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Want to build a good app? Understand what your customers need

When the internet first took off, companies scrambled to create websites without asking whether they needed one, or what value it would offer. Today the same thing is true of mobile applications. Too often, companies think that if they don’t have an app they’re not keeping abreast of their competitors but don’t stop to assess whether they actually need one at all.

Craig Heckrath
Craig Heckrath is an enterprise architect with an extensive software development background. He leads the mobile development & integration teams at Intervate / t-systems that were responsible for... More

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Much like the distinction between a website and an intranet, it’s important to distinguish between internal and customer-facing mobile apps. Asking who the intended users of an app are is the first step to deciding whether or not to go to invest the necessary time and money in one.

Decisions around apps are often driven by the marketing department when, in reality, an app is seldom a useful marketing tool. Rather, companies should look to create apps that perform a specific function or address a particular need that isn’t met elsewhere.

For example, an app developed for drivers can provides consumers with information on what to do in the case of an accident and how to go about getting an insurance claim processed, and allow them to take pictures of an accident that then include the time, date and GPS coordinates of the incident. This is more than one could do with the existing website and more contextually appropriate as it allows users to harness the power of their mobile device — both as an information collecting tool and a source of information — when and where they need it.

App development is expensive. Creating an app that will work for a large a number of users as possible means developing the same app for multiple platforms. This makes deciding whether or not an app is appropriate or necessary for a particular company all the more important because building an app that won’t be used is a dreadful waste of resources.

On the other hand, an app that meets a need or improves operational efficiency can pay for itself almost immediately. The power of mobile is the power to share substantial information with minimal effort. Take, for example, the process of reading meters. A photo of a meter taken with a smartphone includes the time, date and location information and could be processed automatically by the recipient – presumably the local municipality in this instance is using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.

In the aforementioned example, not only would the municipality save time and money on the labour required to manually read meters, but automation like OCR would reduce human error, making records and billing more accurate and disputes less common.

Regardless of the industry for which it’s intended, a good app comes from understanding what customers’ needs and problems are and how technology can solve them. If more companies took the time to conduct a proper assessment of these needs and problems there would most likely be fewer superfluous apps on the market.