It's understandable that company leaders pushing their visions of a mobile enterprise want a quick win from mobile application development. But before organizations set out on the long, rigorous and often expensive process of in-house app development, they should chart their course from ideation through delivery.
Once you have a solid development strategy in place, there are several ways to provide a great mobile experience through apps that enhance worker productivity. Let's consider these methods for internal application development, delivery and monitoring.
Standardize the internal development process
Internally developed applications are designed and built within an organization by its own IT staff. Many businesses have some sort of development capability, whether that means a single developer or thousands, and more and more companies want to build custom apps for their employees to use on mobile devices.
By developing apps internally, a company has complete control of what features they include and when to make changes. Programmers don't have to worry about including third parties in the process, and, furthermore, developers can tailor the user interface to the organization's particular needs.
In-house app development is often costly and time-consuming, but the final product is usually worth the potential overhead if companies focus on getting these four areas of app development and delivery correct:
- User interface and style guide
- Development environments
- Application signing and certification process for validation
- Mobile app performance monitoring
A common problem in larger companies, which often have dozens of development teams assigned to various business units, is that they don't establish universal standards.
One group in charge of financial and revenue apps could choose to develop iOS applications, and another might standardize on Android. Imagine that you're a manager who needs access to both sets of apps and platforms. If there is no uniformity, end users become dissatisfied with their experiences, and productivity suffers.
Organizations should assemble a mobility team to create a corporate style guide and set standards for user experience analysis. It can choose from application development methodologies such as Agile, Scrum or Lean UX, but it's important that every developer in the company is working off the same playbook.
In addition, those in charge of enterprise mobility plans should decide on what types of development environments to use. Will the applications be native, based in HTML5 or a hybrid? This should depend on who is using the apps and for what purpose, but other factors include connectivity to corporate networks and even whether users can expect a reliable cellular signal.
Consider verification, delivery and further monitoring
Validation and certification are other must-haves for in-house app development. Some see it as a bottleneck, but I am a strong proponent of a centralized clearinghouse for applications. Designate a group and a process to ensure the safe delivery of mobile apps to employees, but also to maintain quality assurance standards.
An Apple administrator within the enterprise must digitally sign and authenticate any software to be used on an iPhone or iPad. The centralized clearinghouse team should be in charge of this process.
Another reason to have an enterprise mobility team is to manage the organization's application delivery mechanisms. An app store can push apps and updates onto mobile devices, or it can allow users to choose and download -- also referred to as pulling -- their apps, as consumers do with their personal smartphones.
IT can manage in-house app stores through a mobile device management system or use the externally managed Apple iTunes store, Google Play store or Windows Marketplace. I generally prefer an internally controlled app store, which provides a single location for all employees to find productivity apps. By contrast, external app stores introduce a bit of chaos, with employees going to multiple sites to search for apps.
In-house app stores also allow administrators to segment applications by targeted users. For example, executives and management may need certain apps that entry-level employees should not have access to.
Once companies launch their internally developed mobile apps, they should use application performance monitoring technologies to allow developers to react quickly to problems and crashes.
Tools such as Appcelerator, New Relic, Aternity and Crittercism provide integrated application programming interfaces that reside in the app code base. Admins can then view reports that show how apps are performing.
These monitoring utilities display bottlenecks in service, transaction calls and cellular bandwidth problems. They also handle crash detection and reporting when an app fails in the field. With this information, IT can resolve problems quickly, but it can also determine where they originate in the code for future optimization.
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