Thursday, May 11, 2017

Emerging Tech Fuels Digital Transformation Using Mobile

** This topic is a frequent joint presentation I do with the Xamarin Team at Microsoft and will be the focus of a webinar on 6/15/2017. **

Mobile technology, according to Forrester, is "the face of digital."  What does this mean for mobile technologists and digital product managers?  It's this:  "Mobile is [the] gateway to new interactions that are rapidly gaining customers’ mobile moments."

Emerging technologies, such as machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital reality are fueling new experiences that significantly raise the bar for enterprise mobility.  Let's dig in and look at a few examples.

First, machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence based around the idea that we can give machines access to data and let them learn for themselves.  Or, thinking about it another way, machine learning is using computing power to perform tasks that formerly only people could do but at a super-computing scale.

What makes machine learning--which is not new--especially compelling now is that accuracy has improved to a level that is on par with human cognition.  For example, speech recognition error rates are under four percent, powering not only Siri and Cortana but also "digital assistant" devices like Amazon's Alexa, Echo, or Google Home.

But digital assistants are just the tip of the iceberg.  Microsoft, for example, has created a wide range of "cognitive services" APIs based on machine learning and artificial intelligence that open up incredible opportunities to create engaging mobile experiences.

Let's look at an example.  Prism Skylabs, is a San Francisco-based company that helps customers search through closed-circuit and security camera footage for specific events, items and people.  Their Vision app uses Microsoft's Computer Vision API to return information based on visual content processing.  For a few light-hearted examples that use similar technologies, check out or  

What could you do with machine learning technologies behind your mobile apps?

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn't really new at this point, although it's still an emerging technology in that we're still figuring out what business value we can create when we add and exchange data with newly connected devices.  Three trends add texture to the opportunities IoT presents for digital in general and mobile in particular:
  • Shift of Moore's Law.  Original observation:  Every two years chips become twice as powerful.  Latest trend:  Same chip computational power but every two years price goes down by half, moving toward nearly free chips that are in everything and enabling emerging technologies quickly going mainstream.
  • Everything Connected.  IoT has always promised to connect everything; however, that's become much more feasible--and in near real-time--with the advent of extremely fast 5G Internet.
  • Program the World.  Software is eating the world, yes.  IoT will continue to disrupt industries and how we live in unexpected ways, thereby extending mobile apps' reach ever deeper into the most basic aspects of work and life.  From an enterprise perspective, every business will become a software business.
Here's a couple of examples of how mobile and IoT are fueling digital transformation: 
  • ThyssenKrupp has implemented sensor-based predictive maintenance on elevators and has reduced downtime by 50% by feeding that data via a Xamarin mobile app to technicians and management in near-real time to accelerate service and operational decision-making.
  • Schindler has built a mobile app called FieldLink using Xamarin that enables elevator technicians to optimize their day. Similar to ThyssenKrupp, Schindler has attached sensors to elevators and escalators that are feeding back important data into their systems which enable them to predict and prevent problems before they occur.  Their system in turn is sending over 200 million messages per day back out to technicians in the field using the mobile app. The app also optimizes the technicians day by pushing service incidents to the technician nearest to the customer site in real-time.
What new business capabilities could you build using data from the Internet of Things?

Like machine learning, digital reality is not new.  The Sensorama, built by Morton Heilig in the 1950s and patented in 1960, is probably the earliest virtual reality (VR) device.

Today, digital reality has subdivided into three main types:
  • Augmented Reality.  Digital content on top of the real world.
  • Mixed Reality.  Digital content that interacts with the real world.
  • Virtual Reality.  Digital content separate from the real world.
Augmented reality (AR) is the easiest of the three to implement and we see a lot of examples today--think Pokemon Go.  Another example is an aquarium in Tokyo that wanted to solve a wayfinding issue where customers had a difficult time getting to the acquarium from the underground.  To solve the challenge, they created an AR mobile app that enabled customers to follow virtual penguins all the way to the aquarium!

Mixed reality (MR) places interactive digital content in the real world.  Microsoft's HoloLens is the major MR device in the market right now, although others like Magic Lead and Meta are also innovating in this space.  For sure, the applications of MR seem to be endless.

Unlike AR or MR, virtual reality (VR) is digital content--and an experience--totally separate from the real world.  You're transported to and fully immersed in a different place.  Mobile VR, using things like Google Daydream or Google Cardboard, is pretty simple.  More complex VR experiences--for example, using Oculus Rift--are much more immersive and realistic, although currently more the domain of gamers than the enterprise.

One negative perception of digital reality, however, is that can be an isolating experience.  On the contrary, VR enables deeper connections through an immersive experience, effectively giving us the chance to almost literally walk in another person’s shoes.  Chris Milk, a filmmaker and storyteller, calls VR the "ultimate empathy machine."  He and his team created an immersive experience called ”Clouds over Sidra” which shows the story of a day in the life of a young Syrian refugee girl.  Backed by the UN and UNICEF, Clouds over Sidra proved to be an exceptionally effective fundraising tool.

So why will digital reality be a key driver of digital transformation for the enterprise?  First, even two years ago 75% of the Forbes 100 already had a VR or AR experience.  Chris Cavanaugh, writing recently for Forbes, says that "biggest trends that we are all going to see over the next year is the use of virtual reality and augmented reality."

Digital transformation driven by emerging technology always has one thing in common:  mobile.  In fact, emerging technologies are cementing mobile's position as "the one device to rule them all" rather than supplanting it.

Getting your arms around emerging technologies, how to effectively use mobile, and how to fit into your digital transformation journey is a complex undertaking.  Magenic Technologies specializes in digital transformation through technology and can guide you each step of the way.  Let's talk about how we can help you add the jet fuel of emerging technologies and mobile to your digital transformation.

Take a Mobile First Approach to Digital Transformation Strategy

** This post is also published as a POV paper -- download it here **

It’s no secret that mobile technology is revolutionizing the way business interacts with customers. In fact, analysts such as Forrester Research argue that many businesses’ customers may never interact with them using PC or laptop again. 

In the future, researchers say mobile devices will become the centralized hub for all connected experiences. Forrester calls this phenomenon the “mobile mind shift” and notes savvy brands are rearranging their priorities to focus on making mobile engagement easier, more efficient and more appealing for smart but time-starved customers. 

Companies that fail to implement the solutions needed for a mobile-first digital transformation strategy—including mobile augmentation or extension of other channels— are about to find themselves left in the dust. 

Of course, for nimble new startups and disruptors a mobile-first or even mobile-only strategy is often the plan from the start. They have the advantage of fresh technology and streamlined processes aimed squarely at mobile customers. 

Conversely, established companies often find they must launch a digital transformation strategy that modernizes interaction models and supporting systems. 

Think contextual journeys, not just mobile 
Implementing a truly effective and durable digital transformation strategy isn’t achieved by thinking “mobile first” and then simply designing and building applications geared toward smartphones and tablets. 

Rather, mobile first is a perspective that can be applied to almost any customer interaction because it emphasizes contextual journeys, not just a mobile channel experience. Consequently, a key approach is research-based evaluation of the real-world journeys your customers make that focuses on increasing effective engagement every step of the way. This process will surface customers’ most desired modes and channels of communication, many times including mobile. 

Note that the mobile first perspective and resulting customer journey-centric approach is an imperative for all parts of the organization, not just IT. Each part of your organization should be actively involved in trying to understand customer needs, their pain points and their preferences for interaction. Each department must re-imagine how to engage and empower customers to accomplish their goals across channels with a priority on mobile experiences.

Creating effective mobile engagement 
After customer journeys are freshly understood—and in light of the innovative opportunities emerging technologies provide, creating effective mobile-first engagement requires making a series of incremental bets about how you can most effectively engage customers, influence their behavior and improve business outcomes. 

Organize your bets in product road maps and plan for implementing supporting technology. Plan to take a “test-learn-adapt” approach with each product release that will enable you to continually improve outcomes while also more fully engaging customers. Be sure to collect as much quantitative data as possible to provide clear insights and determine impact. 

As you continually analyze the multiple data points gleaned—customer preferences, locations, behavioral histories, time sensitivities, etc. —you can continually tweak the way you do business, solving pain points and creating the interactions and benefits most likely to delight your customers. Your entire organization must align to understand customer needs and preferences and re-imagine how you can help them reach their goals most effectively. 

Getting started 
Now making this happen requires transformation leaders have a deep understanding of your enterprise ecosystem, complex mobile product development, emerging technologies and the Agile methodologies that will preserve product flexibility while ensuring quality and responsiveness. In most cases your business will also require a significant overhaul of standard policies regarding security, privacy, compliance, legacy integration and usability. 

Magenic’s deep expertise in mobile product strategy, customer experience design, development, integration and quality assurance/testing makes us a valuable partner when it comes to envisioning and realizing your mobile-first future. Talk to us about best practices and how to avoid common pitfalls when making the turn. There’s no time to lose for companies that wish to compete in a rapidly changing mobile-first world.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Shift from Managing Mobile Devices to Managing Apps and Data

Can personal and corporate data securely co-exist on a single personally-owned device?  Recent advances in mobile operating system capabilities targeted for the enterprise and enterprise mobile management (EMM) tools make securely distributing and maintaining enterprise mobile apps more a matter of data security than full device control.

[Article written for the Wall Street Technology Association's (WSTA) quarterly newsletter Ticker e-Zine]

Is the corporate-owned mobile device still relevant?  Recent advances in mobile operating system and hardware capabilities targeted for the enterprise and enterprise mobile management (EMM) tools are definitely reducing the number of such scenarios.  The barrier to this shift has been an inability securely distribute and maintain personal and corporate apps and data on a single, personally-owned device, often referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).  What’s changed?

Android Nougat and Android for Work
Google’s Android mobile operating system has been regarded as less secure than Apple’s iOS, primarily because Android is an open system and default security settings—such as whole device encryption—lagged Apple’s implementation.

To combat this perception and court enterprise customers, in early 2015 Google introduced Android for Work, a suite of capabilities targeted for enterprise mobile computing needs.

With the release of Android Nougat, which included numerous Android for Work updates—and corresponding updates of leading enterprise mobile management (EMM) tools, Android Nougat-based devices can now cleanly segment and secure enterprise apps and data from personal apps and data.  

Key capabilities include that enable and facilitate this separation of personal and enterprise include:
  • Apps and data are separated based on work and personal profiles; visual cues distinguish work apps from personal apps
  • Single sign-on simplifies enterprise app access
  • Always-on VPN protects data in transit
  • Distribution of enterprise apps through managed Google Play, self-hosted or hosted by Google—or through an EMM’s private app store

Beyond Android for Work

If your data security needs are deeper than most and you’ve standardized on Samsung or LG devices there are additional ways to ensure app and data security on personally-owned devices.  

Samsung Knox and LG GATE provide an array of more extensive capabilities that ensure separation of personal vs. enterprise apps and data, including:
  • Secure workspace “containers” isolate business applications and data from personal with government-grade security—potentially all the way down to the hardware layer, if required
  • Enterprise users can switch between the work apps and personal apps with PIN, password, pattern or biometric authentication
  • Ability to permanently secure (without wiping the device) any stored enterprise data if device is lost/stolen or the employee leaves the company
  • Integration with and extension of leading EMM tools’ security and distribution capabilities

iOS 10 and the Enterprise

Until recent catch-up work by Google and key OEMs iOS was generally regarded as the more secure and enterprise-ready mobile platform.  This perception is somewhat ironic as Apple’s continued focus is on the consumer market rather than the enterprise.  

The key differentiator, however, was security—Apple’s recent legal fight to keep iOS secure (even from governmental agencies) only enhanced their position.

From an enterprise perspective, however, Apple iOS is much more dependent than Android on EMM tools to manage apps and data for a several of reasons:
  • Lack of a private/enterprise app store capability
  • Lack of work/personal profiles to separate apps (although data can be secured)
  • Lack of enterprise mobile management capabilities

While Apple’s iOS is not as well-rounded for the enterprise as Google Android in terms of enterprise-targeted features, it is a highly secure closed system that is much more immune to the potential holes in the Android ecosystem due to numerous Android OS variants, lack of OS updates on older devices, and device fragmentation.

Enterprise Mobile Management (EMM) Tools
Although both Android and iOS devices gain a great deal through EMM tools, arguably iOS is more dependent.  In any case, the leading EMM tools also provide secure distribution and segmentation of personal and enterprise apps and data:
  • Silent or on-demand installation of work apps and data/configuration updates
  • Work/personal profiles to separate apps and data, including visual badging and even separation of notifications
  • Single sign-on
  • Disk encryption and secure VPN

Shift from Managing Mobile Devices to Managing Apps and Data

Unlike past scenarios where corporate-owned, fully-controlled mobile devices were required to secure enterprise mobile apps and their valuable data, now organizations have at their disposal a variety of tools with increasingly granular control—without invading employees’ private workspaces on their personally-owned mobile devices.  Even older devices which don’t support, for example, Android for Work, can be effectively and securely managed using EMM tools.

Mobile technology has finally caught up with the initial promise of BYOD that employees can carry a single device that will work for both personal and business use.

Mobile and Connected Experience 2.0

[This post is based on a presentation Heather Zimmerman and I gave titled "Moving from ‘We Should’ to ‘We Can’ in Creating a Frictionless End-to-End Experience” at the Wall Street Technology Association's (WSTA) October 27, 2016 seminar themed "Anatomy of Digital Business Moments"]

At this point in your company’s mobile journey you have probably created several mobile apps—but how well integrated are these apps with users’ complete interactions with your business?

Chances are that you’ve mobile-enabled segments of the experience—let’s call this Connected Experience 1.0—but users’ overall interaction with your brand remains inconsistent across channels.  

Moving toward a Connected Experience 2.0 model, which reduces customer experience friction and fragmentation, is an important step in your business’s overall digital transformation effort.

Connected Experience 1.0
What are the manifestations of Connected Experience 1.0 inconsistency?  Let’s look at a real-world example.  

In the Twitter exchange below an airline passenger looking for options in the face of a significant flight delay reaches out via mobile/social to customer service for help.  Unfortunately, the airline’s response indicates a real disconnect between customer service channels, resulting in exacerbating their customer’s frustration.

From this exchange we can identify several key aspects of Connected Experience 1.0 interactions:
  • Workflow Fragmentation.  Failure to identify and understand customer engagement workflows and then effectively connect them across channels.
  • Channel Transition Are Poor.  Users’ experiences are choppy—or are flat-out dropped—as interactions transition from one channel to another, especially from digital to physical.
  • Personalized vs. Individualized Interactions.  In the example above, the customer service agent can identify (personalization - “I know who you are”) the customer but is unable to take individualized action to help.  For example, “I know who you are, how long you will be delayed and can offer you an accommodations and a plan for how we’ll get you home safely.”
Barriers to Moving Past Connected Experience 1.0
Before we look at the characteristics of and strategies to move to Connected Experience 2.0 interactions, let’s recognize that there are a number of seemingly intransigent barriers for many companies, including:
  • Varying Levels of Channel Maturity.  For example, while customer service systems and web-based apps are 20+ years’ old, mobile and social channels may be only a few years old and only a few steps beyond initial release capabilities.  Consequently, interactivity capabilities for each channel may vary widely—not to mention that data-sharing between channels is likely poor.
  • Organizational Culture.  In many companies various aspects of a customer journey are owned by several internal groups.  These groups often develop capabilities and work in siloed delivery models rather than collaborative cooperation.
  • Technology.  Technology is an enabler and a barrier—especially when key legacy systems require upgrades that can take more than year.  This puts all dependent systems—and customer experience quality—in a holding pattern until an upgrade or new implementation finishes.
Characteristics of Connected Experience 2.0
Now that we better understand the “what” and “why” of Connected Experience 1.0 and the problems it engenders, what is Connected Experience 2.0?

The Connected Experience 2.0 is based on reaching four key objectives:
  • Understanding Complete Customer Interactions
  • Seamless Movement between Channels
  • Analytics and Actionable Insights
  • Individualization
Understanding Complete Customer Interactions
In most cases companies do understand complete customer workflows despite failing to connect them across channels.  Consequently, mapping out customer journeys is not difficult.  

The challenge, however, is then to design interactions that enable customers to interact with your business via their channel of choice from start to finish.  

Designing and them implementing this level of interaction is not trivial but will pay immense dividends, especially for mobile users who want to engage as remotely as possible.

Seamless Movement between Channels
This is probably the toughest aspect of Connected Experience 2.0 to crack.  Seamless interactions across channels require arming each channel with context and information on previous customer interactions in near real-time—as well as suggesting what to do next.  

Furthermore, as it is unlikely (or even undesirable) that all channels will reach functional parity, it is imperative to be up front and transparent with the customer when a channel transition must take place.  For example, if a customer must go into a retail location to complete a step of a workflow—say, completing a car buying experience—make sure this fact is communicated clearly and in advance.

From a technology perspective, creating an integrated system of record that all channels can equally access, is current, and in sync is a huge challenge.

Analytics and Actionable Insights
We are entering a new age of analytics where digital leaders are deriving significant insights and advantages from data.  At a high-level, digital leaders are differentiating their businesses from competitors by using data to drive consistent metrics, generate predictions and make both tactical and strategic business decisions.

A couple data points:
  • Digital leaders are 2.5x more likely to harness real-time data and analytics to deliver tailored Connected Experience 2.0-level customer engagements.
  • They’re also 2.5x more likely to use data insights to prescribe business actions to limit customer turnover.
In terms of using analytics to support Connected Experience 2.0 engagement it is imperative that analytics moves from a “back of the house” function to the forefront of business decision-making—and that data is readily available to business analysts without appealing to IT or the stats guys for help.

Now that you’ve addressed complete customer journeys, have enabled customers to move seamlessly between channels, and collect/analyze data, you’re ready to individualize customer experiences.

First, why the need for individualization?  According to a recent Accenture study, nearly 40% of consumers said they have left a business website and gone somewhere else because they’ve been overwhelmed by too many options.

“Too many options” can mean a lot things; typically, it’s a seemingly endless number of hierarchal features to navigate to find what is needed.  It can also mean that marketing messages are not well targeted and create so much noise—or worse, indication of lack of understanding—that customers are put off.

How can individualization better engage customers?  Again, the distinction we’re drawing between personalization and individualization is that the former is identification and the latter is much more prescriptive.  To contrast:
  • Personalization:  “Hi Bob, welcome back!”
  • Individualization:   “Hi Bob, we’ve been monitoring your accounts and customers like you have done XYZ and increased their yields by an average of 20%.  Would you like to discuss?”
Successful individualization will simplify and engage customers by showing that your business not only knows them but understands how to effectively interact with them as they attempt to transact business with you via their chosen channels.

Technology Support for Connected Experience 2.0 Strategy
Now that we have established the key elements of Connected Experience 2.0, let’s briefly discuss several key strategic technology enablers:
  • Embrace the reality of constant change by treating technology work as product development, not projects, with a roadmap and lifecycle plan.
  • Implementation of agile delivery models that bring speed, flexibility, quality—enable the business to keep up with dynamic customer demands.
  • Automation of time-consuming or error-prone manual activities such as Quality Assurance and DevOps.
  • Embrace advanced user experience prototyping technology to more quickly find the right customer engagement.
  • Data analytics:  Capture engagement data from all channels and then stitch together to get a complete, quantifiable view of customers’ journeys.
  • Enable data to flow through to all channels via APIs that are properly tuned for all constituent systems, from desktop to mobile.
Connected Experience 1.0 capabilities will shortly not cut it with your customers—or even become a brand liability in an era of fast-moving business innovation based on digital technology.

Implementing a Connected Experience 2.0 model, which reduces customer experience friction and fragmentation, is a crucial step in your business’s overall digital transformation effort that will pay valuable dividends.

Planning the best approach for your digital transformation is an incredibly complex task.  Making the right strategic and tactical technology decisions along the way is just one aspect of the journey.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Common Mobile KPI Mistakes

Successfully making the case for a new mobile initiative often hinges on identifying and quantifying expected business outcomes.  

Why does this matter?  Because the estimated cost of designing, developing and bringing your mobile product to market has no context otherwise.  Which of these two scenarios would you invest in?
  • Scenario A:  "I have a mobile initiative that will cost $300-$500k.  I haven't specifically identified how I will measure success but it probably will be a combination of downloads, adoption and ratings."
  • Scenario B:  "I have a mobile initiative that will cost $300-$500k.  I have identified four KPIs that we believe will enable us to identify improved revenue of $400k/yr and reduced costs of $200k/yr."
Scenario A has an unquantified business case--and those things that will be measured aren't business outcomes.  Scenario B has a quantified business case with real business outcomes.  Easy choice, right?

To help you build a strong business case for your mobile product, first we'll explore several common mistakes and then we'll discuss guiding principles for unlocking funding.

Mistake #1:  Downloads/Installs

You:  "We're going to build XYZ application.  We plan to measure success by getting 10,000,000 downloads!"

Mr. MoneyBags:  "I don't care.  Download that.  Go away."

Why aren't downloads a good measure of success?  If 10,000,000 people really did download my mobile app, wouldn't that awesome?

Yes, that would be pretty impressive, no question.  However, analytics from Kartar/ITR shows that the average rate of app uninstalls is equally impressive:

In less than 30 days, 64% of apps are uninstalled.  In six months, 82%.  While this data varies somewhat by app category, this is the average reality.  Clearly, measuring app downloads and installations is not indicative of sustained success!

But let's step back:  When you first conceived your app you were excited about how you were going to change the world for the better by providing something valuable.  What was that value?

For example, "if we could enable our customers to access their account using a mobile app, then we think they would do a lot more XYZ."  That's your hypothesis.  Find a way to test the hypothesis, measure results, forecast "more XYZ"--and then go back to Mr. MoneyBags.

Mistake #2:  Adoption

You:  "We're going to build XYZ application.  We plan to measure success by adoption!"

Mr. MoneyBags:  "I don't care.  We're not adopting your idea.  Go away."

Why isn't adoption a good measure of success?  After all, if people are actually using the mobile app, it must be good!  Right?

Wrong, for the most part.  While it's great that your target users have "adopted" the app, adoption is not a business outcome in itself.  (Perhaps users have figured out that your app has a security flaw and they can use it for non-work purposes watch NetFlix at work.)

When you envisioned your app, how was it going to change the world?  What bets did you make in selecting the core capabilities of the app?

For example, "If we could enable our customers to send in photos we'd definitely increase our ability to fix their widgets more quickly and less expensively!"  

To measure whether this capability will actually supporting a desired business outcome--faster, cheaper repairs--perhaps find a way to compare the effectiveness of customer service interactions initiated by the app versus those initiated through the call center.  Is money being saved?  Are widgets getting fixed in less time?

Now you have one hypothesis that can be measured and monitored.  Identify several more and then go back to Mr. MoneyBags.

Mistake #3:  User Ratings

You:  "We're going to build XYZ application.  We plan to measure success by getting a 4+ rating in the app stores!"

Mr. MoneyBags:  "I don't care.  We rate your idea a zero.  Go away."

Why aren't user ratings a good measure of success?  It seems to work for Amazon, right?

While app store ratings and, more so, supporting reviews are informative and may surface both app opportunities and bugs, they are not a business outcome.  Additionally, a single "1-5" score to rate an app can be extremely subjective.  For example, a user may give a "1" for an app with a poor user experience, an annoying bug, for not matching up with a competitor, for not working on their one-in-a-million smartphone--or for nothing substantial at all.

While a gaudy "4.5" rating in an app store is exciting to report, what most people are really shooting for is validation that their app works (customer confidence) and is loved (customer satisfaction).  

There are many other ways to more effectively measure success--even for something subjective like "love"--than user ratings.  

For example, for a "love" quotient, connect with your Marketing department--they probably already have a number of customer satisfaction KPIs.  Find a way to tie into those KPIs.  

For "my app works" measurement, focus on identifying those target user behaviors (again, your hypotheses) you want to influence.  Will the app change behaviors, create entirely new behaviors, or what?  Find a way to use analytics data to objectively measure and report behavioral change.  (For more perspective on mobile analytics: "Developing a Mobile Analytics Strategy")

General Guideline for Effective KPI Selection
If we boil down the most basic characteristics of an effective KPI it is that we're measuring either an increase in revenue or a decrease in costs.  

Yes, there many other things to measure, such as application performance and user engagement, but funding decisions are typically made based on clear understanding of financial gain.  

After all, development costs are real money; your mobile initiative's defining KPIs should be financial in nature, too.

Friday, July 29, 2016

What Will My Mobile App Cost?

** This post inspired a white paper -- download it here. **

There’s one thing about custom mobile development that everyone wants to know: What will my mobile app cost?

Unfortunately, there is no simple formula from which to reliably derive an estimate—mobile application development is a distinctly complex undertaking where myriad decision points impact cost.

However, based on our experiences developing a variety of mobile apps for a wide cross-section of companies and industries, we believe that—while there’s no magic eight-ball for estimation—there are seven starting strategic perspectives that will help you factor in key cost considerations.

#1 – There’s No Free Lunch (Expect to Invest)
Like any other significant upgrade to your business capabilities, building an effective enterprise mobile app will not be cheap.  Yes, you can get an agency to build you a beautiful mobile app—but it will be built for a three-month campaign, not architected for enterprise integration or a product lifecycle.  Yes, you may get some recent college grads in a garage to knock out a functional app, but it’s unlikely these guys will be 22 year-old versions of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  Finally, yes, you can get some offshore shop to build an app; however, it’s hit or miss whether these developers will truly understand cultural context (or you), properly implement security or securely integrate your back office—and they might even sell the secret sauce in your code to a competitor.

Takeaway:  Building a mobile asset of true value will require a commensurate investment of time and effort.  There are no shortcuts that can sustain your investment given the chaotic nature of the mobile space.

#2 – It’s a Product, not a Project (Lifecycle Plan)
If you’re looking at developing a mobile app as checking a box—“Hey, look we have an app!”—you might as well burn your money.  

The reality is that successful mobile apps (where success is measured as driving business outcomes) are planned and managed as products, not projects.  Thinking about your mobile initiative as a product with a lifecycle is much different—and critical to your success—than planning for a project!  (See also Mobile Project vs. Mobile Product)

From a cost perspective, the implications of product lifecycle planning include:
  • Establishing a product roadmap to create progressive value.  Expect that you will incrementally implement product features over time, most likely starting with a “minimum viable product” (MVP) release (see also Does an MVP Release Make Sense for Your Mobile Initiative?).
  • Establishing a product release plan with a cadence to support a “test and learn” approach.  Your ideal release cadence will be dependent on many factors.  A few principles are in play:
    • You will make mistakes of all sorts.  No one gets it 100% right the first time or can afford to rest on their laurels.  Users will generally forgive mistakes that are quickly addressed in a new release.
    • It’s much more effective to try a few new features that you can discretely evaluate than to roll out a ton of new features at once.  This implies frequent, small releases.
    • The device landscape will change rapidly.  New operating systems versions, new devices, security issues, as well as other changes will require you to update your app in order to remain operationally viable.  (Yes, you will be subject to less flux due to these factors in a private enterprise mobile app where you control devices and deployment.)
    • The competitive and market landscape will change rapidly.  Mobile is a key point of both competitive differentiation and innovation.  Expect that both competitive pressures and technical innovations will require you to regularly re-prioritize your product roadmap and release plans.
  • Identifying and empowering a product owner.  This person must have the business and technical acumen—as well as the authority—to quickly make product decisions to direct the product development team’s work.  Ideally, they have product P&L responsibility and report in to a product management organization or business unit, not IT.
  • Building and maintaining a product development team.  Teams that function at the highest levels of velocity and quality tend to be composed of long-term resources, especially in key leadership roles.  Assume that success will require velocity (ability to frequently release product updates) and quality, both in terms of user experience and software quality attributes such as reliability, performance, and scalability.
Takeaway: Plan to invest in building a product development team that will remain significantly intact over the planned product’s lifecycle.

#3 – Good Help is Hard to Find (Expertise: People and Partners)
Now that you’re bringing together a product development team, what types of expertise are going to be required?  While precise skills are technology-dependent, at minimum you will need core team members with the following skills:
  • Product Owner / Product Manager with mobile product management skills (see also Magenic Technologies' Product Owner or Product Manager?)
  • Mobile Architect with mobile application architecture and enterprise integration skills
  • Mobile Developers with specific experience and expertise on your chosen development platform and technology stack, including the ability to integrate supporting systems
  • Mobile User Experience Designers who understand mobile devices, mobile interaction design, your chosen platform’s design guidelines, and mobile design/prototyping tools
  • Mobile QA Engineers who with deep understanding of mobile device functionality, context and interaction models, mobile test strategies and tools, and an ability to test data at the code level
In addition to the core product development team, there may be also be extended team members from customer service, marketing, analytics/BI, back office systems’ IT (and this may be a significant need), operations, legal, security/compliance or other groups, depending on your industry and focus.

A major decision at this point is determining whether to make a long-term investment in full in-house mobile expertise, bring in staff augmentation resources to form a blended team, or work with partners to outsource development on a long-term basis (or until you reach a point where it makes sense to bring development in house).  In any case, locating, attracting and hiring resources with the right skills and experience—whether FT hires or through a partner—is a challenging task with many long-term implications.  (See also Magenic Technologies’ Are You Ready to Bring in a Partner to Create a Mobile App? and Best-in-Class Consultants or Learning on Your Dime?)

All staffing models can work; however, keep in mind that it will prove wise to work with mobile experts when building your mobile app’s foundational releases or tackling a complex initiative.

Takeaway:  A mobile product development team is composed of many specifically-skilled resources, many of whom are in short supply.  Plan to invest the time and funding in identifying and composing the best team you can find—it will be a top indicator of impending failure or success.

#4 – There’s a New Delivery Ecosystem in Town (Processes, Tools, and Infrastructure)

Delivery Methodology as Cost/Risk Control
As you’re assembling your product delivery team understand that this team can’t work efficiently or mitigate your considerable risks using a traditional waterfall-type delivery methodology.  The timeline from initiation to delivery is too long for a big bang release, there’s little room for re-prioritization, and your measurement of success will be totally different—you’re shooting for a business outcome, not merely coming in on schedule and within budget.  From a cost perspective, plan to embrace an Agile delivery methodology to reduce risks, increase flexibility, and best manage spend.

Mobile-Specific Tools Required
If you hire internal resources, plan also to invest in mobile-specific product development tools for developers, designers, and quality assurance engineers.  Additionally, you may need to also invest in enterprise mobile management (MDM/MAM) tools if you’re also investing in devices and/or using a private enterprise app store.  Furthermore, you may also need mobile analytics tools, mobile marketing tools—the list can go on.
Many mobile tools now are cloud-based and relatively inexpensive.  That said, licensing or usage-based fees can add up.  If you work with a partner and plan to bring development in house in the future, make sure that you own all tool licensing and subscriptions.

Infrastructure:  The Long Pole in the Tent
Believe it or not, updating your back office systems’ ability to support mobile applications may be your largest expense.  The integration architecture built to support web- or desktop client-based systems is poorly suited for serving mobile devices communicating over fragile (or offline) data connections with very high response, performance and scalability expectations.

In addition, your mobile app may require cloud-based services such as AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud—you will want to understand the various pricing models and available services.

In a recent interview with Diginomica, Kevin Benedict sums up the issue well:
“What we’re learning is that creating the world’s coolest mobile app isn’t going to do any good if your infrastructure can’t support real time interactions with your ERPs, and other business solutions and processes on the back end.  Mobile applications are driving this digital transformation back into the enterprise.  CIOs are saying, ‘We have to do this in order to be competitive, because more and more of our business is being transacted through our mobile applications.’”
Takeaway:  New delivery processes, mobile-specific tooling, and potentially extensive (and expensive) infrastructure updates will be needed.  Existing CapEx/OpEx financial cycles will be challenged to support an agile delivery team.  Significant CapEx—and leading time to implement—may be required to update back office infrastructure.

#5 – Expect Disruption (Competitive, Technology, and Market Pressures)
The harsh reality of the mobile world is that you can execute with all the prior strategic perspectives in mind and still be blindsided by an unexpected disruption or a competitive innovation that leaves you questioning your product’s enduring value proposition.  While this is also true of other channels, in our experience the innovation cycle is much more rapid and compressed in the mobile apps space.

From a financial perspective, these unexpected events create a variety of impacts from the relatively simple, such as supporting a new device, to the complex—perhaps a competitor is now driving his mobile app experience using artificial intelligence (AI).

Takeaway:  Plan to be financially flexible in order to quickly respond to the market.  Again, your customers will forgive you for falling momentarily behind if you establish a track record of responsiveness.  Better yet, plan to make the investment to be a mobile leader!

#6 – It Takes a Village (Digital Transformation)
As indicated earlier, to work most effectively toward enabling your mobile app’s capabilities to drive business outcomes you will need to form an extended team and socialize awareness so that all work in harmony to meet the same objectives.  

For example, if your industry is retail and your app is customer facing, what do your sales associates know about your mobile app?  Are there any promos in the store—or in promotional media—to advertise the app and its benefits?  Is the app integrated with your loyalty program?  What about integration with social media or coupon apps?  Does your web site highlight the app?  What happens if a customer calls Customer Service with a question about the app?  Is there an operational opportunity to use the app to significantly improve customer satisfaction such as through Buy Online / Pickup in Store?

Whatever your industry, know that you will need to identify and rally all customer (this includes internal users!) touch points in the organization to create a cohesive and consistent user experience.

Takeaway:  Plan to make the necessary investments of time and effort to raise internal awareness, make supporting roles and responsibilities clear, providing training or change management guidance, and communicate product plans and progress.

#7 – Innovate and Disrupt (Separate from the Field)
Have you considered that simply a having a cool mobile app won’t be the engine to drive targeted business outcomes?  Maybe everyone in your industry segment already has similar mobile apps.  Now what?  Can you afford to be a “me too” entry?

Depending on your market position and competitive pressures, you may need to consider investing in the necessary research to create an innovative new way of doing business that leverages customers’ “mobile moments” (see also Capturing the Mobile Moment) and fundamentally alters the value chain.  Innovation is typically an expensive proposition—think about the capital required to launch AirBnB or Uber.  Note that their mobile apps are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology and cost.

Takeaway:  Consider the possibility that a mobile app may only be a small part of an innovative streamlining of your industry’s existing value chain.  Creating something of this magnitude will require a full range of investment, not just a mobile app.

Closing Thoughts
Embarking on a mobile product journey is exciting but also full of risks, not least of which is being unprepared to make the necessary financial moves to ensure your initial investment is not lost. Making sure your financial bases are covered at the outset will go a long way to positioning your initiative for success.