Mobile development – 10 key messages

We formally started our mobile practice six months ago, having decided that mobile was unavoidable as a channel – and to complement our process, integration, and consulting practices, about a year ago. So where does a year of talking to customers and looking at the mobile market leave us, and what insights do we take into April 2014?

As always, I look to the Internet and established research to underpin and compare to my own experiences, says Craig Leppan, associate director at Ovations Group.

While Google will give you lots of interesting views on mobile, mobile enterprise application platforms (MEAPs), cross-platform tooling, etc, I would like to refer you to a formal piece of research from InfoTec Research Group that I will comment on and refer back to, with regards to our own experiences.

If you would like a full copy of this piece (IT Mobile Development Strategy Storyboard), drop me an e-mail, and I will send you the full 60-page PDF.

So, let’s look at InfoTech’s top 10 key messages regarding mobile strategy for 2014.

1. The pervasiveness and fragmentation of mobile devices leads to challenges and opportunities for mobile app development.
Yes, significant challenges and different approaches exist in mobile. The days of developing for desktop and Web-only are truly over. Mobile-first thinking means you consider mobile the primary channel, on which customers, with their varied choices of mobile phones and form factors, will engage. Think HTML5, or Android/iOS, or tablet-only, is okay? Think again – especially, in South Africa and Africa, with our huge BlackBerry 5 installed base and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) applications that conventionally deliver apps to the low-end feature phones.

2. Target your end-users with solid requirements building, and avoid a spontaneous mobile development strategy.
If ever there was a time where tactical, reactive, and spontaneous development has taken place, it’s certainly true for mobile. Many organisations have outsourced mobile, leaving it to the design agency, a third party, or a new mobile supplier, to build and deliver the first generation of mobile apps. The tactical app is now in the app store, under another entity’s name, costing more and more to support and build for other platforms, and is giving a different user experience based on the phone it’s deployed to. (These are some typical worst cast scenarios…)

3. Use your existing application development’s best practices and keep development processes intact to minimise your costs.
Even organisations with mature Web and desktop strategies have totally changed the game for mobile development, due to customer and business pressures and the radical change in tools and skills that mobile has introduced. If possible, the same people who build your IT systems on Web and desktop need to be part of the mobile development cycle.

4. Integrate mobile development tools into your existing ecosystem to save time and money.
Yes, tools are definitely changing, but look for common ground and best practices, and link the development back to business strategy as you would for any other IT spend and effort.

5. Find your place on the development grid to help select the right tools for your mobile development project.
We’ve looked extensively at the MEAP market, as our focus is building integrated mobile across all platforms to deliver functional, rather than visually-rich, applications. Native, Web, hybrid, and MEAP built apps all need to be considered against your needs.

6. Make future-oriented decisions; Web applications are ideal for cross-platform development.
Are you sure your user needs to access GPS, camera, and memory? Would mobi or responsive Web serve you well for an initial mobile offering? Many sites deliver an excellent experience on mobile Web, and these efforts can be re-used in the hybrid and MEAP developments, should you have to up the experience, security, or tap into the native UI.

7. Investigate your user base and business needs to find your place in the mobile space.
Yes, it’s all about requirements and strategy. If possible, don’t react tactically to mobile; consider it as part of the overall IT and business strategy.

8. Choose a MEAP for distributing simple native apps across multiple platforms.
We’ve mentioned MEAP as a tooling choice which we are comfortable recommending to our enterprise customers, as they need to deliver to a wide range of devices, and the scale of their projects (and user base) will justify the investment in this mature tooling for mobile and strong integration capability. If you plan on building three or more apps on three or more platforms, consider an MEAP.

9. Choose a Web application to get the furthest reach, and the most versatility.
This approach also drags the Web/portal people into mobile, maximising their content and skills to deliver the same Web message on mobile as well as Web. A lot of separate mobile projects start to deliver a function and message which are different from the main corporate Web site. A change on the Web should drive changes to mobile. Consider the back-office of your mobile app as your Web portal and power content from there.

10. Weigh the costs of native apps versus their rich features.
Native iOS and Android apps are sexy, cool, and fast, but they are also expensive and fragmented to support and manage. Consider carefully where you develop native applications, and accept that you may well be learning and paying school fees in this stage and may not be able to address your entire market on this approach.

For more coffee and discussions about the pains and joys of mobile, send me an e-mail: CraigL@ovationsgroup.com.

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