Yesterday morning I attended a seminar given by the law firm Kingsley Napley as part of their Technology Breakfast Briefing series. We were invited along by old friend and fellow Startup Yard mentor, James Fulforth, a partner at the company.

The seminar on “Why Design Matters in Enterprise Applications” began with a brief presentation from another of the firm’s partners, Simon Halberstam, a specialist in tech law and a man, as he put it, “with the dubious distinction of being the only person ever to have written an entire book about domain registration”. Simon talked us through what he saw as some of the main legal issues around the business of making and selling smart phone and tablet apps. They were, in headline:

  • Patents – or the idea itself
  • Trademarks – essentially, your brand
  • Domain names
  • Copyright  – the “expression of the idea” (and Simon made the valuable point here that in an app there may well be overlapping copyrights in, say, code, music, video, design and so on)
  • Database right
  • Consumer relationship
  • Developer/commissioner relationship – with special trickiness around the whole issue of Open Source
  • Data protection

Although Simon himself described this talk as a very quick overview of the area, it was a thoroughly interesting insight.

Next up was Sarah’s long-standing colleague, the technologist, raconteur and current Global Head of Mobile Technology for Thomson Reuters, Bob Schukai.

Bob’s talk was all about why design was just as important in the creation of enterprise apps as it was in consumer apps. He made a pretty ironclad case, too, talking and taking questions for the best part of 45 minutes. Among his observations were:

  • Good design is all about emotional connection, and that while this might seem more relevant in B2C apps, it’s simply not true. After all, many of us spend more time using enterprise apps than we do “playing” (although I personally find the image he put forward of professionals browsing work data and comms via apps while sitting in bed at night a little dismaying; I hope there are apps for insomnia*).
  • Apps are now being used by the most mainstream and corporate of firms across law and banking, from JP Morgan to Barclays, who only this week announced the purchase of 8000 iPads for branches across the UK.
  • The change in attitude among corporations happened organically, when senior staff in the companies (including CEOs and CTOs) started demanding that they be able to receive their work email on their iPhones. That demand soon trickled down into the rest of the organisation.
  • As a consequence, Bob didn’t find it difficult to advocate about the importance of design, even in times of austerity, at Thompson Reuters. Anywhere from 25-30% of an app’s budget should go on design. That said, Bob, himself an engineer by training, was at pains to point out that if, “the back end ain’t right, then no amount of fabulous UI and UX work was going  to turn it around”.
  • Android has real problems around security, so for TR at the moment, it’s largely about iOS; but Android is dominant in the developing world so as their user base there increases, they’re going to have to contend with it.
  • At the moment they’re not really worrying about HTML 5 which he feels hasn’t been implemented too well by Apple.
  • The iPad Mini is an important development, but not a game changer; but he seemed pretty open-minded on that…
  • Augmented Reality is great on the consumer end of things but doesn’t feel so relevant to the enterprise market.
  • Finally he talked about bringing all his development activity in-house for security reasons, but would still work with outside agencies on UX work to ensure their approach to design didn’t go stale.

All in all, very stimulating – as Bob always is. (Oh, and profane. You won’t get more swearing in many presentations!)

A great morning. Thanks to James for inviting me along.

* There are