Superapps Can Enhance the Digital Employee ExperienceGartner Analyst Jason Wong Explains the Potential of Superapps in the Enterprise
Superapps are featured as one of Gartner's top 10 strategic technology trends for 2023. In an exclusive interview with ISMG, Jason Wong, distinguished VP analyst, Gartner, explained how superapps offer a powerful way to integrate diverse services, empower users, and drive innovation, making them a force to reckon with in the digital future.
Edited excerpts follow:
What is a superapp and how does it differ from conventional apps?
The concept of superapp is not well understood. People believe superapp is a do-everything app: a messaging app, a payment app or a gaming app. When we decided to feature superapps as a top strategic trend, we looked at it purely from an architecture perspective. It boils down to the technology. We believe superapps are based on the models of WeChat and Alipay, which are mobile apps.
A superapp is a mobile app that provides end users (customers, partners or employees) with a set of core features reinforced by extensibility via miniapps. The miniapps are the extensibility [of the superapp] - the features that are beyond what the superapp provider created. It's the partners or other developers that add those features. That's what makes the superapp more powerful.
[Through the superapp] there can be hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of miniapps available to the user. It's like having an app store inside the superapp. It is a mechanism to find the miniapps, and then to activate it or to be connected with a service.
The miniapps connect to application programming interfaces, which could be from the developer, a third party or external. It functions as an integrated component within the superapp, with connectivity to other services such as payments, messaging and communications. There's a sense of shared services, as well. This makes the connection more seamless, between the superapp and the miniapp. It's all about making the user experience as seamless as possible.
What is driving the superapp trend and where is it on the Gartner Hype Cycle?
I think we are still climbing the hype. But [the adoption] is coming from the east. Tokyo and India gets it. Unlike other technology trends, it doesn't come from the west. The east skipped the PC generation and went to mobile. People refrain from using email for payments and messaging.
There's workforce regret [with enterprise apps]. Let's face it, mobile apps for the enterprise are poor [in terms of adoption rates]. You have mobile apps from all your different enterprise application vendors, sales application, service application, expense approval and HR. That's too many apps. How often do you use the HR app? Probably once or twice a year. You go to the web.
Right now, we have our updates to enrollment. If I wanted to change my medical or change my investment percentages, I can use a miniapp. It's quick and transactional.
It empowers the user and boosts productivity. But it ultimately allows the development teams and the different business teams to think about the user experience they are providing to customers, partners and employees.
Can you give us an example of how superapps are used in the banking industry?
Bank Itaú, a Brazilian financial services company, has a digital wallet and they have now created a framework where their partners can create miniapps inside their banking app. The bank partners with cinemas and bike rental companies. As a customer, I don't need to install task-specific apps for buying a movie ticket or renting a bike, for instance. I can directly integrate it into the digital wallet in that banking app.
Apart from banking and finance, which other industries can adopt superapps?
Superapps are gaining traction in retail, with major players like Reliance and Tata leading the charge in India, with their Jio and Tata Neu apps.
The government is also considering superapps for government to citizen services. For instance, Ukraine has an app called Diia, which allows citizens to use digital documents on their smartphones. But the app now also provides alerting and other types of citizen services and is adopted by over 70% of the population.
Several Middle Eastern ministries are also trying to consolidate their apps as app maintenance and updates are becoming a significant financial burden [for each ministry].
What are the options for enterprises to build workforce superapps?
There are three options, each with pros and cons. One, build from the ground up, and very few organizations can do this. Large organizations like Walmart have huge engineering teams and they use open-source technologies to build from the ground up. They build the platform layer, do the integration, and build the store, [which is] the catalogue of miniapps. Then they build the mobile apps. This can be achieved with open source and coding.
The second option is to use low-code application development platforms and mobile app development platforms. These can accelerate the delivery of the platform. There are tools to create miniapps that can be catalogued and deployed inside the superapp.
The third option is to adopt digital workplace solutions, such as employee communications, applications or intranet solutions. Those have mobile apps, and those mobile apps sit on their platform. They have some tooling to build some components that can become miniapps, but that's limited in terms of what you can build with those tools.
How does the CIO or chief digital officer decide which approach is best?
CIOs need to look at the miniapp capabilities and the core features. It is essential to understand what you want to build. The miniapps that you want to build will dictate the options you have. You might eliminate the digital workplace solutions, because it's too limiting. Or consider a digital workplace that already has messaging and content management. That's going to offer a faster solution. But the miniapps might be simpler.
You should also consider it from a skills perspective, a platform perspective, as a digital product, and the resources to manage the community of developers that contribute to it. That's the key, because over time you will want more miniapps [for your superapp]. If you stop building the miniapps, then the capabilities get stagnant and you don't have innovation. Another consideration is the cost model. There's different licensing for the software. There's licensing for runtime platforms and for cloud computes.
You can go for open source, but you have to host it somewhere as well. You have to run that open-source solution on some cloud platform and pay for compute and storage. The advantage with open source is there's no user licensing to deal with.
Wong helps CIOs and IT leaders with their digital workplace and digital employee experience strategies. His research focuses on driving total experience outcomes, empowering business technologists and citizen development, and optimizing fusion teams through low-code tools.
Disclaimer: Some views for this interview were extracted from Wong's presentation at the recent Gartner Symposium in Kochi, India.