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Five steps to successful mobile app development

Businesses are coming under increasing pressure to develop and deploy mobile applications for both internal and customer use.
However, they must take a carefully staged approach to ensure that they get a return on their investments and maximise the benefits.
1. Identify the opportunities
The first step should be to identify existing business processes that can benefit from being ‘mobilised’. It’s also important to avoid the temptation to mobilise for mobility’s sake.
Nevertheless, there are opportunities for mobile apps to be found by looking outside the box, providing there are tangible business benefits.
Some worthwhile mobile apps might not be directly related to the business, and because they do not have to interact with other business processes they are likely to be cheaper and easier to develop and deploy.
2. Assess the impact on the business
Once the business has identified the potential opportunities, it’s important to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Every area of the business that will be impacted by a mobile app needs to be involved during this stage – there needs to be buy-in by all parties.
A careful assessment must be made of: the costs to develop and support an app; the changes needed to internal processes and systems to accommodate the app; and the costs of implementing these. It’s important to review and revalidate an opportunity to mobilise business processes to ensure that it still aligns with your business objectives.
3. Prioritise potential mobile apps
Business and IT decision makers are likely to face multiple requests for mobile applications from different areas of the business. It will be important to prioritise these based on estimates of business benefits, development and support costs, time to market and the extent of disruption to existing practices.
The complexity of the app will greatly impact the time to market – businesses need to take into account these timelines to ensure that the benefits are realised within the timeframes required. For example, an application designed to gain a competitive edge will be useless if it cannot be developed and deployed within the window of opportunity available.
4. Determine the development model
Mobile application development is a rapidly evolving discipline requiring specific skills. Several questions must be answered.
Will development be outsourced or undertaken in-house? What platforms will be supported?
How will the app be distributed and maintained? Mobile application deployment differs significantly from the development of traditional apps. There are multiple versions of operating systems running on many different devices with different form factors.
Operating system updates typically appear at least once a year. Thanks to the popularity of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD), IT departments have limited control over the devices their apps will run on, even when apps are deployed to only company staff.
Business and IT decision makers need to assess whether to devote limited internal resources to mobile app development or to outsource to specialist developers that are able to tap into the latest innovations and provide ongoing support for the app in an ever-evolving device environment.
It is important to recognise that developing applications is an iterative process. So businesses should factor in their ability to fine-tune and evolve the app on an ongoing basis as part of their long-term development model.
These considerations need to be balanced against the possibility of losing control of intellectual property and losing the intimate linkages between the business and ongoing app development that in-house developers can provide.
5. Plan for the future
A mobile app can bring about huge organisational changes. This must be anticipated if disruption is to be minimised.
Make the app as flexible as possible to cater for future business requirements and build in feedback mechanisms to enable usage and performance to be assessed.
Support for mobile applications cannot be an afterthought. Mobile applications need IT support and monitoring just as much as traditional apps.
If the app is deployed to consumer customers, there will potentially be a huge number of unsophisticated users requiring support. Regular customer support staff are unlikely to be able to fulfil this role without additional training.
Apps that are not able to evolve will become redundant. They should be designed from the outset with flexibility and monitoring front of mind.
Measurement and monitoring of a mobile app must go well beyond estimating ROI. The app should provide the ability to track which features and functions are being used, and gather feedback from customers.
For many businesses, the development and deployment of proprietary mobile applications for both staff and customers will not be an option.
These apps will be essential to maintaining competitiveness. Business and IT decision makers must overcome many external and internal challenges to implement a successful mobile application strategy.
Apps must work on a multitude of different devices running different operating systems with short refresh cycles.
Successful app development requires strong coordination between relevant areas of the business and IT. Mechanisms must be in place to monitor usage and changing business requirements, and to develop and implement appropriate responses.
Multiple players have key roles and must work together effectively and efficiently.
These include external and internal application developers, systems integrators, IT, sales and marketing teams, and customer support.
Getting your mobile applications strategy right can be the key to creating a truly productive mobilised workforce and achieving better customer engagement, while getting it wrong could mean missing out on potential business opportunities.
[Article source: Optus Future of Business Report 2012 and Make the Most of Mobile Apps opinion paper]
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