The nature of the mobile workforce has changed how organisations share information, communicate and collaborate. Out of necessity as well as convenience, apps are being embraced to create greater efficiencies and improve productivity.

When in the market for an app, the first inclination could be to buy off-the-shelf apps. However, it’s important to consider apps of this type tend to be generic to appeal to a wide audience. They may get the job done, but there’s little to no personalisation available. You may pay for features you don’t need and you may not get the features you require. These apps also cannot be updated to accommodate business growth and change.

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee an off-the-shelf app will be compatible with external data or existing business systems. But there is another option.

The democratisation of custom apps

Apps can be made based on a new idea, by modifying an existing starter app or by importing data to meet unique business needs. Businesses use multi-platform custom apps on iPhone, iPad, Windows, and across the web. They enable employees and customers to securely access vital information at any time, from any place and extend mission-critical business processes far beyond the boundaries of the enterprise.

While it was once true SMEs could not afford custom app development, that’s no longer the case. It can be faster and less expensive to build a custom app from scratch than to buy and customise off-the-shelf software. By designing the app in-house, you’re sure to get the features you want at the budget you set.

The planning process begins

One of the first steps when it comes to implementing custom apps is to evaluate the goals of the solution you’re setting out to create. Define the needs and requirements of team members to ensure the app will address their specific pain points.

Sort out your scenarios

Before progressing, you should first write user scenarios that summarise how individuals will use the app. User scenarios tell stories about how users get tasks done and how they use data; they help create the requirements for your app.

For example, a manager cannot efficiently collect, manage and share a list of customers and assets with the main office. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of current processes and the requirements of different teams.

Next, think about how and where users will access the app. How will the custom app need to interact with current systems? What devices will be used to access the app? Think about when people will use the collected information and also think about when you need your custom app.

Finally, what are your requirements? Include an overall description of how your custom app will work and a detailed list of features and functions based on the user scenarios you have already written.

Integrate, secure, and deploy

It’s essential to address integration, security and deployment. The access you have to a data source is a major factor in determining the complexity of your custom app. If you control your data sources, you can build and deploy more easily. If you need an administrator or other system to provide access to your data, the complexity increases.

Security is a critical consideration for any custom app. Will you be storing sensitive material? What regulations (such as HIPAA) must you comply with? By creating user accounts and passwords using app software, you can manage security authentication internally.

Revise and refine

With an understanding of what users need and want, it’s time to design your custom app, starting with a prototype. By showing a prototype to your users, you can test functionality and usability early in the development process. This ensures users understand the direction you are taking and agree that it will meet their needs.

Before spending too much time in development, validate your design with the intended users. Keep revising and refining your design, while getting feedback from users about each revision.

Determine your technical ability

There will be a learning curve in the beginning as you start to explore the possibilities and how all of the pieces will work together. But rest assured, anyone can learn to make a custom app.

Whether you decide to develop on your own or bring in outside help, there are online resources to guide you along the process. Evaluating your own level of technical understanding first will help you determine the best way to proceed.

Planning for success

This is not a definitive list of elements to consider when implementing custom apps, but they are important ones – even before the creation or deployment processes begin. Digital transformation is moving at the speed of light, requiring agility on the part of organisations in order to meet emerging business needs. Apps are a vital tool in today’s mobile-based culture and off-the-shelf solutions seems the fastest and easiest solution. However, ready-made apps often result in unneeded features and extra expense – and you may still need to create features specific to your situation.

Fortunately, new platform offerings allow you to create a customised app without breaking the bank or needing an engineering degree. Investing in planning time can yield greater productivity and efficiency sooner than you’d think.


By Andrew LeCates, Director, Solutions Consulting at FileMaker Inc., an Apple subsidiary

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