Developing mobile apps for businesses follows a different course than the consumer mobile app development process. While some of the methodology overlaps, consumer and business apps have vastly different measures of success. As a result, the business mobile app development process begins by first defining the organizational objective behind building the app in the first place.
An Intro to Business Mobile App Development
Our virtual worlds have become flooded with apps to help with everything from curing boredom and connecting with friends to tracking fitness goals and finding new recipes, but it’s not only the consumer world that has been transformed by the rise of mobile applications. More organizations and businesses than ever before are now deploying mobile applications to keep employees and customers engaged and connected.
While many of the underlying principles overlap, developing a business productivity app or a mobile app for use within an organization is slightly different than building one for a consumer audience. What do they have in common? Both types of apps are generally created with the intent of filling a need or solving a problem. They differ, however, in that the success of consumer apps is usually measured by popularity and the number of times it’s been downloaded while the success of mobile apps for the business environment isn’t.
How to Measure the Success of a Business App
Instead, businesses often measure the success of an app based on profitability and productivity metrics like return on investment (ROI), increased efficiency, or reduced overhead in relation to a problem or challenge they needed to solve. That’s why it’s critical to define the goals and drivers behind the deployment of a new business app from the very outset of the project. From there, you can follow a focused process (the seven stages listed below) that ensures you end up with an app people want to use because it makes their lives easier.
The Seven Stages of the Business App Development Process
The seven stage of the business app development process are:
- Strategic Discovery
- Development Project Planning
- User Experience and User Interface
- Business App Development
- Quality Assurance
- Deployment and Support
- Updates and Improvements
Stage 1: Strategic Discovery
The best place to start the business app development process is by answering the why behind the project. As mentioned above, new apps arise to fulfill a need or solve a problem, so if there’s no need for one or no problem to solve, your project will be short lived. But it’s better to realize it at this point than at a later stage. We’ve seen too many development projects fail at later stages of the process because they don’t have a clear problem or inefficiency defined from the outset. Other projects may start with a clearly defined problem but then lose sight of it or try to solve a few too many problems as the project unravels.
Interview Intended Users
An excellent way to identify what problems or inefficiencies your app should focus on solving (and sticking to) is simply by sitting down with the people who are going to use it. What are the day-to-day problems they run into that could be solved with a mobile app? Are they tied to their desks because they have to continually reference spreadsheets or databases? Do they wish they could take their invoicing tools right into the field?
Do Your Research
Sometimes, interviewing intended users isn’t even necessary because businesses already have a problem that needs solving in mind, and that’s one of the best ways to begin. Once you’ve nailed down the problem or inefficiency, do your research to make sure there isn’t already a comparable business app out there. Doing your research can save hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of wasted hours if someone has already built what you’re thinking about building. (The average mobile app can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 to develop while taking five to six months to complete.)
Decide on a Platform
This preliminary stage is also an ideal time to clarify which platforms you want your mobile app to be available on. Should it be a dedicated smartphone app for iOS, Android, or both? Would you prefer a mobile-first web app that scales up for desktops without missing a step? The extent to which you want your app to be designed and optimized for specific platforms plays a significant role in budgeting and planning.
If you want a dedicated app for iOS and Android, that’s going to cost more and potentially take longer than choosing one over the other. Often, the most cost-effective approach to cross-compatibility with multiple platforms is with a web-based app that can be opened on virtually any device and is independent of an operating system, manufacturer, or model.
Stage 2: Development Project Planning
After you’ve gathered all the preliminary information you need to ensure the project is worth pursuing, the next stage involves defining a clear roadmap for the project to follow. You’re still at the early stage of the development process, so the roadmap doesn’t need to be set in stone, but it should give the project a forward trajectory to follow with rough timelines to meet.
If you have multiple problems or inefficiencies you need the app to solve, prioritize them based on the order of importance to get a clearer picture of how long it will take to address a few problems as opposed to all of them. This is where the insights of experts can really make a difference. They can give you a clear estimate of how long it may take to develop a solution based on the specific problem you’re aiming to solve. The more inefficiencies you need to overcome, the longer the project is going to take, but a team of experts can help you outline realistic timelines to ensure the feasibility of the undertaking before you dive in.
With a realistic timeline for how long it will take to hit specific project milestones, you and your team can collaborate to find the right balance between your budget, time constraints, and the larger organizational impact you aim to achieve. With the scope of your project more clearly defined, now is also the time to recruit any specialized developers or designers you may need to achieve your objectives.
Stage 3: User Experience and User Interface
By this stage, you should know:
- The problems you’re trying to solve
- The priority order you want to follow to solve those problems as you’re building an app
- The mobile platforms you want to support
- Roughly how long it would take to work out a solution for each of those problems by building it into an app (or potentially multiple apps for each)
- Who you may need to recruit to augment your own team’s capabilities
Once the broader project scope is nailed down, it’s time to start digging into the details of user experience (UX) and user interface (UI). The two are closely related but don’t necessarily overlap. UI focuses on how end users interact with your app, including what they touch and where it leads them. UX, on the other hand, is shaped by UI but is ultimately concerned with whether or not end users enjoy using the app. If your goal is to build something people actually want to use, you have to get the UI right to deliver an ideal UX. Some of the most common tools developers use to achieve this include:
- Wireframes: What often start as sketches evolve into digital renderings of the overall look, feel, layout, and navigation of your app, so your team can begin to visualize what the app will look like and how users will interact with it.
- Style Guides: End users care about a consistent app experience. If they click something and it takes them somewhere that doesn’t look anything like where they just were, they’re going to get confused. Style guides help you standardize design elements, including fonts, navigation icons, and color schemes to ensure a consistent experience.
- Mockups: Mockups are wireframes brought to life. They represent what the development team will aim to deliver as they’re building the app during the next stage.
- Prototypes: Mockups are still graphical representations, meaning you can’t interact with them, but some app design teams use prototypes to build interactive mockups that give your team a taste of app functionality.
The above design options offer a great place to start as you’re putting the idea for your app into a visual form, and it’s crucial to ensure that you’re happy with the design, layout, and structure of the app before moving to the next stage. It may also be a good idea to show design mockups or prototypes to a group of end users and gather their feedback before moving forward.
Stage 4: App Development
With the design, layout, and interface of the app nailed down, the app development team then takes the renderings from the design team and works behind the scenes to turn them into a usable app. Along with development, some of the most critical factors that need to be considered at this stage include:
- Backend Technology: Your mobile app needs a database and server resources to support your mobile app and deliver the intended functionality.
- Data API: API defines how your app interacts with the various data sources it needs to draw from, manage, or consolidate.
- Frontend: Just because designers rendered your app a certain way doesn’t always mean the development team can deliver it as designed. Unexpected incompatibilities can occur, so it helps to take an agile approach to development.
Stage 5: Quality Assurance
Once the app is complete, it’s time to make sure it’s going to function as intended before deploying it across your organization or publishing it in an app store. The quality assurance (QA) phase involves UX testing, functional testing, performance testing, security testing, and platform testing to ensure it will work seamlessly for end users.
Stage 6: Deployment and Support
After passing the QA benchmarks, it’s time to publish your app or deploy it across your organization. You also need to determine how you plan to answer end users’ questions and provide support if they run into issues with the app. It’s also a good idea to integrate a feedback feature within the app so you can gather data on improvement opportunities.
Stage 7: Updates and Improvements
Some companies like the thought of deploying an app and not having to touch it again for years. While that’s certainly obtainable, it isn’t always the best approach. End users will always have ideas to improve the app, and new security risks will continually emerge. That’s why it’s vital to outline how you plan to update and improve your app as time goes on. Most importantly, you should also have organizational goals you aim to achieve following app deployment to ensure your app delivers the intended results.
The Wise Approach to Business App Development
The business app development process involves many moving parts, teams, skill sets, and technical experts to end up with something that solves your specific problems and that people want to use. Fortunately, that’s precisely Wise Technology’s specialty. As a full-cycle, multi-disciplinary team of app developers, we can help you with any and all of the above steps of the development process to simplify everyday tasks, engage employees, and function more efficiently. Schedule a complimentary project consultation with our experts to discuss the problems or inefficiencies you’d like to address.