Should Your Enterprise Build One Full-Featured Mobile App, or Several Situational Apps?

Inside the vast majority of enterprises there are dozens of ways mobile apps can be used to help drive process efficiencies and/or increase revenue. Once a company has established this link, the real question becomes whether they build one large enterprise application or many.

There is a myriad of different benefits for each option as well as tradeoffs in performance and work flow. One of our current clients faced this same decision. They needed an iPad application for their sales staff in the field, but they also needed an iPad application for their customers. The challenge was, should they build one app or two?

The benefits of developing a full featured enterprise app are numerous. For starters there is only one code base to manage. When developers are working on the app everything they need is in one location and it’s much easier to manage everything if it’s stored in one place. Also, if there is more than one developer on the development team then it often makes it easier for everyone to be working on the same project rather than try to coordinate two separate apps at once.

Developing one large app also helps to reduce redundant features like help sections, menus, icons, logos, legal language, etc. Full-featured apps also tend to be of higher quality because more time and attention goes into their development.

On the other side of the fence is the option to develop several different apps that all serve their own specific niche or function for a given situation, hence the term “situational app.” On average these apps tend to be smaller in size and scope which makes them quicker to develop. With the current rate of change in business and technology, speed to market is often a key factor in success. For example you could be looking to develop a competitive advantage to retain employees or customers before the competition is able to adjust.

Additionally, since these situational apps are quicker to develop, that also means it’s usually easier to develop and launch new iterations. Maybe the mobile enterprise application is helping you to close new business and if you’re able to incorporate one extra feature you’ll close a large client. The ability to quickly make that change could be the difference between missing or keeping a new customer.

In smaller apps there is also less code to manage, which means that it is far less likely to have problems, and when there are issues it’s quicker and easier to track down the problem. It’s also worth noting at this point that there are always exceptions and that these statements should be taken as the average, not the law.

Since a situational app is only really intended for one or two specific groups of individuals, these smaller apps also have the ability to be far more focused on that user group. This could include better-tailored color palates, layouts, and even distribution. Apple has two different store fronts. The first is iTunes which we’re all familiar with, the second is enterprise app accounts that customers host on their own servers.

When it comes to distribution of your apps, you may want your customers to be able to quickly and easily find your app through iTunes. This is especially important if the app is intended to help your customers interact with your product (like Nest) or build your brand (like Pepsi). Conversely, if your apps are only meant for internal employee use, then you may want to avoid customers finding your app at all so then you would use a private enterprise account.

Finally, smaller apps with smaller code bases usually tend to run faster than the large enterprise apps that are meant to be everything to everyone. Smaller, leaner apps are quicker to respond, faster to return information and ultimately provide a better user experience.

After careful review, our aforementioned client ultimately decided the functionality between their user groups was so different that they should build two different apps. Separating the apps would also allow them to make the customer version searchable in iTunes, and the internal one to exist on their enterprise account.

This also made the internal version more secure, because it wouldn’t be accessible to competitors or other third parties. The decision to make two distinct apps also allowed the company to tailor their description for each app to its specific target user base. This is especially important for companies targeting different consumer groups.

At the end of the day, full function enterprise apps and situational apps are both great for their intended purposes. What’s really important, though, is that the appropriate type of app is developed for a given situation.

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