Time for enterprises to build their own mobile apps

What factors are hindering companies from developing their own app? 

The cost and complexity of developing mobile apps

Developing mobile apps is hard and complex. A mobile app is not just the pretty user interface that with today’s tools can be built in a very short period of time. A mobile user experience is one that integrates with all the relevant and contextual data for the user to create a delightful experience, taking advantage of Mobile First features, mobile device features and delivering this in a secure way. It has also been challenging for business to get insights into the value of their mobile investments to fine tune their strategy. Cost of resources and infrastructure made them hesitant to invest and build their own apps.

The fear of failing

In today’s digital world, the traditional ways of doing business are being re-evaluated and redefined. Not only is failure accepted, it is seen as part and parcel of what it means to be a successful digital entrepreneur or web scale business: it simply goes with the territory.

The only caveats are that failure must be fast, and the lessons learnt faster still. Businesses must recognize a simple axiom: that some applications will be hugely disruptive and successful, while others won’t. This process in essence allows businesses to experiment with digital innovation in a much more strategic way; being able to run with and develop those creative ideas in which they see value into an application and then releasing them into the market to see which ones work.

What has changed to make this possible is the arrival of the cloud – particularly cloud-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions, which give businesses the agility they need for fail fast innovation. In place of an expensive team of developers and expensive market testing to be sure the application will provide ROI, they can simply take the resources they need as a service from the cloud, pay only for what they need, and use pre-existing development tools to bring their ideas to life. This can be done without the costs and risks associated with traditional IT projects, and the platform can co-exist with the existing infrastructure that serves the day-to-day running of the business.

This fail fast approach will continue to drive innovation in the digital space, helping businesses rapidly create and launch applications with the power to change our world. To embrace fast failure however, businesses must be truly agile and increasingly that means one thing: moving application development to the cloud.

Crossing the digital chasm

However, while new cloud, mobile and digital technologies are empowering a new way of doing business, the one factor that is preventing companies from embracing it is the mindset of the people behind the companies.

The proliferation of mobile phones and data has taken the world by storm for the past five to eight years. While many small companies have successfully moved from Desk-Centric to Desk-Less enterprises of today, using an app to access resources and perform work or business related activities, this approach is still viewed with caution by top management of large enterprises.

In part this is because many in-house IT teams lack the knowledge and/or confidence around how to create mobile apps, and especially how to make them engaging to both internal and external users.  Additionally, many companies have had their fingers burnt or achieved poor ROI in trying to build new teams and up-skill existing ones. There are also many security challenges involved in the space, especially when underpinning mobile applications with poor performing and unreliable legacy systems.

With the advent of cloud, vendors in this space can now give enterprises the confidence that their as-a-Service platforms can provide greater rewards than legacy facilities in terms of agility, elasticity, depreciation, innovation, reliability, security and performance. In addition, the increased capabilities cloud offers around Identity Based Security, having a single code base with hybrid deployment to multiple-channels including mobile and web, and superb integration capabilities to all new and legacy technologies has provided enterprises with new found confidence in their capacity to develop and deploy cloud-based apps. 

It is also worth noting that, with these new developments, technology vendors are starting to work with specialist consulting agencies in this area, enabling companies to draw on their skills set and experience.  This means that businesses can draw on a complete suite of offerings covering areas of strategizing, planning, technology mapping to the plans, testing in real experience studies, executing with experience and finally, monitoring and innovating.  As a result there really is no excuse for companies not to dip their toe in the water in terms of mobile development.  Furthermore, enterprises which cannot keep up with the cloud may face stiff competition to survive.

What are the key benefits of self-developed apps for enterprise IT companies?

Better control over the user experience

The user is arguably the most important part of the whole equation, regardless of whether they are internal to the organization or external clients. Either way, they are customers. It is they who take a deep sigh when they come across a problem with an app, they who get impatient when things go wrong, and who curse when they have a poor experience. In this case, who would be in a better position to readily respond to these customers’ needs than enterprise itself?

Improved business agility

If you think the volume of end user activity data generated pre-cloud was a problem, today end user activity can generate terabytes of data every 24 hours. Fortunately, analytics capabilities embedded into Cloud Platform offerings can give enterprises the capability to interpret mountains of data being collected and transform it into a treasure trove of information.  As a result, even when an app is out ‘in-the-field’, businesses can identify issues more rapidly and fix them before they become a serious problem.

What are the key factors to consider in building your own mobile app? 

Assembling the right team

Mobile is not just about the client side development. While this is an important part of the solution, 80% of the cost of the solution and complexity is wiring the front end to the backend. The backend needs to be optimized for mobile use cases and complexities introduced by the latency, availability and speed of the mobile network handling offline use cases and defining an event driven architecture driven by push notification services. A mobile project should be a collaborative approach bringing together an Outside-In Mobile First approach that puts the mobile user in the center of the universe to understand their use of the mobile app and an Inside-Out API First approach that leverages integrations from one or more backend systems that is either owned by the enterprise or augmented from external Cloud Services that deliver the Outside-In Mobile First user experience. Business teams should be engaged in an agile way to deliver releases quickly, learn, fine tune and optimize. To do this right, analytics is key to measure, analyze and take action to deliver the best user experience with the maximum benefits & ROI to the business.

Security and user experience: Both are equally crucial

With our mobile phones, there is little separation between our professional and personal lives. We use these devices to check e-mails, text, fill out expense reports, take photos, send tweets, et cetera. While we may be comfortable using personal devices for work purposes, we don't want our employers to lock them down. However, there is still a requirement for businesses to ensure that sensitive data is secured and privacy respected.  In the past, this has led to a conflict in interest between the organization’s requirements versus personal use. Fortunately today, technology developments such as containerization, mobile device management and mobile application management, mean that enterprises are in a position to give employees complete freedom over the devices they use without relinquishing control of their IT estate or compromising on security.

Streamline your company’s objective, and how the cloud can assist 

In today’s digital era, business departments want to innovate at their own pace, while the IT team wants and needs the right tools and features that help speed the development and integration of business and IT. This is where the cloud intersects with mobile development to streamline back-end integration, user security, and management; giving individual business departments the ease to develop the apps they need, without taxing too much on the IT teams’ budget.

The ability to continuously engage and serve the user anywhere 

Mobile apps make today’s businesses 24/7.  However, presently, the capabilities offered are mainly around the ability to provide browsable information and some level of transacting.  Going one step beyond, being able to communicate and advise users on their needs via chats are increasingly playing an important role in keeping customers engaged, improving user experience and ensuring retention.

Using games to learn new things, utilizing data to provide empathy or predictive suggestion for productivity and safety, all draw users closer to companies.  Modern technologies like Robo-Advisory, Bot-Chats, Gamifications, Contextual Interactions and Augmented Reality are becoming a necessity instead of an option – helping make an app successful by obtaining more data, build deeper personal interactions, provide a continual feedback loop, and better customer experience. 

Adopt a Micro-Service (API) First strategy

By creating a comprehensive catalog of micro-services - smaller, composable pieces which work together - in-house apps developers can focus on interacting with users and creating engaging applications.  At the same time, in-house service developers can focus on creating more useful services to populate a catalog of APIs, thereby increasing its value, and enabling the enterprise to adopt new user requirements rapidly, boosting its competitiveness, regardless of whether it is a B2E, B2C or B2B company.

It is also worth noting that the recent increase in adoption of codeless mobile app development by business users (which in itself is empowered by a micro-services first strategy), has also demonstrated the value and power of micro-services to help drive business agility. By using pre-built and customized wizards together with the huge library of micro-services available on the cloud, people from within the business itself can rapidly create apps enabling them to more quickly innovate, adapt to market changes and create promotions that can be driven out through the mobile channel in just days, instead of weeks or months. This has totally changed the traditional paradigm of time-to-market.

How would a successful ‘mobile app empire’ look like for enterprises?

It would focus on innovation

Did you know that one in four mobile apps, once downloaded, is never used again? That suggests a high percentage of apps fall short of expectations. If mobile app developers can’t innovate or deploy quickly enough, users will simply delete the apps or stop using them. Companies and people want—even demand—immediate benefit from the mobile experience. Getting insights into user adoption, frequency of usage, user behaviours with location information is key to help drive a better user experience and engagement. As user choices increase across channels on the mobile device, having a centralized analytics component that can get insights across channels will be the key to drive personalized engagement across Web, Mobile and Chatbots.

High quality user experience

Beyond having a nice look and feel, users expect mobile apps to be intuitive, available, and provide the appropriate content. Apps also need the right context. We are used to putting items into shopping carts when buying online.  We expect that same experience on mobile apps and that same ease of use. This means that, apps must connect and work seamlessly with your back-end systems.  They must have the same security we are used to when using the web.  For internal users, can they be personalized to be role-based (i.e., customer, partner, supplier) around tasks to help users be productive? Miss one of these and you risk being ignored or deleted.

A “mobile-plus” strategy

Today, having a Mobile-First strategy is a given. However, we are now moving into the era of Mobile-Plus. The Plus element is not only about the convergence of mobile, cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), but it includes gaining real-time analytics and insights, and leveraging intelligent chatbots to drive better contextual customer engagement. In order to drive the Mobile-Plus strategy, enterprises need to consider the client, content, context, and cloud as core components of an enterprise mobile strategy.

An elite nurturing system for customer acquisition, retention and regeneration

Besides perfecting the points mentioned above on Innovation, User Experience and Mobile Strategy, it is crucial to have an execution plan which develops an eco-system to drive customer acquisition, retention and referral – this helps to create tangible ROI to the enterprise.  This follows a cycle from making Information available to attract interest from multiple target channels, followed by enabling real-time Transactions, to efforts that enable the building of stronger Relationships, elevating that relationship to Strategic Partnership and finally to becoming an Advocator to the service, so as to help the enterprise drive more New Business within the customer’s personal eco-system. This will impact market penetration of the products and services, generate a new channel of Revenue for the enterprise and re-generate itself in every successful customer advocate that the enterprise nurtures.