Building your first enterprise app can be daunting, even for skilled developers and IT teams with years of experience working with customer-facing apps.
There are more options than ever, making the process difficult to navigate for growing startups and established Fortune 500 companies alike.
To help you tackle the prospect of building your first app for employees, here are three key questions you should think about.
What is the business need?
There are many reasons to build enterprise apps. Enabling your employees to use technology in innovative and useful ways will yield higher productivity for your business.
Building mobile apps will be especially useful for employees who are always on the road. According to Gartner, 76% of organizations surveyed plan to increase mobile spending by 36% this year.
The first thing that every developer and product manager should ask when building an enterprise app is: what particular business problem will this solve?
Ask this before you start gathering requirements. While high-level business strategy seems far removed from the technical aspects of an app, it is always important to remember why the app should exist in the first place.
Answering this question will also help you identify your business partners and users. Understanding your business partners’ demands and knowing what they ultimately care about will help you build an app that meets their business goals and has demonstrable success to business leaders.
A good way to think about business goals could be thinking beyond the internal functionality — if the app were to be monetized, how would you do things differently?
Thinking about internal initiatives in terms of ROI can help you make decisions down the road about what investments and staff resources are really needed in creating the app.
How can I translate business need into good UX?
Once you understand business need, you have to think about how your business users will react to the app. Think about UX in the early stages of application design.
Simply meeting all the requirements asked of you by your business partners won’t guarantee that anyone will actually use your app. It is extremely difficult to keep users engaged with an app for work, especially since your app is competing in usability against high-quality B2C apps that users have come to love and expect.
Identify how they use technology and what matters most to them in their day-to-day workflow. What functionalities do they need the most? What type of interface will make them feel most comfortable and want to engage with the app?
Iterate early and often. The app is supposed to make their lives easier, not become another “to do,” and engaging users in the build phase will surface issues before they become service tickets. Early engagement is also your best bet at driving adoption after deployment.
Realize that not all users are the same. Even if the enterprise app is for a specific department or group, workers at various levels and with different working styles will interact with the app in drastically different ways.
Some users may care only about the one functionality that impacts their workstream the most. Others may care about how the app integrates with data or another app that they have to use. Highly mobile users may care most about having an app that can be used across multiple devices easily. Platform integration is key here.
Developing user stories is another important step. User stories are first-person descriptions of what users want to get out of an application and might sound something like, “As a mobile user, I want to be able to access client contact information readily on my iPhone and iPad when I’m on the road.”
Who will build the app?
The perennial question when building an enterprise app is whether or not you should build it in-house.
There are benefits to keeping an app in-house. You retain full control, making it easy to customize or change the app later, if need be, and respond quickly to user requests. If the app will need other vendor support for certain functionalities, keeping the app in-house will eliminate worries of third party compatibility.
Building the app also makes sense for nontraditional use cases. For example, if you only need an app to work for a few months, performing a simple task or working across highly integrated data, a lightweight in-house app could do the trick.
In most cases for small organizations, outsourcing makes more sense and is more cost-efficient than building your own app from the ground up. If you choose to involve another company to help you build your app, there are two routes you could follow: you could hire a company to build a custom app or you could buy an existing app from a SaaS provider.
App design and development companies, like ThinkApps, can work with you to develop a custom app that is tailored to your business. This route provides the benefit of meeting your needs closely while getting valuable third-party technical expertise.
If you want to be completely hands-off in designing and developing an app, there is an increasingly wide range of SaaS providers across business functions.
Workday and Zenefits provide HR services, Slack and Hipchat provide messaging capabilities, Tableau and GoodData provide analytics platforms, among many others.
As these apps become more mature and secure, their value proposition vis-a-vis internally built apps will increase. Depending on the criticality of the function and the sensitivity of the data associated with the app, partnering with the wrong vendor can be a small nuisance or a downright disaster for your business.
While there have never been more options for enterprise apps, it’s also never been as easy to build one once you’ve made some key decisions. If you want to build an app in-house completely, many companies, such as Android and Salesforce, have made their APIs available for developers to use.
If you want help in building an app, you can employ a company or developer to make one best suited to your needs. If you don’t want to build a custom app at all, there are an array of SaaS products that you can buy and launch almost immediately.
Risks and rewards
The risks of getting your first enterprise app wrong are high. A burdensome app that makes people’s workflows more complicated and time-consuming can easily contribute to employees becoming disgruntled and discouraged.
They may even try to find ways around performing work associated with the app, reducing original productivity levels and disrupting business processes.
At the same time, creating an enterprise app that makes your employees more productive and solves a core business problem can be an exciting, creative challenge. Remember that apps, even ones for work, can be beautiful, fun to use, and helpful to our daily lives.