Why your business should simplify the app development process

Don't overcomplicate things with app development
Don't overcomplicate things with app development

Agility and productivity have long been major concerns for enterprises, but they've taken on a new urgency with the rapidly advancing mobile revolution. As all types of businesses scramble to launch effective mobile app strategies, the issue of how to build out the mobile environment is ever more pressing.

And the stakes are high. Recent research from Salesforce.com shows that 60% of UK businesses are using mobile apps and that they can boost productivity by 34%. However, it also shows that 59% of organisations are slow to deliver.

So how do enterprises speed the delivery and ensure they are optimising their productivity? I believe the secret lies in simplicity.

There is little value in developing over complex solutions that no one can use, or investing in sophisticated tools that remain underutilised by under-skilled IT staff. Instead CEOs should encourage their IT departments to get the basics right and take advantage of easy to integrate online tools, open source software and pay-as-you-go services to start developing their own productivity and operational apps.

A DIY approach to app development

Way back in 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2014, at least 25% of enterprise applications would be built by 'citizen developers' – defined as end users who build applications for consumption by themselves and their peers using company sanctioned resources. A surprisingly large percentage of these citizen devs are proving to be from the 18-30 demographic who are finding their own ways to source or develop mobile apps, whether or not company sanctioned resources are available.

They are being aided by a new generation of drag and drop tools which are aimed at those employees with business domain knowledge but no coding or IT process skills. Simplifying the development and publishing of apps in this way can provide immediate relief from mobile app development skills shortages. It also means that app development need no longer be a purely IT function but can be allocated, budgeted and resourced from other business functions.

Building your own simple enterprise app environment can also help reduce company data risks, accelerate time-to-develop and make it easier to engage with end users, and furnish them with a curated app store.

Making it easier to mobilise your business

It is important that CEOs who want their business to be able to create, develop, publish and manage its own apps quickly in response to operational, market and customer needs, are aware of the processes involved. This includes:

  • Understanding the business need
  • Defining what the application must do
  • Designing the user interfaces and technical requirements
  • Designing and potentially modifying back-end APIs for data transfer
  • Integrating a security model
  • Functional and non-functional requirements
  • Designing the graphic look and feel, including user interface and user experience
  • Choosing the target operating systems and devices
  • Enabling the required development environments, testing and tools
  • The application deployment, and how that will be managed
  • Setting up a maintenance program to keep the application current with devices and updated operating platforms

Many of these processes are manual and time consuming. The challenge for a business is to, where possible, simplify the development and deployment of mobile apps by selectively automating the more complex work involved in certain steps, so that existing resources can use their existing skills to do the work.

But it's not just about creating custom apps; it's also about having simple tools to manage the app lifecycle. If left unchecked self-service apps from unauthorised sources will dilute the value to a business through data, information and interactive services becoming increasingly fragmented, and unreliable.

The ability to curate enterprise apps into an approved enterprise app store, while still at manageable levels, can avoid this by giving employees all the apps they need in one easy to find place.

To maximise development budget, I suggest you consider the following areas for investment:

1. Methods that help the business define what they want in a clear and simplified way, e.g. rapid prototyping.

2. A development environment and infrastructure that handles the more complex steps during multi-platform development with open source tools like Cordova – as well as handling authentication, push, and store-forward-synchronisation.

3. Custom enterprise app stores to deploy, curate and manage the apps.

  • Stuart Mason is CEO of 5app