Unsure if your business needs an Android, iOS or Windows 10 Mobile app? Here’s the answer you’ve been looking for

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Businesses are adopting apps eight times faster than they took to the web, even when the dotcom fever was at its height. Seemingly everyone who’s anyone wants to bag themselves a home on your tablet or phone, but should your business be among them?

To answer this question properly, you need to understand the role an app can play – and what you want your implementation to do. The latter falls into three camps: generating revenue, increasing brand awareness or saving your company money by ironing out kinks in its workflow.

While the first two of those aims are satisfied by consumer apps sold through a store, the third is most often a closed system for in-house use. Pete Gatenby, senior enterprise consultant at B60 Apps, one of the UK’s 100+ app-development houses, identified what he calls “soldier” and “hero” apps.

“[For soldier apps], we use the analogy of an archer who’s only there to do one thing – fire arrows, nothing else. But hero applications are often a lot bigger and can do many things. For example, one where employees can do all of their HR tasks on the go, whether they’re a salesperson on the road or an accountant in the office: an app through which they can do things like use the internal intranet, book holidays, submit expenses and so on.”

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However, there’s no reason why it needs to be so clear-cut, as explained by Jonathan Boakes, UK managing director of app-development firm Nodes“When [Dutch transport company] Abellio took on the ScotRail franchise, it wanted to give passengers ownership of the stations by allowing them to take a photo of damage or graffiti and get a message back from Abellio to say that they’re working on it. [When the job had been done] the customer would get another message saying it’s all fixed and we hope they enjoy their journey.” Why? “It’s a marketing thing that gives people a warm, fuzzy feeling: you think, ‘even if my ticket prices have just gone up by a pound, I do feel that they care about me a little more than they did before’.”

Nodes developed the app, but rather than creating two entities, one customer-facing and one internal, it used a single codebase to produce a tool that presented Abellio staff with a different view – effectively a list of jobs and an internal leaderboard – if they logged in with company credentials.

How to pitch your business’ app

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Clearly, Abellio’s app only works for that kind of company, so how do you commission an agency to develop something specific to your own needs? The key is to take your time. Decide internally what you need and what you want before you approach an agency.

Jason Gaved, managing director of Lexel, frequently receives enquiries from potential customers who have yet to think through what they’re looking for.

“The best approaches are where people have come up with a statement of what they want to achieve, some features of the app and basic wireframes. It gives us a very clear indication of what they’re looking to do, even if it isn’t correct. That way they get the most accurate estimate.”

Boakes agreed: “We’d rather someone came to us knowing exactly what they want so we can get straight in and start building it. A lot of the time when we build an app we also try to build an internal capability for them [to take it forward after it’s been launched], because it’s not in our interest to try and hog work. We want people to have a good mobile experience and then want to do more mobile work.”

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