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April 12, 2018

Future EHS: The Rise of Progressive Web Apps

 

Progressive Web Apps

Up until very recently, native apps were the forefront of business technology across industries. And it’s little wonder – they’re fast, intuitive, and responsive across the diverse spectrum of mobile devices. However, advancements in mobile browser technologies have given rise to an even more flexible generation of apps. Progressive web apps are a new set of technologies for developing applications that run on mobile devices while still capturing the benefits of browser-based software and installed native apps. Enviance is committed to this new technology and the key benefits it presents for EHS professionals.

The native app was awesome…

When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2006 (yes, that made me feel old too!), it also introduced iOS to give life and purpose to their revolutionary hardware. In doing so, it ushered into popularity a new type of software application – the “app” or the “native app.” With this concurrent focus on the device itself and the overall experience of the mobile user, Apple achieved much:

  1. Apps could be graphical, intuitive, and touch-based - a leapfrog over the 2006 “website” or “web application” running in web browsers on the clunky laptops and desktops of the era.
  2. It allowed developers and their apps to utilize technologies embedded in mobile devices, most notably GPS, calling and messaging capabilities, notifications, and the camera.
  3. Apps could be rich and interactive, but use very few network resources or even work entirely without a network. This was critical in a time when data plans were either limited or very expensive, and bandwidth on mobile devices was slow and unreliable.

As these apps made their way into the realm of business software, a new set of differentiators emerged among software providers: whether or not they supplied a “native app” (downloaded and installed), a “responsive web app” (web browser, but designed to adapt to small screens when needed), or no mobile support at all. There was a strong initial preference for the native app.

…but maybe not entirely awesome.

Fast forward 12 years and some of the shine has worn off. We’ve learned a thing or two in the past decade - particularly, that the leap forward with native apps has resulted in a few steps backward:

  1. Updating apps is annoying. This annoyance has been labeled “app fatigue” by tech insiders and analysts from the likes of TechCrunch and Gartner. It’s a reality that few business leaders can afford to overlook as process updates and technology fixes seem to happen weekly, if not daily.
  2. Unlike the web applications that came before native apps, the user is stuck with less functional and potentially insecure apps on their devices if (or when) they don’t install updates. The web has given us the ability to keep the software “out there”, but to achieve its goals, the native app has to be installed and run locally, leaving behind one of the key advancements of the web.
  3. Corporations can’t control users' app updates without imposing a massive burden on their IT staff. These days, too many people are using their own devices rather than corporate-issue hardware to make it feasible to manually push out updates to employee devices.
  4. The problems native apps solved are – in part – no longer problems. Browsers on mobile devices can deliver rich and engaging user experiences indistinguishable from only the most graphically intensive apps, like games.
  5. App developers found they were spending more time writing multiple versions of native app software instead of developing newer features and functions.

Enter the progressive web app.

Google recognized that it was time to come full circle – to take the best of the web and the best of native apps, apply lessons from over three decades of native and web app development, and deliver a new user and developer model for mobile applications. With this new class of applications, we satisfy the security and control requirements of enterprises, alleviate the hassle of installing and keeping software up to date for the user, still allow the running of software with or without the availability of the network and – most importantly – create easy to use and engaging software on our mobile devices.

 

Google coined the term “progressive web app” (or PWA) in 2015 to cover the type of mobile app enabled by a number of enhancements to browser technology on mobile devices:

  1. Easy access to the features of the phone through the browser. PWAs can access the camera, calling/messaging capabilities, local storage, and GPS through a mobile phone’s browser.
  2. The ability to write software for the browser that works offline. PWAs work even when the internet or mobile device network is not available.
  3. Full support for all of the user interactions and movements we take for granted on smart phones. This includes touch, swipe, pinch, etc.
  4. No need for installation or updating/patching/uninstalling, although shortcuts that look just like native apps can be placed on the device's home screen.
  5. Development approaches that overlap with the development of the desktop/laptop version of software. This can reduce or eliminate any time-consuming duplication of development efforts.

The end result of these enhancements is a secure, intuitive, truly mobile generation of web apps that are either on par with or superior to native apps in terms of features.

PWAs at Enviance

Version 2.2 of Enviance’s Workflow Application Builder (WAB), which was released in March, is the most recent example of our continued embrace of and focus on building mobile-ready progressive web app solutions using the proven SaaS model. This new release adds full offline capability to our WAB family of apps, allowing users to perform their work anywhere, regardless of the quality of their internet connection.

 

Our customers already use the WAB for permit tracking, water data collection, emergency response inspections, checklists, and many other business processes. Users of our out-of-the-box Incident and Management of Change solutions may now log incidents and change requests with no connection at all, and companies using the WAB’s app-building capabilities can now take advantage of offline data collection for any work process.

 

Moving forward, there is clear momentum in the market to continue to improve the technologies that EHS professionals rely on. The challenge of implementing mobile app delivery initiatives that support changes and scale over time is an immediate one, especially with the growing trend of employees providing their own devices. As a multi-tenant SaaS provider, Enviance has been innovating and continually ensuring the most up-to-date release and new features are available to our customers, without the effort of implementation. PWAs are a reliable, fast, and engaging medium that allows us to extend the same progressive philosophy to mobile.

 

To learn more about how Enviance reduces the burden of app maintenance across our EHS software solutions, request a demo today.

 

 

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