As a software developer of many years experience (over 30, to be open about my age), I have seen a huge evolution in technology, and in the way that technology is applied to business.
Companies that can streamline processes and engage with their customers have a huge advantage, and the market moves fast. Technology, especially mobile applications, offer exceptional reach and efficiency for businesses.
Mobile apps are not all created equally though, and with the demand for apps outstripping supply in sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of skill can quickly outweigh the merit of the app.
While development our own in-house team of proficient app developers is underway, I was recently forced to consider the option of going outside South Africa to meet the demand from our clients. In the process of appointing a suitable service provider who could meet our clients’ and especially our own exacting needs, I learnt some valuable lessons.
Experience counts – We partnered with an Indian development house with over 4,500 mobile apps behind them. It is fantastic to have this depth of experience to draw on, and has significantly reduced development times on our projects. So consider how long your service provider has been operating and how many apps they have developed (and ones that work) – do they have contactable references?
Do we speak the same language? – Technology is a notoriously acronym driven industry, so making sure that the developer and the client are on the same page with what is required and that everyone in the equation understands, is vitally important. This is further complicated when you add in a foreign language and translation is often misinterpreted.
Platforms (9 and three quarters) – Fans of the Harry Potter series will understand that Platform 9 and ¾ is hidden from the view of mere mortals, but the point here is that you need to decide from the start, which operating platforms you want your application to run on. We recommend building native apps (specific to each platform – Android, Windows and iOS) giving the optimal user experience and more flexibility in the long term.
Size matters – Does the developer have the know-how to render your app to tablet as well as a host of different phone types? There’s nothing worse than having a beautifully designed application that looks good on the owners’ phone but when a customer opens it on their tablet it barely functions…
Socially speaking – Consider whether you are building social integrations (like share to Facebook) and does your developer understand the various social platform APIs?
Safety first – While it seems perfectly obvious that your app will be designed to communicate on all levels, it is not always the case. Apps can be stand alone or fully integrated with existing systems. Either way, rigorous security checks and balances need to be put in place to prevent putting internal systems at risk. For that matter, protecting customers’ information and data is also paramount in a world where identity theft is a common occurrence.
All Access – Part of the forward planning is thinking about how your app will be distributed. Will it be sold/given away for free via the various App stores, or will this be individually forwarded to specific users, if so, the delivery mechanism should be well thought through.
Timing is everything – How long will it take to design, build, test and implement? Here it is important to be clear on expectations and deliverables. Life happens, but with an experienced team of developers, the process should take six to eight weeks to deliver a meaningful product. After all, you don’t want to be waiting months for the latest loyalty scheme app and be at the back of the queue while your competitors quickly reap the rewards of being in the pocket of their consumers.
Functionality vs Looks – Of course, in an ideal world, your new app should both look great and work well, particularly in today’s design led market. But if budget dictates that it is one or the other, my experience shows that functionality is paramount for the user experience and to derive the most long-term value.
After sales service – Lastly, you need to ask about the level of after-sales service you can reasonably expect to receive. It’s pretty pointless having a great app if after it gets deployed there is no one around to sort out the inevitable bugs and enhancements.
Lorraine Steyn is simplifier-in-chief, Khanyisa Real Systems (KRS)
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