Your company needs an app, and even though you’ve explored all your options, none of the apps or platforms on the market meet your organization’s specific needs. Maybe some of the existing software packages have some of the tools and features you need in your application, but not all. Maybe all software lacks specific integration. Maybe you need something that just doesn’t exist.
Whatever the reason, it’s time to develop your own apps. But wait: while building your own software seems like a great idea—after all, when you develop your own apps, you have endless flexibility—you can’t just rush it. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is custom app development?
A custom application is quite simple – you build your own software: applications tailored to the specific needs or challenges of your business, rather than off-the-shelf (COTS) software. In fact, to build or buy is a classic question that businesses have faced since off-the-shelf software became readily available.
So first things first – do you really need to build your own apps? There are a few questions you should ask yourself to make sure custom app development is right for you.
- Is there software that meets my needs with a few tweaks?
- Do I need this software right away?
- Will the software I need be scalable?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider looking for off-the-shelf solutions that you can customize. Why? Software development can take a long time depending on what you are building. If you need something now, you might want to find an app that mostly meets your needs and talk to the vendor – or IT consultant – about possible customization. Also, if your company is growing and you need to go from 20 users to 200 in a short period of time, you can also try the out-of-the-box solution. These are often created with flexibility in mind.
However, if you answered no to all three questions—if you have time on your side, need original software, and don’t anticipate a big, sudden spike in the number of users your app will have—then a custom app is probably the way to go.
There are three kinds of custom apps that can be built:
Mobile Apps — Thanks to the explosion of smartphones in the late 20th century, everyone knows what a mobile app is (remember “there’s an app for that”?) Apps allow you to do things on your devices that would take you too long to do if you for example, they tried using a browser.
Desktop Apps – These are the same as mobile apps but run on your PC or Mac. Instead, you can think of it as “custom software development”.
Web Application – A web application is a web page, but unlike its wordy relative, the information web, a web application is a web site that allows you to perform some action, such as a bill payment site.
Any of these types of applications can be internal – such as CRM – or customer-facing, such as an online store. It depends on the specific business needs of your organization.
Now that you know you’re building your own app, and you know what kind of app you’re building, you can move on to the next step: finding IT consultants to build your software.
Collaboration with a software development partner
Unless your organization is large and technology-oriented, chances are you’ll hire an IT consultant to help you build your own application. Before you even contact a technology consultancy; however, you need to do your homework so that the consultants can do their job well.
The first and most important thing you need to be clear about is your project requirements. In other words, you need to know exactly what business problem your custom app will solve and how you envision your app solving that problem. For example, are you building a customer relationship management application? You should be able to explain why there is a need to build one rather than buying a subscription to an existing CRM. What exactly will your CRM do that your existing application won’t?
If you are not clear about the requirements, let an IT consultant know in advance and they may be able to help you with this step. For example, Xekera Systems can help you build or define your requirements before moving on to developing your own applications.
You should also keep the timeline in mind. When do you need to complete your custom application? The schedule is something you will work on with your consultant: a good technology consulting company will come to you with a timeline. At Omni, our timelines typically include three release phases – these include the must-have features for your app, the nice-to-have features, and the features you really need. We’ll also help you determine whether your project needs an agile or waterfall approach.
A word of warning here: while technology consulting firms will do their best to give you an accurate estimate of how long your custom app will take, sometimes projects can run late. To be safe, budget for extra time and money in case your project hits a snag. You should also talk to your IT consultant about worst-case scenarios so you’re both on the same page.
Finally, have a plan for what happens after launch. Will you update your app regularly? How regularly? Who will maintain this solution and what happens if something breaks? Remember: software development never ends and you need to have a plan to nurture and nurture your application. This will be important to share up front, especially if you want your IT consultants to be part of the maintenance team.