Summary: Recent studies find that custom mobile app development is finally picking up steam in the business world. Organizations have recognized that they must adapt their existing apps to mobile devices, and create applications for the employees and/or customers. The problem is, mobile app development is still uncharted territory. In this article, we explore the biggest challenges businesses must prepare for before venturing into the world of mobile apps.
Mobile is a trend you can’t ignore. Just like the internet when it first rolled around, businesses who ignore mobile will find themselves struggling to catch up.
The good news: Based on recent statistics, businesses have taken note. A recent study finds that custom mobile apps are growing in the enterprise. More organizations are recognizing the business benefits of mobile, and are taking on mobile app projects.
Now, if your company is planning to create mobile apps, be prepared. Developing a successful mobile application comes with its fair share of challenges–many of which differ from traditional development. Before you start your project, you must understand these challenges exist, and figure out how you will address each one.
What are these challenges? Today, let’s explore that topic. If your business is planning to get into mobile apps in the near future, here are some of the biggest challenges you must prepare for:
Challenge #1: Choosing the right app
The first major challenge you will encounter with mobile apps has nothing to do with development at all. Rather, it starts with a question: Why do your users need this app? What problem will it solve?
This first, basic step is where many businesses trip up. They assume they can create new mobile apps or mobile versions of their existing apps, and just roll them out to users. This approach typically results in failure. As explained below, the first challenge in building a mobile app is understanding your user’s needs before you start.
“One of the biggest challenges that businesses face is that they not only need to develop the app right, but they need to develop the right app,” says Alfred Goldberg, President of Absolute Mobile Solutions. “In our experience, just as many apps fail because the business did not properly research their needs for the app, or the needs of their users in a mobile context. Others have failed from design and quality issues. But even if you don’t make mistakes or errors in the coding, or have a poor design, you can still have an app that fails.”
“Many businesses who already have an existing web or desktop solution, think they need to transfer that functionality to a mobile device, when only some of the legacy functionality is relevant. There could be some portion of their legacy program that just wouldn’t make sense in a mobile context. While having a mobile strategy is becoming an increasingly important factor for many business models, it’s critical to first analyze the need for the app before making that investment.”
Challenge #2: Finding the right skills
The next big challenge: How will you build this app? Chances are, you don’t have a team of mobile developers on staff. Unless you can magically turn your current employees into mobile developers, you have two choices: Bring in new skills, or outsource the project.
If you choose the first approach, the necessary skills vary depending on your application type and approach. For instance, with a mobile web application, a single developer can build a cross-platform application. With the native approach, each platform requires a different programming language–which typically means you need more programmers.
Now, if you plan to build your native mobile apps in-house, you’ll need more than developers. As explained below, you’ll need developers as well as someone who understands how to create a great mobile user experience.
“If the organization is going to develop the mobile application in-house, then they are going to need to get the right team together,” says Nic Grange, CTO at Retriever Communications. “It is not just about rounding up any developers, designers or testers, they are going to need mobile specific skills and experience. Just because a web developer knows a programming language that can be used for building a mobile application, doesn’t mean they can suddenly build great mobile applications. Having a great user experience (UX) person is essential for end user acceptance but they are often in short supply.”
Challenge #3: Finding a reliable partner
If you choose to outsource your project, you’ll run into another challenge. With all of the mobile developers out there, how do you choose the right one? If you outsource locally, the price will be higher. But, offshoring the project presents another set of challenges.
“I was working on a shoe string budget early on so I had to try and do it cheap,” says Dylan Osborn, CEO/Founder of NiLi. “I tried outsourcing to offshore developers, which also means I had to be the product manager, and it went horribly! Not only would I have to have 3 hour meetings 5 times a week that would start at midnight, but it was impossible to communicate with the developers because they hardly spoke English.”
Challenge #4: Supporting your application
Some businesses make the mistake of looking at a mobile app as a single project. They assume it’s over once the app is complete.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Once the app goes live, the real work begins. You must be prepared to fix bugs, build new features that your users request, and keep the app current with platform changes.
Of course, this ties into the previous two points. If you hire an outside development firm, understand that the job isn’t over when they deliver the app. You must rely on them for ongoing support, new features, and updates every time a new mobile OS is released.
“The task is not complete once the app is released, and too many businesses forget this important fact,” says Jen Martinson, General Manager at Secure Thoughts. “There might be errors or bugs that need to be worked out in the finished product and a company will too often not devote enough resources to the task. Customers are quick to leave negative reviews saying how an application doesn’t work, leaving others to believe that the app has been abandoned. This can turn into a huge waste incredibly quickly, so a dedicated support staff is a worthwhile investment.”
Challenge #5: Keeping up with platform design guidelines
Taking the last point one step further: If you build native apps, understand that you’re building for a platform that you do not control. For instance, every time Apple or Google updates their operating systems, you must update your app to fit their new requirements.
“The biggest challenge in deploying mobile apps is deploying and maintaining them on different platforms while conforming to each platform’s design guidelines,” says Andrew Bernstein, Project Manager at the Demski Group LLC.
In essence, every change to the mobile platform requires a change to the application itself. Unless you have developers on staff, this means you must go back to your developers every time–an approach that gets expensive very fast.
“This was the hardest lesson I learned, and happened after the first version of the app was built,” says Osborn. “We had just finished the app right when the iPhone 6 came out, and of course that meant the app wouldn’t work on the new phone. So the developers quoted me for the addition of resizing the images, and it was $10K and would only take 1 week.”
Challenge #6: Keeping your apps/data secure
In an effort to keep up with the mobile trend, more and more businesses are rushing to deliver mobile apps to their employees or customers. But, this need for speed creates a problem. In a recent survey of IT managers, 65% said the security of mobile applications was being put at risk due to the pressure on IT to release applications quickly.
“Security is unfortunately overlooked in way too many applications,” says Martinson. “If it turns out that an application created by a business allows for a massive security breach or the leak of user information, then not only will the reputation of the app suffer but the reputation of the company who created it. If there is any sensitive information handled by the application, an organization needs to make security the top priority or pay the potential consequences. Hackers are looking for a way in, and it shouldn’t be made easy for them.”
Now, an insecurely developed application isn’t the only security challenge associated with mobile apps. Once your employees or customers begin using your app, how do you control your data?
“One of the most important issues businesses must consider when deploying mobile apps is on-device security,” says Asaf Cidon, CEO and co-founder of Sookasa. “In order to protect company data when it’s outside the office, businesses must introduce mobile policies that contend with their employees’ file sync-and-share habits. The primary difficulty these days is the high likelihood that someone will lose a mobile device that carries a lot of synced corporate data. It’s an honest mistake, but a devastating one when you consider the fact that cloud storage apps don’t provide end-to-end, on-device protection by default. Employees need to be educated about the impact of such mistakes and the fact that these occurrences can lead to massive data breaches that can undermine their companies’ reputations and business. Businesses, for their part, need to implement policies that don’t block personal devices or preferred programs in the workplace, and instead rely on transparent security measures so easy that employees don’t mind—and barely notice—that they’re using them. This will prevent them from finding unsafe workarounds and guarantee that company information stays just as secure outside the office as in.”
Challenge #7: Getting the word out
If you build it, they will come…right? It’s an all too common myth in mobile app development. Many businesses believe they can release an app, and everyone will use it.
If that’s your mindset, I have some bad news.
When mobile apps were first introduced, any app could become popular quickly. There just wasn’t much competition. Now, that’s changed. The competition has reached a point where your app will likely go unnoticed without a solid marketing strategy. Whether you’re rolling the app out to consumers or your own employees, you need an outreach plan. Users need to understand that it exists, where they can get it, and why they would even want to get it.
“There can be up to 1.5 million applications on a particular app store,” says Martinson. “Why should consumers or employees care about a particular one? Quality will attract attention, but it often doesn’t attract it fast enough. Any organization developing an application should set aside some resources for the purposes advertisement or outreach. Make sure that customers know about the application and if it is a compliment to other services provided then that needs to be advertised. Incentives are a great tool to use, and a company should push and be proud of any product it creates.”
Now, I realize this list of challenges might seem daunting to those exploring mobile apps for the first time. But, don’t let it scare you. Hopefully this article helps prepare you for the journey, and gives you a good idea what to expect. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.