If you’re already using a mobile phone app (smartphone app) for your business, then you’re likely able to appreciate the power of mobile apps. Whether you’re using an app to view YouTube videos from your corporate channel or Twitter to communicate with potential customers, apps have become more significant with businesses. Even custom apps for businesses, apps that are built specifically for a business or enterprise, have found a definitive niche. However, going down the path to creating an app for your business is fraught with peril. There are some basic steps you can follow to help ensure your success with a customize mobile phone app.
The steps to Success are:
Begin with the end in mind
Understand how your app will be used
Clearly document your app before it’s built
Document your distribution strategy
Research and research the developer
Test the application before and after distribution
Perform a post-mortem
I’m a seasoned professional in the Information Technology sector. I’ve spent years working with the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) and appreciate the nuances needed for successful full-scale program/project implementation. Although I truly believe that many of the SDLC steps should be followed for mobile app development, I also realize that many companies don’t have the bandwidth or the financial resources to fully implement an app for smartphones based upon the SDLC. A new app developed under a detailed SDLC project framework can cost an enterprise thousands of dollars and a significant investment of resource time. Since many of our small and medium-sized businesses may want mobile apps but need to operate in a leaner fashion, the steps outlined here can serve as a ‘starter plan’.
When you begin with the end in mind, you can and should visualize the end result as completely as possible. This means do your research and look at existing App Store and Android Marketplace apps. (You may find an app that has already been created which matches your needs 85% or more.) Make a list of the features the app must have and a list of the features the app should have. If you’re artistic, go ahead and sketch the app’s look and feel so that you can convey to a developer what is desired in the User Interface. This whole exercise should not take too long. You will revisit this document again shortly.
Solicit the input of others and consider how your app will be used. Is it for customers to use exclusively? Will it be a B2B tool? Will it be something prospects will use as an adjunct to your business or perhaps a value-added feature or service? All these considerations are important. When you have a clear picture, add this to your working document.
This document is vital to the successful construction and deployment of your app. You will find that the more you ‘put things down’ the less you forget and the less you have miscommunication with development resources. This document should include the results from the prior steps and from all further steps. Be sure to document everything (even brainstorming notes – you will be surprised how useful these can be).
Now that your app is beginning to take a real shape – at least on paper – you should consider how it’s going to be distributed. Let’s say you’ve decided that existing customers will use the app and possibly share it with others (your prospective customers). This may take a simple distribution model: App Store for download and a share utility (like for Twitter or Email) within your app itself. This gives you a method to have a download for your customers (they go to App Store) and a method for them to share (using Twitter or Email). You may also have point-of-sale (POS) QR scans or information (marketing collateral) for the downloadable apps to ensure that current and new customers get the information for the downloadable app at the time of sale.
Once you’ve developed a clear app document, you’re going to need a developer. If you already have an in-house developer, then you’re work is done – give them the document you have and guide them through the project. If you’re running a lean operation, then you’ll need to find a developer to do the work for you. With the search for a developer, you want to make sure they provide for you a clear path to the end result (which you’ve documented), including the distribution. There are plenty of development toolsets that allow you to ‘do most’ of the development work yourself using App hybridization (also called ‘mash up’). These work great for many apps. You’ll have to research the offerings thoroughly to be sure you find your best fit. Don’t fall victim to the “cheapest” on the development side if you find that the ongoing support or even the distribution help is non-existent.
Once the development is completed (and during), you’re going to be testing the app. Test the app with the target audience in mind. Put yourself in their position and run the app through the gauntlet. Distribute your app and run through the tests again.
Now that your app is ‘on the market’, assemble your team and figure out what went right and what went wrong. Document what things you want in any update to the app (this seems to be an ongoing process for many). Also, stick with your marketing plan for the app and be sure it’s promoted properly. An app that is unused turns into a hole into which you pour money and time.
If you follow these seven simple steps, you’re more likely to generate a successful implementation of mobile apps for small to medium-sized businesses. If you’re looking for a far-reaching and complex app, then you’re likely to need more of a formalized SDLC model to achieve success. Take the time to document and follow each step completely through to the project’s completion. You’ll be amazed what a mobile app, properly built, can do for your firm.
Dave Carter is a creative consultant with iDesign Media Solutions, a New Media design and smartphone application development company located in North Carolina. Smartphone users can take advantage of technology by using smartphone apps which help them improve their lives. Mobile apps and mobile web solutions can be discussed with the experts at http://www.iDesignMobileApps.com.
Take advantage of an Ezine referral special and get a one-hour consultation on ‘Deploying social media and mobile technology’ for your company. Contact iDesign for details.