Building an app for your business

Just as advances in technology have dramatically altered the nature of the workplace, so mobile applications, or apps, are making a huge impact on how business is conducted. Apps are available for use in cell phones, computer tablets, gaming consoles and personal digital assistants (PDAs). More than a million have been created and are available for download or for sale via the world’s most frequently used software distribution platforms, including Apple App Store, BlackBerry App World, Google Play and Windows Phone Marketplace.


Already, businesses have access to a huge range of apps, however, some are choosing to customize the experience and are developing their own apps for internal use. A lot of standard tasks can now be undertaken using a mobile device, for example making a transaction or checking bank balances, and frontline employees can use them to fill in timesheets or check customer databases. Often, the ability to access information and perform tasks when mobile can make all the difference between whether or not a sale goes through.


Developing new business apps


While the major players have tended to lead the way in app development, such as the banks and other financial institutions, small and medium sized businesses are beginning to understand how powerful a tool an app can be, particularly when it is customized to meet their precise business needs. The best apps solve a problem for potential customers – for instance an enterprising furniture maker might develop an app that helps customers design items of furniture to their own specifications or a specialist in preparing tourist guides might collaborate with a local writer to develop an app providing a literary and pictorial guide to specific cities.


In terms of making a profit, businesses can sell apps that they develop, or give limited editions free to customers on the basis that they will eventually want to upgrade to a paid-for premium version. Popular apps might attract paid-for advertising by companies in a related business, for example cake designers and florists might advertise on a wedding planner app. Some businesses use free apps simply to build brand loyalty and improve customer service.


Choosing the platform


When the benefits of developing a customized app are clear to a business, it’s important to go about creating it in such a way as to deliver precisely those benefits, rather than getting sidetracked into building something that is not directly relevant. There is plenty of choice in terms of opting for a technical platform and checking out available information via mobile app news items will help businesses understand the customer profile associated with each one.


Design options include collaboration with a technical development partner or contracting or employing an app developer. Firms planning on doing the technical work in-house may want to adapt an existing, established framework or develop a new app from scratch. Other possibilities include advertising on another company’s app or sharing with those in a related field.


Financial outlay is a consideration, however, the quality of the finished app is key to its success, particularly as far as the user is concerned and most especially if the app is being developed mainly for customer use, as opposed to employee use. A cheap, poorly developed app is a liability that will not reflect well on the business.


In-house DIY app development


Businesses choosing to do the work in-house can choose from a range of DIY app software programs and development tools. Some basic technical knowledge is generally required and the concept for the app should be thoroughly researched and understood by those working hands-on on the project.


Straightforward commercial functions such as stock management, access to data and point-of-sale systems may be very well served by making slight amendments to an off-the-shelf system. In this case a firm that specializes in app development may be able to quickly and easily modify an existing commercial app.


Sharing apps is also an affordable way to produce a useful app for customers that is linked to a product or service. For example, a travel company may include a currency converter on their mobile website which can easily be accessed and downloaded by their customers.


Perhaps the simplest way to begin to use apps effectively is to buy advertising on a free app that is relevant to the business and already popular, immediately increasing business reach. A good marketing advisor will be able to research the possibilities and make sound recommendations. In this way, app development can be gradually introduced into the company’s digital marketing strategy and future app development can be planned and tested.

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