The Real Issues with Outsourcing Mobile App Development

June 22, 2016

By Steve Mezak

Mobile App DevelopmentMobile apps have become part of everyday life, with an app available for just about any product or service. And there more than likely is a developer available for every kind of app, too.

But as you know, web and mobile apps don’t appear out of nowhere. They require deliberate construction, perhaps more so in the enterprise space. While these apps should be enjoyable, they aren’t just fun and games; they help users accomplish tasks and enable employees to do their jobs better.

That trend, according to Gartner, has led to a market demand for mobile app development services that will grow at least five times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them. For that reason, many enterprises are looking outside their office walls to meet the need. They need mobile skills and expertise, now.

But in order to select the right development partner, enterprises should keep certain considerations in mind. There are real issues when it comes to mobile app development, regardless of insourcing or outsourcing the work. The concerns center on three elements: performance, cost and complexity.

Each of those areas then has offshoots. For example, security, the user interface and choice of development technology affect all three factors. It’s important that enterprises keep these points at the forefront of their minds when selecting an outsourced development partner; losing sight of them will only lead to potentially devastating results—a firm that doesn’t deliver on time or budget or, more worryingly, creates an app that isn’t adopted or has security vulnerabilities that leaves your organization, large or small, open to cyber attacks.

To keep the real issues front and center, though, let’s take a brief look at the history of mobile app development, starting with the cataclysmic year of 2007, followed by the general considerations regarding development services and those specific to outsourcing.

 

The Web and Mobile Application Era

In 2007, communication changed forever. Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone. It was sleek and modern, but more than that, it put mobile computing power in your pocket. People could suddenly check email on the go. As social media became more prevalent, they could also update their statuses, follow their friends, family and favorite brands, and even make purchases – all while living their lives.

Eventually, the changes in the consumer market trickled to the enterprise, spawning what is now known as the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. Employees wanted the convenience of the smartphone wherever and whenever they were, including the workplace.

As a result, the smartphone market and app development services have exploded and will continue to do so for years to come. Research firm Ericsson predicts that there will be 6.1 billion smartphone users by 2020, a number that doesn’t even begin to include other connected devices like wearables, tablets and laptops.

In terms of applications, current offerings rest at 1.6 million on Google Play and 1.5 million at the Apple App Store. And a growing number of those apps are work-related, such as basic productivity or task management apps or those offered by an enterprise. Apps are no longer the realm of Angry Birds and Words with Friends; they are for making work and life better.

The enterprise, of course, is especially interested in mobile applications. For them, the allure is not only their lower price point and ease of creation in comparison to traditional computer software, but also the consumerization of information technology (IT).

Apps are a way to wrap the enterprise’s core systems in a platform that’s easy to use and access, which leads to improved workflows—onsite or remote—and customer service. They deliver results, too. Employees can engage with customers in real time, increasing customer loyalty and satisfaction. They can also accomplish work objectives faster, as well as innovate and develop new ways of reducing inefficiencies and growing profits.

The nexus of employee demand and the benefits of mobility make mobile app development the obvious choice. The only question remaining is whether to develop the app internally or seek an outsourced partner. Either route is possible, considering app development has commoditized, and mobile app development skills are widespread.

 

What to Consider when Building a Mobile App

That being said, organizations still have to do due diligence when building a mobile app. You should consider which type of app best serves your needs – a bespoke (or made-to-order) app, a hybrid or an off-the-shelf one.

The third type saves time. The organization can adopt the mobile app and have it dispersed across the business almost immediately. Sometimes called “modular” tools, apps like Kendo, PhoneGap, Titanium and Sencha can be easy ways to step into enterprise mobility for the first time.

Hybrid apps—Xamarin, Titanium (Appcelerator) and Rhomobile are examples—allow for porting to the iOS and Android platforms, which can save time, money and effort. Some of the modular tools listed above are only available on iOS or Android, so keep this in mind if you’re developing an enterprise app, as not all employees have devices with these operating systems and might need to purchase new hardware in this BYOD work environment.

Bespoke apps give enterprises the most flexibility but can be complex. They require a developer to work in a native language, typically Swift and Objective C for iOS and Java for Android. However, the ability to develop in a native language isn’t the only prerequisite. Custom apps have to be designed well, and you and your designers should think through the back-end integration.

Because bespoke mobile apps necessitate more thought and strategy, some issues arise during the development and deployment processes.

UI/UX Design

Mobile app development demands a focus on form and function. Employees expect enterprise apps to perform as well as, if not better than, Angry Birds. In addition, a mobile app always has limited real estate, meaning the development team, in coordination with the enterprise, has to prioritize what elements to include. An outsourced UI/UX expert will be able to help with such planning and brainstorming.

Back End Integration

A primary reason for investing in an enterprise mobile app is the data it shares and collects. While the apps may help employees get their work done, they also help the manager and executive team identify systemic workflow and employee performance issues.

Apps rarely are standalone entities, either. They are designed to pull data from back end systems and communicate with other core business functions. A simple example is a productivity app tethered to a CRM platform. They each provide and get data from different sources, but they’re presented to the end user in a single platform. That’s the power, on a small scale, of back end integration, and it isn’t a step to be skipped. The strength of the back end enables the actions on the front end, always.

Security

Security and privacy have always been a critical component of mobile app development, but they have grown in importance due to the increasing number of corporate data breaches and end user awareness. To address these concerns, enterprises should only work with outsourced development partners who follow best security practices. Organizations should specifically ask about policies regarding data storage and access, server-side mechanisms and controls, and cryptography.

Compatibility

Unless an organization is going to require its employees to standardize on a single technology, compatibility for devices and platforms is always going to be an issue. Android can be especially problematic, not to mention potentially more expensive. That doesn’t mean iOS is the de facto winner, either. Dozens of iOS versions of an app can be found on the Apple App Store. And, to make the choice between the two even more of a quagmire, many manufacturers tweak Android to optimize how it runs on their devices.

The choice may not be much of a debate; to have enterprise-wide adoption of an app, it has to be available on the most common devices, i.e., Apple and Android.

Framework

Another issue is the platform framework. Enterprises have basically two options, either responsive or adaptive apps or native ones. The former are easier to develop, as they bear a close resemblance to web design and development. The time and money saved in development comes at a cost; network connectivity is a necessity, and web apps often involve more clicks, copies, ads and confusing navigation.

Native apps typically feature a better and more efficient user experience. They are more tightly integrated with the back end and offer a seamless transition from mobile to desktop and back again. Native apps are designed specifically for the iOS or Android platform, which will make them more complex—compatibility issues will be a given when developing for them.

Development

A final issue is development process. Most mobile app teams utilize either the agile or waterfall methodology. Agile can be more appropriate in instances when time to market is an issue. Waterfall usually is the better choice when the enterprise wants to closely manage time and budget. Here, the choice is one of time and budget constraints and personal preference.

 

What Challenges Does Outsourcing Mobile App Development Bring?

Outsourcing only becomes a challenge when the development partner isn’t thoroughly vetted and the relationship isn’t managed. A solid partner, like the ones found at Accelerance, will perform as well as in-house teams, if not better. Sometimes, the outsourced firm even has skills, expertise and capabilities that the internal team does not.

Once the match is made, the partner relationship must be actively managed. Many times, the outsourced developer is in a different time zone and culture, making clear communication paramount. Enterprises only get the best results if they give detailed specifications; communicate regularly; set expectations about who owns the project and how collaboration will occur; and build a close relationship based on results with the partner organization.

Budget can sometimes become an issue, too. Partners well versed in mobile app development are likely to give competitive rates rather than lowball figures. It’s usually best to go with the competitive price; if a figure or timeline seems too low to be true, it most likely is.

 

Outsourcing Mobile App Development for Business Success

Outsourcing mobile app development brings few unique challenges, making it a smart investment of time, effort and resources. The few challenges that exist, such as cultural differences and clear communication, are easily overcome with time and investment on both sides.

The obstacles that aren’t so easy to overcome relate more to mobile app development itself. Enterprises should carefully consider what type of application will meet their needs – bespoke, hybrid or off the shelf. Once you’ve made that decision, you should also think through the development process, framework choice, security concerns and UI/UX design.

 

Fortunately, many of those issues can be addressed by working with a solid partner, such as the ones vetted through Accelerance’s unique certification process. We search the globe to create a roster of outsourcing partners to help with mobile app development and any number of other tasks. You always have access to best-in-class web and mobile development companies at Accelerance.

Find out more about the benefits of outsourcing your mobile app development efforts. Contact us to get the process started.

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