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'Struggling' IT leads to low spending on mobile app dev

Businesses are struggling to modernize their processes because they can't figure out how to approach mobile app development, Gartner says.

IT spending on mobile app development is down because many companies still can't plan and execute the right strategy to mobilize their businesses.

Despite demand for mobile apps, organizations aren't making mobile app development a priority. The reason for this disparity is that some IT shops just don't know how to approach building effective mobile apps with the functions and features their users need. These businesses tend to stick with the older, often paper-based processes they are more familiar with, instead of taking advantage of the mobile app dev tools available today.

"Most enterprises are still struggling to figure out what to do about mobile apps," said Van Baker, mobile analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn. "They struggle with figuring out how to do what they need to do, so spending is flat. This is why the market is moving slower."

IT designated just 10% of its budget to mobile app development in 2015, down roughly 2% from the prior fiscal year, according to a recent Gartner survey.

Businesses find it challenging to make adjustments to their existing business processes and develop mobile applications that fit their needs. Plus, companies that do invest in mobile app development tend to be turned off by the process because they make their apps too complex, Baker said. They pack too many features and functions into one app, treating it like a desktop platform, rather than making multiple apps each with a single purpose, he said.

"Organizations ... bring desktop and web app thinking to mobile app dev, and that's completely the wrong thing to do," he added.

Another reason mobile app dev spending is down is that there are a growing number of rapid mobile app development (RMAD) and mobile backend as a service (MBaaS) tools, both of which can help IT keep development costs down.

Most enterprises are still struggling to figure out what to do about mobile apps.
Van Bakermobile analyst, Gartner

RMAD gives developers templates to follow and lets them build easily customizable apps without needing to write any code. MBaaS similarly makes the app building process easier by simplifying the typically complex back-end development coding process, allowing apps to connect to the cloud.

"We are seeing new services focused on speeding up the app building process through built-in capabilities," said Jack Narcotta, senior analyst at Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H. "Tools like RMAD don't take as long and therefore are not as expensive as building custom apps."

Another tool that's growing in popularity is Xamarin (now owned by Microsoft), which can cut down on cost and time for developers, said Emmanuel Mathew, president at Agiline, a custom software development firm in Ontario, Calif. Xamarin allows developers to build an app once and deploy it to multiple mobile operating systems, rather than build an app from the ground up for each OS.

"Everyone wants to be more efficient because it's harder to find great developers," Mathew said. "That's another reason why cost is going down."

In addition, some businesses believe they need to build custom applications, when that's not always the case, Mathew said.

"If you build custom apps, you are spending much more," he said. "If there is a solution that solves your problem, you don't need custom-developed software."

The future of mobile app dev

Businesses intend to use app development to push away from paper-based processes. In fact, 42% of companies expect to increase spending on mobile app dev by an average of 31% in 2016, according to the Gartner survey.

"Mobilization ... allows you to do things like take large numbers of steps out of a business process because the information you need is readily available in the apps," Baker said.

Agiline, for instance, has built custom apps for colleges, police departments and law firms moving to a paperless business model. One client had 80 employees doing data entry, and cut that number in half after implementing custom applications, Mathew said. 

"If you have apps that replace everyday forms that employees fill out, it will really reduce time," he said. "That's one driver of app development."

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