and they need four. They need that fourth environment for a period of time, but they don’t have enough quota to run four—they only have enough to run three. Sam, a Skytap administrator can go immediately to their phone from home and say I’m going to up the QA department’s quota for the next two weeks so you guys can run that extra environment. It allows Sam to be a hero and Jennifer to make sure the company’s applications have high quality.
Noel: So what would you say are the app’s main features or capabilities?
Brian: They are centered around two core areas. One is managing environments. “I want this environment to be running” or “I want to suspend this environment” or “I need a copy of this environment in Singapore.” Maybe you’re in an Eastern US data center but someone in India needs it—you can use the app to copy this environment to Singapore. These are core admin capabilities surrounding environment management.
Then the second feature is really around quota management and managing who can do what with how much resource. An administrator can see a quick view of the dashboard. What is their confirmed virtual machine limits? How many virtual machine hours do they have available? What’s their use storage for the subscription? They can then allocate those resources to specific users or specific departments and see at a glance whether those users or departments are close to or blocked because of those quota limits and adjust those things.
What we’re trying to do is make it very easy for a Skytap administrator to manage the account, while still granting the development and test teams the full self-service ability to create these environments and run them on their own.
Noel: So awesome. Let’s talk a little about the usability of the app. The way you’ve described it so far sounds like design and usability obviously played a large role in the creation of this.
Brian: The broader point from a usability perspective is that traditionally, enterprise applications have focused more on function and not on the user experience and usability. Professionals are entering into the ranks of IT and moving into positions of leadership and decision making authority who are just used to having easy to use collaborative tools from their mobile device. That’s all they’ve ever known, they’re going to be far less patient with trying to adopt technologies that are difficult to understand, difficult to use, even though they may be very feature-rich.
At Skytap, we focus on providing a rock-solid user experience for an application that’s largely focused on enterprise development and test and IT. All that we’ve put into the UX inside our existing application, it’s really also important to have inside our mobile presence as well. Admins need to be able to get their job done without having to open a laptop and log in.
Noel: That focus and attention to design is definitely something that consumers are able to take notice of and appreciate even from their first use of an app.
Brian: What we believe is that this trend, more and more people in their day to day life are interacting with apps for banking, for travel, for restaurant recommendations, to connect with their friends, what have you. Everything is, “I want to get something done and I want to do it quickly. I need to find a restaurant. I need to make a reservation, etc.” It’s all very straightforward. There’s a lot of focus on making things really easy, and the apps that do that are the ones that are going to succeed.
When people turn from their day-to-day life, and then to have to go into the enterprise and interact with defect tracking systems, with expense reporting systems, products that are managing infrastructure, security, and so on, these applications have traditionally been designed to be very feature-rich. Even if it took a mountain of services or resources to get the thing deployed and up and running, it didn’t matter as long as it had more capabilities than the competitor’s product.
This is not going to remain the case. There will be a huge emphasis on, “Can I get in there and get my task completed and get out as quickly as possible?” There’s not going to be a lot of patience for extraordinary, complex applications that are difficult to learn and difficult to use. I would argue that user experience is going to be one of the key competitive advantages that companies can bring to enterprise software solutions going forward.
Brian: Absolutely. It’s been pretty interesting. When we started to shop this idea around, it was a pretty even split between Android and iOS demand within our customer base. So, if we were going to do one, we really had to do both.
Click here to check out the new Skytap Admin mobile app for yourself!