What Goes into Developing a Mobile App for the Enterprise?

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Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Apps World North America, the developer conference focused extensively on the growing mobile app industry. It was a very energized conference with representation from lots of up-and-coming startups, as well as a good number of enterprises. I happened to view a panel discussion with executives and mobile owners from enterprise companies like Bechtel and American Airlines, who are both very heavily invested in mobile. The discussion was mainly focused around how an enterprise can put a good mobile strategy in place, what some of the challenges that might come up are and how to deal with them, and how these executives were approaching mobile today, with lots of real-world examples sprinkled in between.

So, why is mobile exciting for the Enterprise?

Mobile apps are opening up new doors to solve business problems and fuel greater innovation. People now have access to devices that last for an entire day, and make information valuable by making it securely accessible and consumable. Now people can have the information they want right when they actually need it. This provides some great opportunities for enterprises to take advantage of things like localized information and reach customers immediately. While it can be challenging, that only makes you learn from your mistakes and grow.

How do you get started?

You’ll first want to understand and realize that you don’t really know a lot about what you’re getting into. Establish high-level goals and expectations, and start with a content-first approach. Think about content and culture (Gen X, Gen Y) that allows people to express what they want to do and what kinds of apps will allow them to do this.

Take Starbucks as an example. They developed an iPad app for their in-store inspectors because they found that there was a need for a collaboration tool that was more ‘in-the-moment’ and accessible. This app allows them to talk to one another, which in turn helps reduce redundancies and increase efficiency. Another company provides their field service engineers with a mobile app that gives them the information they need (contact info or problem statements, for example) right at their fingertips. With all of this critical information available in real time, the app has dramatically changed the way these engineers work.

It’s also very important to think about how you’re going to deploy your strategy and deliver your apps, because otherwise you will definitely run into roadblocks.

How do you handle common challenges?

Sometimes the hard part is getting executive buy-in. You need to help them understand the opportunity that mobile provides to the company. There’s also the issue of figuring out how to balance the need for mobilizing all of your existing processes with the risk involved. Obviously you can’t mobilize everything in your company, so it’s important to understand what each option will bring you, manage risk accordingly, and know how you’re going to deploy the solution.

For a large enterprise especially, if you don’t have the right level of security and a backend infrastructure (i.e. backend services that support your mobile app and feed information to it) in place to help deliver your app, it will end up being very expensive. Without an API/backend layer, bringing a mobile app to market doesn’t seem realistic. User expectations these days are off the charts as well, and this drives a different level of need on the backend. Things like fancy graphics and speedy apps need excellent backend support in order to work well.

In order to deliver, maintain and exceed user expectations, a mobile application performance monitoring (APM) tool is imperative. Give considerable thought into how you’ll monitor the performance of your apps once they’re out in the wild, especially when users are interacting with them and probably doing things developers never imagined they might do.

Iteration is also a key part of mobile app development. Very often you might find that the initial app might not be exactly right, so iterating and putting out updated app versions at least on a six- to eight-week schedule is a good practice.

Now is the time to invest in mobile

Mobile can bring amazing changes to the way people work and how companies operate. Explore what’s best for your company. Here is a handy checklist to get you started with what you need to think about when developing mobile apps.

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