We have seen mobile access to the Internet finally and officially eclipse that of PCs, and now we are witnessing the rapid advance of the Internet of Things (IoT), driven by the Apple Watch and other wearables. Together these developments do more than signal a massive shift in technology adoption and use. They also turn up the pressure on companies and developers to extend mobile apps to new platforms and new categories of devices — fast.
According to a new survey from CDW, more than half of enterprises are looking to increase their app budgets. Additionally, 42 percent plan to invest in new app development in 2015. They also report spending 11 percent of their 2014 IT budgets on developing custom mobile apps. All of these numbers are rising.
Unfortunately, the number of operating systems, releases and apps in use is also on the rise.
Do the math, and a mammoth task takes shape.
(# mobile OSes supported) x (total # apps) x (releases per year) =
number of experiences that must delight end users
You also have to deliver all this while maintaining the high-quality experience that your mobile users expect — even demand.
To help you keep the pace with the lightning-fast speed of mobile (without losing your mind or sucking your budget dry) here are five key steps to follow.
1. Organize for velocity.
When you factor in operating system updates, accommodating new mobile features and adjusting to user and market feedback, your organization is going to need to release app updates six to 10 times per year, just to keep pace. And if that’s the goal, you’ll have to examine your team structures and processes, and optimize everything around velocity. How do you get there from here?
- Automate where you haven’t already. You will need advanced continuous integration practices that include not just building, but also constant execution of automated tests as a first line of defense for catching issues early.
- Identify and eliminate the handoffs that our legacy lifecycles were built around. Each of these represents an opportunity to strip away latency and miscommunication. A great example is the long-standing bucket brigade from requirements to design to build. Today, requirements expressed as visual prototype can be 100-percent reusable in the app itself, so there is no need to treat these as three completely separate things.
- Do away with proxies and middlemen for determining your app requirements. They are just another source of error and delay that you no longer need to deal with because the tools exist for you to take charge of this.
2. Think ‘MVP’.
To release regularly, you need to let go of old lifecycle notions and foster minimum viable product (MVP) thinking. Identify the smallest increment of valuable functionality and get it into the hands of your users – fast! Doing so allows you to harness real feedback to improve your app quickly.
Move with this shift and you’re no longer managing your app updates by educated guess or the assumptions of a few so-called ‘subject matter experts’. Instead, you’re using validated feedback from actual users — and because you are you can be more confident that what you are building is the ‘right stuff’. And, when it isn’t, you can adapt and change course quickly in the very next release.
3. Get better insight with analytics.
The validated feedback mentioned above is what fuels the MVP process. Some teams constantly scan app store reviews for feedback, but relying on this alone can have drawbacks for several reasons:
- Only a small subset of users are represented.
- Often only extreme opinions are captured and information is incomplete (‘I love it!’ or ‘I hate it!’ isn’t feedback that can provide you a lot of depth or detail).
- It’s ultimately a lagging measure of success.
To wring additional speed from the app lifecycle, analytics should be used to shorten the feedback loop. They will let you proactively see and address problems before your users vote with their feet or broadcast their issues using social media channel to everyone, everywhere on the planet. Analytics can also arm you with the hard data you need to know exactly how you should improve your apps.
4. Measure the right things.
Not sure what to measure? Remember that good mobile analytics provide insight into both the behavior of the app and the behavior of the user.
And if you need a refresh, then check out this post from our CEO Jeff Haynie, where he lists the 5 key metrics every mobile development organization should have at the top of the list.
- Acquisition: App installs + opt-ins
- Engagement: Number of sessions + session length
- Retention: Number of active users divided by total installs
- Conversion: User exit points (did they make it all the way through sign-up?)
- Quality: Ratio of app crashes to app sessions
Remember: Once you know what to measure and how to interpret it, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions about how to improve your app over time.
5. Build an API strategy.
Getting systems that weren’t designed to talk to one another to get along is a time-consuming and painful process. Frankly, it’s also boring, especially when the reason you got into mobile in the first place was to create compelling experiences for your users, not spend your days knitting together backend data sources.
It’s why you need an API strategy. Strategy is more than API management, which is just about the management and cataloging of APIs. Strategy is about establishing a simple way to create mobile-optimized APIs for easy data access and faster cycles. With mobile-optimized APIs, your teams can spend less time worrying about the plumbing of the systems, and more time focusing their efforts on delivering a great user experience.
What’s more, a solid API strategy will also insulate your systems of record from your fast-changing client apps, allowing each to be updated at their own speed. It has the added advantage of helping to future-proof your data access — a must as new channels and IoT devices appear since they can access data using the same APIs.
At the start of this post I purposely highlighted a mobile equation, one that sums up the number one challenge enterprises run into when they go mobile: keeping pace with the proliferation of devices and operating systems.
Many organizations turn to cross-platform development to help solve for this new complexity. That’s certainly a start, but it is only part of the solution since going mobile also requires organizations to ‘think mobile’.
Building a culture and set of processes that are fundamentally mobile-first is the key to moving at the speed of mobile. Granted, neither is a small task, but both are well worth it when we consider that mobile is the best way (and in many cases the only way!) to reach and engage with today’s always-on and always on-the-go user. Mobile is where your users are and where you need to be — faster than your competition.
Editor’s note: Nolan is the CTO of Appcelerator, a company providing developers with a mobile engagement platform to drive great mobile app experiences, quickly, cost-effectively and at scale. Before co-founding Appcelerator, Nolan led engineering and product management for Vocalocity, a VoiceXML platform company. Nolan started his career at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), and then went to work for Netscape.
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