Made-to-Order: How Custom Mobile Apps Benefit Business

Mar 25, 2015


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Article ImageOff-the-shelf options may rule the roost when it comes to mobile enterprise applications used by businesses and their employees. But there's a productive hen with the ability to lay golden eggs that's gaining greater prominence in this market: custom mobile apps that are fully or partially personalized, tailor-made, and paid for by a company to meet its particular business or mission needs.

Custom mobile apps (CMAs) provide firms with a significant opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind, specially designed tool that performs exclusive functions, offers unique solutions-including the improvement of existing workflows and processes-and caters to the company it was built for. By contrast, off-the-shelf mobile apps (OSMAs, also known as pre-built apps companies tie into existing systems), while popular, can't quite offer these same advantages.

OSMAs are best when urgency and immediacy outweigh all other considerations, says Matthew Baier, COO of built.io. "But custom apps are becoming increasingly attractive because they allow you to tailor the application to a specific audience, rather than use a solution that reflects the lowest common denominator across many different user groups and their varying requirements," he says.

This is a big reason why CMAs are in higher demand today. In fact, per a recent CDW survey examining how enterprises use mobile applications, 72% of respondents indicate they plan to continue their investment in CMAs, with 42% planning to do so within the next year. Among other key findings of this poll:

  • Although 77% of businesses allow employees to use OSMAs for work, on average a typical company actually uses six OSMAs and five CMAs.
  • The greatest benefits of CMAs are increased efficiency (indicated by 46% of respondents), increased productivity (41%), and ability to work remotely (39%).
  • Companies primarily use CMAs to support communications (36%), sales support (35% ), and data access (34%) and to drive competitive advantage (25%).

Andrea Bradshaw, vice president and general manager of mobility solutions for CDW, says mobile apps that are customized to the particular needs of the business offer distinct advantages.

"The benefits really come with re-working processes and workflows, which creates an opportunity to impact the customer experience," says Bradshaw. "These types of changes are return-on-investment drivers."

In addition to simplifying work tasks and communication, regardless of where employees are located-thereby increasing productivity and collaboration-CMAs "can also help organizations connect with partners and customers in new and different ways to create an advantage over the competition," Bradshaw adds.

However, CMAs can present challenges for businesses that aren't properly prepared. For example, many organizations assume "custom" means "built from scratch"-with the downside being that they maximize cost, risk, and length of the project and minimize how far their budgets will stretch.

"Don't reinvent the wheel. There's no need to build a mobile stack from scratch to create a custom app-it takes forever, it's not particularly exciting, it's complex, and you need a whole team of backend specialists," says Baier. "The alternative is to leverage a mobile platform and proven mobile backend as a service solution to fast-track mobile app development, which typically improves not just time-to-market but also the quality of the final application."

Additionally, businesses eager to pursue the CMA route should follow a strategic road map that helps you understand the short- and long-term goals of the app.

"The key is not building an app but rather understanding what the app must do and what data is needed to positively impact the organization. Also, user engagement is critical to success, as users expect mobile apps to be easy to use and intuitive," Matthew Barksdale, president of Engage Mobile Solutions, says.

To ensure better user engagement, it's important to gather input from all potential users of the app, too, including employees.

"Make sure you detail every aspect of the app down to the smallest detail. This will save your coders any future headaches and prevent recoding," says Allen Rubin, owner of The Phone App Company. "Also, make sure your development firm isn't a ‘yes sir' company that will do what you say without thinking about the business model and relaying to you the potential issues and relevant options."

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)