Integrate, modify or create? Which app strategy is right for you

Businesses face new technical challenges as they try to adapt to the world of widespread mobile device use. With the enterprise application market expanding and users looking for apps that can meet just about any operational need, companies face pressure to ensure that, if there's a problem, there's an app for it. This can put immense pressure on tech teams as they work to assess the application market, update older systems and develop strategies to keep up with shifts in the marketplace, changing customer behavior and new practices in the office.

All of these issues are pointing more businesses in the direction of custom development. By building your own solution, you don't have to try to work around the processes and framework created by a third-party application. Instead, you get to make the app fit your business and, if you do it right, you ensure you can adjust and fine-tune the app as your needs change. Of course, this strategy presents an entirely different problem: How do you get the resourcing you need to create a custom app when your IT team is already overburdened with day-to-day management work.

"Custom solutions are invaluable in ensuring technologies align with your business."

IT consultants and custom development providers can help you deal with your resourcing problem, but there's one more issue to address: Do you really need a new app? Custom solutions are invaluable in ensuring technologies align with your business, but getting a custom app or unique IT tool isn't always a matter of starting from scratch. Some problems can be solved through integration. In other cases, you may be able to customize an existing app. Of course, there are times when a fresh build is best. Here's a look at all three options:

1. When to integrate
Imagine a situation in which you have a legacy app. The app itself is great. It was designed specifically for businesses in your niche, the company that makes it continues to offer support and patches because it knows there is a clear audience and it has a few key features that really align with what your business needs. Even better, all of your workers are comfortable using the app and the hardware configuration that is supporting it is running smoothly.

There's just one problem, you have a couple of other lines of your business that have moved on to newer apps with more modern architectures. As a result, the data housed in your legacy app can't easily be shared with you newer solutions, and vice versa. This kind of integration challenge is especially common as more businesses embrace cloud and mobile solutions. 

You don't always have to throw out your valuable legacy apps. Instead, working with a custom database programming specialist can help you upgrade and integrate the data between your systems, creating a smoother framework for your day-to-day operations. By integrating your legacy app in some form with your existing solutions, you can eliminate the operational problems that are pushing you toward modernization while still taking advantage of the functional and user-focused benefits of your tried-and-true systems. There are a few ways you can work toward this goal, and IT consultants can help you analyze your systems and develop a plan for how to handle integration effectively.

Man holding a smartphone.Custom apps can pay dividends for your business.

2. When to customize
Sometimes you'll find that the general app marketplace offers a bunch of solutions that do most of what you need, but none that actually cover all of your essential bases. This puts you in a difficult situation. Do you choose a less-than-ideal app and hope you make the right compromises, or do you build a solution from scratch and swallow the cost? There's always a bit of a risk-reward situation in this decision, as a custom app can be extremely valuable, but the project can be daunting. The key factor here is in figuring out just how much you need to customize and how difficult it will be.

If you have the choice between a few apps that are all interesting, but not ideal, consider talking to vendors about what will be needed to customize their apps. Some solutions are open source by nature and purchasing a license for the app means getting the freedom to brand the solution and alter the source code to your heart's content. If you only care about the visual interface and branding, then a white-label app may be what you need. However, some apps are designed with minimal client customization in mind, making it difficult for you to make changes. If you have an app that is working, but isn't quite up to the task anymore, consider contacting a custom development specialist who can help you identify what would be required to add the functionality you need.

In general, customizing an app is best handled when the app does most of the things you need and you're only building a few key features from the ground up. If you have to make major alterations, you're probably better off going with a completely custom app.

3. When to build from scratch

"While custom development is extremely attractive, it isn't always straightforward."

If you have a unique need that isn't really matched in the marketplace, have a legacy system that is too dated to integrate or want to create an app that is extremely focused on your specific process structure, then you'll want to take on a custom build. With a custom app, you can choose everything about the solution, optimizing its performance, feature set and capabilities alongside the devices you expect users to leverage and processes you want to improve.

While custom development is extremely attractive, it isn't always straightforward. You may have a basic list of features that are really important to you, but can you or your team actually sit down and detail every function, capability and workflow the app needs to support? Are you confident in your ability to blend best practice for interface design with user expectations in your business? Third-party custom programming specialists can help you answer these questions. The key is to work with a development firm that will take time to get to know your business and truly partner with you, not just fill out a spec sheet.

At MC Services, we put the customer experience first. If you come to us looking for a custom app, we're going to take the time to get to know you, understand your needs and help you identify the most efficient path to achieve your goals. We'll help you decide if you're best off integrating, customizing or building and we can execute the project for you.