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Mobile App Roadmap (part 1): 5 first steps

EducationSummary: As more businesses create their own mobile apps (or mobile web apps), they’re entering uncharted territory. Many aren’t sure how to approach mobile app development. In this article, you’ll learn the first steps you must take in your mobile app journey.

As explained in this recent Gartner report, the future of enterprise applications is mobility. As smartphone and tablet adoption rates climb, businesses must address this new mobile reality.

For many businesses, this means mobile apps. The problem: Mobile apps are uncharted territory. Many businesses aren’t sure how to create a mobile app strategy.

How should your business approach mobile app development? Do you need internal or external apps? Do you need native apps or mobile web apps? What’s the difference?

Today, let’s start with the basics. We’ll uncover the first steps in a mobile app roadmap, and address the following steps in future articles. Sound good? If your business is considering mobile apps, here are the first steps you must take:

1. Define the problem

Mobile is a hot trend. More businesses are building their own mobile apps. We see new mobile case studies explaining the benefits of mobile business apps.

But, does this mean your business needs to start building mobile apps right away?


Before you dive into mobile apps, stop and answer a simple question: Why? Why do we need this? How will it help us? What problems will it solve?

“The first thing these brands need to consider when thinking about how apps fit into this strategy is “what problem am I trying to solve” or “what added value am I providing to my stakeholders – employees, customers or partners?” explains Sarah Woodward, Director of Business Development at stable/kernel. “The best way to do this is by bringing these groups together to find out what their pain points are and what they expect your brand to deliver upon. Does your salesforce need sales tools? Do your B2B customers need mobile solutions to order fulfillment? Do your customers want to interact with your brand on a deeper level?

Some brands may find they have multiple needs for different apps; others may find they don’t yet have a business case to build an app. The reason it is critical to determine whether or not you have a business case is two-fold. App development isn’t cheap. So if you don’t have a clear understanding of what the ROI will be for your app, you might be wasting your money. Additionally, failure to drive engagement with your first app may ruin any future app ideas that could be critical to your business success. If your customers, brand advocates and employees hate the first one, they may never give you a chance to win them over with a second go around.”

Suppose your salespeople can’t check real-time inventory while out visiting prospects and customers. They’re forced to either call your office and have someone check for them, or look it up after they leave the customer site. If they could check inventory on their phones, they could close deals on the spot.

Is this a problem that a mobile app could solve? Absolutely!

2. Define the target

photo credit: Bogdan Suditu via photopin cc
photo credit: Bogdan Suditu via photopin cc
After defining the problem you intend to solve, you must identify your target user. This could be your employees, your salesforce, or your executive team. Or, it could be for prospects and customers. You must define exactly who this is for, and why they need it.

Now, this goes beyond just choosing your audience. As explained below, you must understand why they need this. Why will they use this mobile app over whatever they use now? What will draw them to your app?

“I believe the most important initial step is establishing a user profile,” says Michael Smith, CEO of Raster Media. “You already have a profile in place for your company’s ideal customer; now determine the same for the ideal user of your customer-facing app. Which demographic will your app appeal to? What are their interests, their needs, their pain points? What kind of app will they find not only useful, but so valuable as to be irresistible?”

Going back to the previous example, the target users are salespeople. What would draw them to your app? If you could make their life easier and help them close deals faster, do you think they would use your app? Of course!

3. Define your goal

So far, we’ve focused on the users–and with good reason. If your mobile app won’t solve a problem for your target users, you’ll just waste money.

Next, we move on to your business. How will this help you? Depending on your approach, developing mobile apps can get pricey (especially if building separate apps for each platform). You can’t afford to dive into mobile apps without defining your business goals. You can’t dive into mobile apps without first understanding what value you will receive.

“This defines the intent of the mobile application, be it to generate more customers or improve efficiency,” says Wendell Adams, CEO at AB Mobile Apps. “However deciding on the target market is a must when defining your goal, the target market can be your own employees or consumers.”

In the example mentioned earlier, what are the business goals? Faster sales. Better productivity. It may even impress your customers. How much is all of that worth to your company?

4. Choose your platform

When building mobile apps, you have multiple options:

  • Build a mobile web app
  • Build a native app for a single platform
  • Build a native app for multiple platforms
  • Build a hybrid app

photo credit: miniyo73 via photopin cc
photo credit: miniyo73 via photopin cc
Which option is best? Your platform choice largely depends on your business goals and your target audience.

What’s the difference between each option? If you’d like to learn more, here’s a chart that compares/contrasts each option.

“Most people are focused on iOS and Android due to the cool/new factor, but if the app is a utility app for your company to use internally, a web app is often the choice that should be made,” says David Fisher, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “Obviously, if you are planning to make money from the app, you need to make a iOS or Android version as those are often easier to monetize than web apps.”

Using the salesperson/inventory example above, what’s your best approach? In this case, you don’t need to spend your time and resources building cross-platform native apps. A mobile web app would not only meet your goal, it would give you a cost-effective, cross-platform solution.

5. Set your budget

Mobile app budgets vary greatly by the expected business value, company goals, and the type of app you’re creating.

Now, setting a budget and choosing a platform go hand-in-hand. The difference between building a mobile web app and creating separate native apps for every platform can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, don’t forget about maintenance. Maintaining the app through its lifecycle can often cost more than the initial development.

“[The budget] will really define what a business is capable of doing,” says Adams. “With apps ranging from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, what a business is able to accomplish with an app is very much dictated by the budget.”


Now, these are the just the first 5 steps in the mobile app roadmap. Stay tuned for the next part in the coming weeks.

So, what do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.

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