According to research firm IDC, smartphone shipments outstripped feature phone shipments overall for the first time (Q1) this year.  In the US, smartphone sales have been king since 2011, but in emerging markets like China and India, the push towards touch screens and the ability to do more than just text or call easily means that smartphones are now the de rigeur on a global scale.

What does this mean for your business?   Simply put, if you haven’t created a plan that integrates apps into it, you need to start the process today.  Apps are an integral part of the way we use our phones, and they are rapidly becoming a part of the way that we purchase and use software across platforms, including hardware for laptops like Chromebooks and Apple products.

The term ‘app’ has become a catchall for software installations; coupled with words like cloud, SaaS and BYOD, it’s the basis for nearly every IT conversation taking place in modern business these days.

Ok, you think,  apps are good.  SaaS is good.  Cloud is good.  BYOD is good.  Or so the prevailing wisdom at the moment claims.  Identifying the ways that your business can utilize apps to financial gain is not always the easiest task.

We analyze a variety of apps each week for clients and potential clients — everything from games to logistics to healthcare to productivity.  We look at competing apps, newly launched apps, and apps that should never have been launched.  We shake our heads and wonder just who thought that (insert almost any word signifying incredulity here) was going to work.  We can’t figure out how to get the darn things to work properly and we don’t understand why that (music, color scheme, UI, whatever) is even in this app.

Before you shell out five figures to produce an app, or some lesser amount to a DIY app creation website, prioritize exactly what you want from your app.  Creating a plan that can be implemented in a series of updates as opposed to waiting for the moment that you have everything in the release version is a generally smart premise –

things change so rapidly that no app is ever finished;

they are almost all in a constant state of flux, though we’d rather not label everything a beta release and let the users find the problems, many companies are doing exactly that at the moment.

It’s important to understand what areas of your business that can be “app-ified” and what engagement you should expect to see from your initial user base.  Expect is the crucial word here, since quite often the way you believe that users will engage with your app turns out to be quite different from the way they actually engage.  The critical thinking in this process involves being willing and able to adapt to the market and identify the areas that should be expanded, while phasing out the parts that aren’t generating any interest – there’s no reason to support areas in a build that are being under utilized, unless your master plan or crystal ball can prove that in a couple of update cycles these things will become points of engagement.

If you’re creating a B2B app, organize the app to efficiently push key information to users or mirror the flow on your current website.  If your website is outdated, update in conjunction with the app creation, since the two pieces should be synchronous for the user, unless each is a standalone system that doesn’t require interaction with the other.

On the monetization front, B2B encompasses different metrics than a purely consumer play;  take into account how your customers might want to navigate, receive reports (what format – pdf, doc, etc), and how much of the app should be native versus HTML5 or other hybridization standard.   Your income is most directly affected by creating a product that can be scaled across multiple users within the same company, so design with an eye to how the central office can utilize the app to disburse information across the employee base effectively.   If certain departments are only allowed to access certain parts of the app, then plan for levels of user accessibility that are controlled with a simple dashboard in the administrator’s panel.   Enterprise level distribution is more complex than selling your product to the mom ‘n’pop businesses and most apps don’t (and should not attempt to) bridge this gap.

Consider how information will be entered into the back end of the app (DB structures stored outside the app) and how much connectivity is needed by the device holder to successfully interact with the system.  Delivery trucks in remote areas where cell data coverage is sparse will require a much less complicated interface and cannot push or receive the volume of data that trucks in an urban area with LTE or 4G coverage can expect.   Keep in mind the limitations on data carriage that the cell companies allow; designing an app that’s going to cost users more in data charges than they save by using the app is a great way to kill your product before it makes it to the first update.

Be mindful of the screen size and OS of the average user – will they be using an iPhone, an iPad, a Galaxy Note or an HTC One?  Samsung is the largest producer of smartphones, followed by Apple in second place; supporting both an iOS and an Android build from the beginning may be the only way to go, or you may choose a single operating system for the initial build.   When making the decision to launch on a single OS, talk to your existing customer base about what platform(s) they are currently running, and whether they are issuing company products or allowing BYOD.  In a BYOD situation, pay extra attention to security and access controls, in order to prevent viruses on the phone from accessing sensitive information.  Companies like Appthority can certify your app using standards that most large corporations accept, and budgeting for security screening or certification should be part of the app creation process if this is your market.

Finding the right coding company to build the app is the last major key in the development process.  You want to work with a company that will listen and understand your needs and the elements that you feel are important in the initial build.  Coders that want to sell you all the bells and whistles without giving you an underlying structure that complements your existing business should be avoided like the plague.

Consumers love the latest and greatest in new apps; businesses tend to want apps that get the job done in the most efficient, most secure manner.  Make sure your coders are delivering updates on a regular basis and that someone in your organization is reviewing these updates to insure the project remains on track and headed in the direction you wish to travel.   Your coders should also have a comprehensive testing and review plan for your app; handing you a product and saying it’s ready does not equal field tested and tweaked to optimize your unique offering.

Expect the development process to take four to six weeks for simple apps; the more complex and secure the app, the longer the build and testing time. Prepare to deal with crash reports, bug fixes, and customer support prior to launching the app. Plan for a major updates cycle that coincides with industry specific standards changes or creates a marketing window your business. A/B testing on various iterations or price points is also a good idea, but this can be done in conjunction with the live build release.

The creation and development process is very similar to any other project your business undertakes – have a step by step plan that incorporates flexibility and testing at each step and do not lock yourself into something so specific that it’s a make or break product without the adaptability that the market often demands.