Creating mobile applications for the enterprise

Mobile has reached a tipping point. Nearly half of all 2017 Black Friday sales -- including brick-and-mortar retail -- was done online, and mobile was leading the way. As phones and tablets become more powerful, and wireless networks become increasingly faster, the momentum to replace traditional desktop and laptop computers continues unabated. Smart companies are adopting a mobile-first philosophy to hold and expand their customer base.

However, in the rush to move to mobile, you need to follow an intelligent development process and not hastily develop a mobile solution. With so many variations of mobile OS and hardware on the market, it’s mission critical to know how this will impact your products. Plus, enterprise customers generally have standardised guidelines for mobile hardware and software, which means you may find a large percentage of your customers are using similar devices and OS. Likewise, you don’t want to spend months developing a product that is only compatible with the mobile device sitting on your desk, which results in alienating your customers since it’s not compatible with their chosen platform.  

1. Review your metrics

As a starting point, complete a thorough review of how customers use your product. If you’re a SaaS company, take a deep dive into your metrics and understand how mobile users are using your product. It’s important to measure where mobile traffic is growing across various products. 

This provides highly valuable information as to which features are currently popular, and how customers use your products. Plus, you’ll know what OS software and hardware flavours your customers use. Additionally, you may find areas that have experienced decreasing mobile traffic, or high bounce rates. Perhaps these sections haven’t been updated in quite a long time and no longer function correctly on phones or tablets.

2. Develop a baseline standard

It’s a no-brainer to develop for today’s mobile devices. However, you should also be looking at what’s on the horizon, and understand how your underlying code will function down the road. Perhaps it will tell you if you need to rewrite your code or risk it becoming obsolete in two years.  Like anything else, what’s hot today may be ice cold tomorrow. 

Read articles authored by and talk to people who are knowledgeable about the mobile world and ask where they see the industry moving. As you create your product roadmap, it’s vital to know what hardware and software developments are gaining traction since it may create new opportunities for you, but also warn of technological dead ends. 

3. Resources

Practically every company finds itself in the same situation -- too much to do and not enough staff to do it all. This is why creating a roadmap is vital. Rather than trying to develop everything at once, the roadmap will guide you through the various steps required to reach your goals. While one feature may not be introduced for two years, the foundation for it can be started now. This helps your engineering team create code that is flexible and can quickly adapt to new features, or be function with new mobile devices.

Additionally, the roadmap can illustrate how many engineers you’ll need, what skills they need to possess, and if you need to educate your existing team about new programming languages. It’s also beneficial to the operations, marketing and other teams since it will greatly help with their respective planning processes.

4. Get feedback

One of the biggest blunders a company can make is to design a product without getting any customer feedback. Some companies claim they don’t want to tip off the competition. Well, that’s why you have testers complete a NDA. Companies that follow this strategy do so at their own peril. Rather than completely developing a product and then asking for feedback as the last item, the smart approach is to invite customers to try the product at each stage of the development process. 

They’ll love being part of the process and you’ll get solid information from people who use it as part of their daily workflow. They’re probably already using your product in ways you never thought of. It’s the ultimate pressure test. Plus, this process allows you to make corrections before you’re too far down the development path. If there’s a glaring problem, you can fix it before it becomes a showstopper. Should this happen, a lot of staff hours and money were for naught and you’re going to have to go back and fix it when these could have been corrected early in the development process. A delay releasing your product will hit your bottom line.

5. Build on the foundation

Once you’ve built your product for mobile, you’re not finished. If anything, it’s the beginning. The world of mobile is changing rapidly, and new advances are popping up weekly. You need to closely monitor your metrics to check how mobile customers are using your product. It’s also a great opportunity to continue talking to your customers. 

Ask what they like, don’t like and what other features they would like to see in future versions. If you’ve built your underlying code to be flexible, you can deploy updates and new features on a regular basis. However, as you do, you need to continue to get feedback from customers. It’s the best way to ensure your product responds to your customer’s needs.

A cautionary tale

So what does this mean to the development process? In a nutshell, it should serve as a warning not to build a product in a silo. The software world is littered with the wreckage of products that were built with a lot of good intentions, but without any customer input, or were built only from the developer’s point of view.

Testing your product is the ultimate research since you’re going to understand how customers actually use it. This is why it’s critically important to get as much feedback as possible from early versions. It’s extremely easy to get lost in your own vision and not realise that what you’re spending months creating doesn’t appeal to customers, and could possibly sink your company.

Steve Hartert is Chief Marketing Officer at JotForm.com
Image source: Shutterstock/Chinnapong