According to the Optus Future of Business Report 2012, over the next five years some 48 per cent of medium to large organisations plan to develop proprietary or customised mobile applications for customers, and a similar percentage plan to offer mobile applications to their employees.
Sales and marketing managers see new ways to interact with customers, improve customer service and boost customer retention. Other executives see increased productivity and efficiency by giving staff on the road direct access to company IT systems.
Development of some mobile apps - such as one to enable a field technician to submit job reports - might seem straightforward. However, no app development should be undertaken in the absence of an overarching mobile applications strategy and until a thorough assessment has been made of the business case and the ramifications.
It's important to identify early on all areas of the business that will be impacted by an application, to get buy-in from appropriate staff and to ensure that everyone remains fully informed and involved throughout the process. Every stakeholder must have clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
There are many different mobile devices on the market running different operating systems. Refresh cycles for both are typically much shorter than those for desktop and laptop hardware and operating systems, so it's important to decide what platforms will be supported and to ensure that the app remains functional.
The app must be designed from the outset in anticipation that the business requirements will change. It's also important that it has built-in mechanisms for monitoring usage. Which features are used most? How often? How long are users spending in the app? Apps that are not able to evolve will become redundant all too soon.
For internal apps, security and management are essential. There are plenty of products on the market to secure corporate data and manage applications on handheld devices, but the scale of the task managing a large deployment and supporting users should not be underestimated. Who has what applications? What procedures are in place to remove applications when an employee leaves? Are resources needed 24/7 to lock and wipe a lost or stolen mobile?
Faced with all these issues, IT managers need to make some major decisions: how much mobile app development to undertake 'in-house' versus outsourcing to specialists, and how to put in place overall management of the mobile app development effort.
In-house development has the advantage that the development team is very close to the business area driving the app and important intellectual property is more easily retained and protected. However, mobile application development is a new and rapidly evolving field and it's unlikely that in-house developers will be able to match the expertise of outside specialists. For that reason, many businesses are likely to choose a mix of in-house and external developers.
Mobile applications are only one of many priorities demanding an IT manager's time and attention. Our latest opinion paper outlines five key steps that IT decision makers can consider to implement a successful mobile applications strategy.
By Philip Parker, Optus Business Director of Product Marketing (Mobility). More from Philip on Twitter: @pguestp
All views expressed are the author's own.