In our mobile-friendly, cloud-centric tech environment, the application has become all-important. Granted, these discrete software units have long enjoyed a place of prominence in business technology, but they've become nearly ubiquitous in recent years. As smartphones and tablets come to play a greater role in firms' day-to-day operations and the work lives of employees, the app is proving to be a critical tool, both for internal use and as a way for companies to stay connected with their customers and clients.
Given the increased productivity, flexible workflows and immediate delivery of services that many of the most successful apps can provide, it should come as no surprise that a host of businesses are building applications to support their operations and cater to their end-users. Cloud services have made this possible: Platform-as-a-Service offerings provide easy-to-use development environments with intuitive workflows, and some solutions even enable professionals with little to no coding expertise to create applications on their own.
But before you jump headfirst into an app development initiative for your small or mid-sized business, you'll have to acquaint yourself with app-building best practices. Be sure to address these three critical checkpoints as your SMB gets ready to build its next app.
1. Get your team collaborating
Regardless of whether you're creating a business mobile or Web app for strictly internal use or a client-facing program via which your customers can access your SMB's services and support channels, you'll need to develop as robust an understanding as possible regarding what exactly the new app should do, and how it should do it. Having access to wide range of ideas and insights from across your business will help you build an effective app that accomplishes what you intend it to rather than frustrating the user with a less-than-optimal experience.
The benefits of a collaborative app development strategy are well documented. In a column for Wired, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Cloud Architect Frank De Gilio gave the example of one of his clients, a financial services firm that was creating a banking app. The initial intention was for the program to collect a sizeable cache of data about each user, but the company's Operations team quickly saw that this would create more problems than it solved.
"The Operations team understood the various systems and software involved and pointed out that building out the cache would actually make the customer wait longer before being able to request service. In fact, the better a customer was - with more accounts and transactions - the worse the delays would be, meaning that the best customers would experience the greatest inconvenience," De Gilio noted.
2. Prioritize the end user
De Gilio highlights the way a collaborative approach can save time and hassle down the road by spotting potential issues before they happen, but he also provides a reminder that the needs of your users should come first when you architect your cloud app. Bear in mind that no matter your audience, the wide range of high-quality consumer-grade mobile apps now available means that people are used to an exceptional user experience. Your small business mobile or Web application should be just as sophisticated and user-friendly as the tools they've become accustomed to in their personal lives.
3. Consider accessibility
In order for your users to reap the full benefits of your cloud app, it's essential that they be able to access this resource in ways that work for them and suit their habits. For example, if your employees are increasingly carrying out their work on their business mobile phones and tablets, it may be necessary to build a mobile version of the app in addition to the Web-based program.