Mobile devices are increasingly a de facto option in the modern enterprise. Employees who are frequently in and out of meetings, traveling to visit clients or out in the field doing research or making sales calls need ways to access digital services anytime, anywhere. Businesses are so reliant on digital technologies that this type of functionality is no longer optional, it's necessary. However, the mobile world is still relatively new from a development perspective as enterprise software providers work to adjust their cloud apps for easy access on mobile devices. The result is an environment in which organizations can struggle to find precisely what they need on the marketplace, leaving many to turn to custom programming.

Many issues can arise when trying to develop mobile apps, not least of which being the need to find resources to roll out custom apps. However, the challenges of custom development may be easier to deal with than the limitations that come when using various forms of off-the-shelf applications.

The inherent challenges of off-the-shelf apps
A pre-built solution is great, but only if you can find an app that fits perfectly. The vendor manages it for you. You don't have to worry about patches and updates if it's hosted in the cloud. You simply sign up for a subscription, set up user accounts and let your employees get to work. The problem is that finding the right app isn't necessarily simple, and there are challenges across multiple app types.

"A pre-built solution is great, but only if you can find an app that fits perfectly."

Imagine you just purchased subscriptions to a new mobile app. After extensive research analyzing the available solutions on the market, you've settled on a platform that you believe will do an adequate job of meeting your business' most pressing needs while keeping users happy. You know the app isn't perfect – you always have to make sacrifices with off-the-shelf-apps, anyway – but you and the rest of the search team are happy with what you have. Then you roll the new app out and the user response is not what you anticipated.

Despite your request for input from users during the search process, you find out that there are a few key features or interface quirks that are considered deal breakers by some of your users, and those weren't communicated to you at the project's outset. How do you respond? 

If you've subscribed to an app from a development studio, you are reliant on one of two options:

  • The developer making updates that are relevant to your user base and solves their problems. Even with firms that want to make changes based on customer demands, the studio will be weighing your requests beside those of other customers and need to queue any changes alongside other requests and day-to-day maintenance activities. You could be going months or even years waiting for a change, leaving your users disengaged.
  • The developer could give you access to customize the underlying code for your specific iteration of the app. This would allow you to customize the solution to meet your needs, but it would force you to find the time and resources to create new code, which would also push your teams to gain a strong understanding of how the existing app is configured to ensure anything they build fits within the architecture.

When you depend on a software development firm, you set yourself up for potential problems. This isn't to say you shouldn't ever use off-the-shelf applications. There are many situations in which it makes the most sense to do so. However, you can probably easily identify a few key areas of your business where you've never really found the right technology to meet a critical need. Those are the places where embracing custom development can be invaluable.

This issue was highlighted in an App Developer Magazine interview with industry expert Jeff Whelpley, who explained that limitations in adjusting apps over time can severely hamper mobile app efforts.

"Businesses are facing rapid technological and marketplace changes."

"Most developers (myself included) have a tendency to over-think and over-architect a system," Whelpley told the news source. "The problem is that most of the time a majority of the assumptions we put into our system design are wrong and we don't realize they are wrong until the code is in production and real people are using it. So, it is much better to assume anything we build is temporary and someone else will replace it in the near future."

Whelpley emphasized that this philosophy doesn't mean organizations should sacrifice on quality, but that they should instead focus on flexibility and adaptability in how they create solutions. If you are relying on off-the-shelf solutions, you are inherently giving up that kind of flexibility.

In simplest terms, businesses are facing rapid technological and marketplace changes. In response, they need their mission-critical apps to flex and adjust quickly. If you're relying on mobile apps that you can't control, you lose the freedom to ensure your technology aligns with your business without simply investing in more apps.

Smartphone with app tiles.Apps are transforming the enterprise space.

Getting an edge with custom apps
Where off-the-shelf apps create inherent limitations in terms of flexibility and adaptability, custom solutions can overcome those challenges, but only when you have a good development ecosystem in place. In today's digital-focused climate, many businesses are in a situation in which they are highly reliant on advanced technologies to get the job done. This is true even for smaller companies with limited in-house IT resources. As such, small businesses often need the same kind of specialized, customized applications that their larger competitors require, forcing companies into a difficult situation. If your IT team lacks the resources and skills to create a custom app, how do you get a solution that aligns with your business needs? This is where IT consultants and custom developers can prove invaluable.

There's a lot to think about when looking for a custom development partner, but two attributes really stand out:

  • A willingness to get to know your business: If the people creating your app are simply working off a spec sheet, then you can run into the same problems of fit that you would when purchasing an off-the-shelf solution. Your internal team may be able to identify key features, but a good development partner will have seen how new app releases go in a variety of organizational settings and anticipate issues that may arise in your business. Furthermore, they'll bring their overarching understanding of the tech market into play to help you choose the most important features for both immediate and future needs. Make sure any custom development partner takes the time to get to know your specific needs, consult with you about functionality and work around your specific needs.
  • An ability to provide ongoing support throughout the life of the app: Your needs are likely to change over time. You don't want a developer that will create and deploy the solution, then simply leave you to figure out the rest. You need a partner that will step in to adjust the application over time. Ongoing support is critical to a custom app's success.

The global market for enterprise mobile apps is rising quickly. An Accuray Research study estimated the sector will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2 percent from 2015 to 2025.

Businesses need mobile apps to keep up with competitors, but out-of-the-box solutions aren't necessarily going to get the job done. MC Services offers a combination of consulting and custom development services to help your organization keep up.