To put it mildly, productivity apps are a big business. In fact, TechCrunch recently estimated that “enterprise mobile applications [alone] … are poised to become a $100 billion market opportunity.”
Ironically, this proliferation of productivity makes it all the more difficult to actually be productive.
While tool lists like 7 Time and Career Saving Productivity Apps and 10 Google Chrome Apps That Will Increase Your Productivity are great starting points, it’s even more vital to understand the underlying pitfalls many of these apps carry with them.
Easily, the hottest new trend in productivity apps is what’s known as “single-purpose apps.” Like their title suggests, single-purpose apps aim to cut through the clutter of multi-purpose tools and zero in on one key feature.
The appeal is understandable. Overburdened users are drawn to single-purpose apps for their specialized function, laser focus, and clean interface. In other words, they look good, are easy to learn, and often create higher rates of engagement.
The question is: do single-purpose apps deliver on the seductive promise: work less, accomplish more?
Yes … and no.
Before you and your organization jump on the bandwagon, consider these three reasons why single-purpose apps might be killing you and your team’s productivity.
In a 2012 CEB survey of 5000 employees across 22 global nations, fewer than 44% said they knew where to find information they need for their day-to-day work. Today, that problem has only intensified.
Chances are the landscape of your organization’s app ecosystem bears witness to this deficiency.
When you use email to share links, Slack for instant communication, Buffer for social media, Skype for group meetings, Evernote for articles, FreshBooks for billing and invoicing, EchoSign for contracts, Trello, Asana, or Basecamp for workflow, Google Docs to collaborate, Pocket for videos, Harvest for recording time, and a completely separate cloud provider to file away everything else, you end up with maze of information repositories more complex than this sentence.
Often times, single-purpose apps do little more than add to this growing sprawl.
To reduce sprawl, the core tools you select should revolve around (1) a single cloud storage application and (2) a single communication platform. Once those two basics are covered, your next goal should be to focus on team-wide meta-tools that integrate with them directly.
Sometimes this take ingenuity. The Sticker Mule Guide to Asana offers readers a detailed guide on exactly how Sticker Mule’s entire organization is structured through one workflow platform: product design, development, operations, marketing, customer service, and even human resources.
Sometimes all it takes is finding the right tool. memit, for example, is essentially a robust webclipper meant to replace stand alone clippers. To do that, memit runs in conjunction with your existing cloud storage platform. This means you can store just about anything you’d normally use Evernote, Pocket, Readability, and Buffer to capture and automatically generate a digital copy in the very place you already store everything else.
Consolidating apps will slash your content search and recovery time, helping you focus on tasks that matter.
The second reason to think hard about investing in single purpose apps flows directly out of the first. Separation means exactly what it sounds like: isolating your workflow into discrete, disconnected units rather than bringing it all together under one roof.
However, more than just the confusion that sprawl creates, separation has two additional downsides.
First, on the machine side, having data in no way correlates to using that data effectively. Sometimes the opposite is true. According to Harvard Business Review, “Investments in analytics can be useless, even harmful, unless employees can incorporate that data into complex decision making.”
IBM’s Big Data and Analytics Hub echoes this warning, “What we’ve learned is that many of the most common challenges associated with big data aren’t really analytics problems. In many cases, these problems are fundamental, even traditional, information integration problems.”
The keywords those sentences are “incorporate” and “integrations.”
With both, the point is the same: single-purpose apps inevitably lead to silos. Unfortunately, meta-tools on the data front — unlike workflow and storage — don’t exist. SaaS-based, all-in-one data “warehouses,” however, do.
Case in point, Segment Sources allows you to aggregate data from a variety of sources into a single database thereby creating a single repository of customer data and analytics. They’ve even partnered with seven common business intelligence tools to offer custom dashboards for popular use cases all of which major on destroying the silos separate platforms create.
Second, on the human side, separation also leads to what neuroscientists call “task-switching,” the mental cost of moving between activities. As the American Psychological Association explains:
“[A]lthough switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks.
Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
The application (pun intended) is obvious.
Spreading features across a host of single-purpose apps forces you to jump from one platform to another. The more separation your workflow creates, the higher the productivity cost.
To put this in perspective, the average employee already gets “distracted” every 10.5 minutes and takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track. Sapience Analytics estimates that the cost of these distractions adds up to “$300 billion every year.”
Simply put, reducing the number of separate applications your workflow contains dramatically increases data integration and human productivity.
Security is a perennial issue.
That might sound obvious, but it’s staggering how often this concern is overlooked when organizations — and especially individuals — add apps to their workflow.
“[App] fatigue can be attributed to people’s heightened concern about app security,” writes Danny Bluestone, the Managing Director at Cyber-Duck, “given that apps are more connected to precious personal data stored on phones than merely browsing the web.”
Decompiling Android’s Top 10 Mobile Security Risks lays the situation out plain. From big picture concerns like insecure data storage, weak server controls, and poor authentication to technical issues like insufficient transport layer protection, side channel data leakage, and broken cryptography the threats facing mobile apps continue to mount.
What’s more, recent numbers on mobile-app security paints a pretty bleak picture.
Citing cumulative data from both the Ponemon Institute and Garner, Security Week reported that as of 2015 only 41% of organizations had sufficient mobile security expertise. 55% of organizations simply “don’t test apps or are unsure if they do.” And a full 75% of mobile applications “fail basic security tests.”
The more applications you store sensitive data on the more vulnerable you and your company become.
Of course, the question is: What does security have to do with productivity?
In fact, while the financial, legal, and reputational downsides of poor security are easy to identify, Ponemon Institute’s two-year study — Aftermath of a Data Breach Study — found that the number one “negative consequence” of a data breach was (you guessed it) “loss of productivity.”
Less is More
The $100 billion productivity app industry is built on a promise: work less, accomplish more. And while it’s true that single-purpose apps offer the advantages of simplified interfaces and laser-focused functionality, rarely are they the best choice.
When it comes to selecting which apps to include you and your business’ app ecosystem, the old truism still applies: less really is more. Make the best choices by prioritizing meta-tools that combine feature sets or by bringing your separate tool together under one digital roof.
As for the rest … be ruthless. And remember, apps are a lot more expensive than they look, even if you download it for free. Got any app experiences of your own? Share with us in the comments below!