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 Levallois, Professor of Markets and Innovation for EMLYON 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 Levallois, 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.