Introduction and tactical vs strategic apps
By the end of 2017, market demand for mobile app development services will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organisation capacity to deliver them, according to analysts at Gartner. They forecast that mobile phone sales will reach 2.1 billion units by 2019, which will fuel demand for apps that the industry just cannot meet.
Gartner also found that the majority of businesses have developed and released fewer than 10 apps, with scores not having produced any mobile apps at all. What needs to change?
Is the growth in the number of devices used in workplaces to blame?
According to Gartner, most workers use on average three devices each day, which will increase to five or six as wearables and the Internet of Things go mainstream. Crucially, few of these devices are sanctioned by IT departments, though employees still expect internal work apps to be developed for them.
"The need for 'anytime any device' working is a necessity for many organisations," says Gareth Johnson, CEO of IT asset management Crayon UK, who thinks that apps which deliver real-time collaboration and presence mean better, more accurate business decisions, and thus a crucial competitive edge.
However, having to provide apps that work seamlessly on iPhones, Android, Windows phones and even Blackberries is challenging. "Each of these platforms use specific technologies, so one app needs to be recreated for each new platform according to the particulars of this platform," says data mining expert Clément Levallios, Professor of Markets and Innovation for EMYLON Business School near Lyon, France, and founder of the CODAPPS programme, a massively open online course (MOOC) aimed at teaching entrepreneurs coding. "Solutions exist to deal with this issue, but this remains a real pain point."
Is there a shortage of good app developers?
"Definitely!" says Levallios, who thinks that this shortage increases the price of app development. "There has been a surge in demand for app development in the last three years, and the corresponding skills are still in short supply – much scarcer than to develop websites, for example," he adds.
Gartner's research confirms that businesses are having trouble hiring staff with good enough mobile skills to quickly develop, deploy and maintain mobile apps. "We're seeing demand for mobile apps outstrip available development capacity, making quick creation of apps even more challenging," says Adrian Leow, principal research analyst at Gartner, adding that most businesses mobile apps are consequently tactical, rather than strategic.
Tactical versus strategic apps
While tactical apps are usually off-the-shelf and aimed at completing common tasks – think Microsoft Office or run-of-the-mill expenses apps – strategic apps are those that need to be created to suit a specific company's unique operational processes.
"Creating a bespoke app around processes or operations that are unique can often lead to the biggest differentiators within an organisation," says JP Luchetti, Consultancy Director at mobile consultancy and enterprise app developer Mubaloo. "Companies will often look at off-the-shelf solutions and realise that they don't provide them with exactly what they need … by creating apps around those processes, companies can drive huge improvements that impact across other parts of the business."
Companies should know where they want to have control and prioritise areas that deliver value, and which they can commit to continue to support and improve over time, according to Luchetti.
App development priorities
What about codeless mobile apps?
Not all enterprise mobile apps need complex coding, features and integrations. "There are plenty of business use cases for the rapid creation of mobile apps that don't require any coding skills," says Cathal McGloin, VP Mobile Platforms at Red Hat. "Three key areas to consider for using these codeless mobile apps are fast prototyping to quickly gather feedback on app ideas, replacing a simple paper form process with a form-based mobile app, and creating a disposable app that responds to a one-off event, requiring fast launch and short life," he adds. After all, not every mobile app needs to be complicated to be powerful.
What are rapid mobile app development tools?
Rapid mobile app development (RMAD) tools are fast replacing traditional coding; at present, they appear to be the only way to meet the surging demand for apps. "They are tools that provide ready-to-use building blocks to create apps," explains Levallios. "One can create simple apps at a very low cost with these systems." Gartner reports that 26% of organisations develop apps in-house, while 55% outsource at least to some degree.
"These approaches are allowing those with no programming skills or coding ability, such as people in business roles, to rapidly assemble mobile app prototypes and continuously iterate on these designs," adds Leow on the topic of RMAD tools.
Is app development a high enough priority in organisations?
That depends on who you ask, and in what sector they work in. "If you are the CEO of a financial services firm with 5,000 desk-bound staff, you would probably be running Microsoft Office 365 across your workforce, with internal app development being a low priority," says Johnson, who suggests that a very mobile, specialised workforce reliant on the quick movement and access of data demands a very different approach to apps. "You might be spending a fair amount of your budget on developing apps to reduce data lag, improve transactional ability and business agility," he adds.
What's the most difficult and time-consuming part of app development?
It's subjective, again depending on the organisation and the industry they belong to, but it's always best to know what kind of commitment is required before kicking off a project. "When looking at any initiative it's key to identify what aspect of the project will be the most time-consuming and complex," says Luchetti. "To do this we need to look at the key success factors for mobile implementation," he adds, listing the GUI and functionality, integration, security, change management and tech requirements
"Have you defined the backend systems that the app will integrate with, are the APIs available that are required, and can they support mobile data consumption/performance," says Luchetti about integration.
Change management also requires careful thought. "Do you understand what you need to have in place to drive awareness and adoption within your organisation or with your community of users, or with your customers?" asks Luchetti. "Are there training or business deployment activities required?"
It's also critical to think about the tech, and about whether a custom build, off-the-shelf or built-in app would work best, and about what platforms need to be supported.
All about priorities
In the end, it's all about priorities. "Mobile development teams are overstretched and have difficulty effectively delivering the growing number of mobile apps in their queues," says Leow. "The result is apps being built on a first-come, first-served basis, with the line of business making the most noise having its needs met first." 'Whoever shouts loudest' is no way to efficiently use IT resources to produce effective mobile apps.
Organisations tend to be as slow to react in terms of apps, as they were for websites. "For websites, they moved in the 2000s from 'our business doesn't really need it' to 'it is a basic requirement'," says Levallios. "For apps, many organisations still consider them as peripheral to their core business … but this is slowly evolving."