Rory was struggling.
As the head of IT at a Mid-Atlantic real estate developer, he’d bought 400 iPads for a cross-functional team of architects, project managers, execs, and salespersons. Now he was getting requests to build apps for these various functions. His colleagues wanted software for everything from engineering plans to timesheets to business presentations.
Rory started talking to app developers and discovered that building for iPad is both more expensive and more complicated than he imagined. Tiny icon, it turns out, does not always mean tiny project. What to do?
Faced with a swelling demand for internal mobile applications, IT directors like Rory are trying to sort through their options for sourcing iPad apps for their teams.
Build it from scratch?
Buy it from the app store?
Rent it (software as a service) from a cloud provider?
In the interest of shared learning, we’ve put together a rough framework to help iPad project leaders decide which route to take.
When it makes sense to buy it in the app store….
-If you can buy it off-the-shelf, then this is a wonderful option. Apps in the app store are cheap, they’ve been vetted by Apple for stability, and more importantly, the general public has usually reviewed the software for all to see;
-If your budget is tight, the app store offers a lot of great software for not a lot of money;
-If you want to experiment with mobile apps in your company, and you’re looking for a proof of concept.
Examples: PDF annotators, travel tools, expense filing tools.
The quantity and quality of enterprise-grade apps available in iTunes is truly astonishing. And they’re cheap. This should be any project leader’s first port-of-call in exploring software options for his or her team. Pay attention to who is building the software and vet the company before implementing the app. The downside of these low price points is that it’s often hard for developers to continually re-invest in the software. Also, recognize that the developer will build features according to the market need (as he or she perceives it) rather than according to your firm’s priorities. Be prepared to say goodbye to the app if the product heads in the wrong direction.
When it makes sense to engage an agency for a work made for hire…
-If your app will be functionally unique in the marketplace;
-If you don’t foresee changing the content within the app over time;
-If the app needs to pull from a specialized data source (like a trading platform);
-If you have the ability to manage the technology internally;
-If you believe that the lifetime cost of the solution (app + future innovation + maintenance) will be better, faster, and cheaper if done internally or on a work-for-hire basis.
Examples: specialized software for specific company functions, unique technology that confers defensible competitive advantage (algorithms, etc),
Plan on paying somewhere between $50,000-$150,000 to a development firm or interactive agency to build a custom iPad app. This will cover at least $20,000 for design; $150-$200/hour for coding; plus project and account management. You’ll take delivery on app that was built just for you. And you own the code. (Tip: Be sure to request code documentation). That’s great news in that it gives you the flexibility to work with any developer you want and you’re not tied to a particular service provider. The downside? Significant upfront costs and long-term technology management.
One of the myths of software development is that once it’s been delivered, development stops. The opposite is true. Software lives and breathes. It must constantly be updated. Technology changes. User needs evolve. Glitches surface. So, be prepared to go back to your development shop on an ongoing basis.
When it makes sense to partner with a cloud-based provider…
-If an app’s functionality can be made useful with light customization;
-If the content is dynamic or otherwise requires a connection to external data;
-If you don’t have the capability to manage the technology;
-If significant up-front costs are a concern;
-If speed to market is critical;
-If you believe that the lifetime cost of the solution (app + future innovation + maintenance) will be better, faster, and cheaper if done externally by a specialty provider.
Cloud-based providers (like SalesForce, and StoryDesk, of course) usually offer apps on a monthly subscription basis. Building custom elements on an existing platform can mean the best of all worlds: a bespoke solution, speed to market, scalability, and external technology management. Up-front customization costs are relatively low; ongoing costs range from $30-$80/month per user. Cloud-based services usually offer a portal for self-service management of the software. This shifts the day-to-day control of the app to someone on your team who needn’t be technically savvy. As important, a cloud-based option gives you access to an innovation pipepline so your software will continually be evolved and upgraded, minus the headaches of in-house technology management.
Service interruption and business continuity are the potential downsides. Find out where your cloud provider is hosted; vet his or her backup planning; and don’t be shy about asking for references. SaaS providers must continually work for your business; if they fail, you have the option of cancelling.
As to Rory? He’s decided to buy, build, and rent – depending on the nature of the software required. It’s sensible strategy that optimizes for internal demand, external expertise, cost efficiency and speed-to-market.
StoryDesk is an iPad sales tool that makes presentations, brochures and other marketing materials memorable and measurable.
Based in New York City, our clients include Ralph Lauren, BBC and other major companies, as well as startups and non-profits.