The Ultimate Guide to Developing a Proprietary App
Dec 19, 2022
Adapting to technological advancements is nothing new for the business world. Each decade has ushered in what seems like an unstoppable wave of innovation. Today, that wave can best be described as digital transformation. Businesses of all sizes are incorporating a variety of digital technology into their operations and enjoying improved productivity, increased agility, and greater profitability—among many other benefits.
With the complexities involved, however, the digital transformation process is usually quite long, often taking months. Today, all that’s changed. Many businesses have taken the time to learn from past mistakes and experiment with new accelerating technologies, allowing them to make fundamental changes to operations in a matter of weeks or even days. Some are even rapidly developing proprietary apps to accelerate digital transformation.
According to a McKinsey survey, top-performing companies have also recognized the value of having an app or technology of their own. They’ve been building proprietary assets at rates much higher than competitors, improving their ability to automate processes, deploy new technology, and differentiate themselves through better client engagement. Setting such high aspirations for their technology has increased the likelihood of sustaining the benefits of their digital investments.
The benefits of proprietary applications can be immense, but it’s important to approach this process with a clear focus. Some companies go wrong when they create apps simply because “it’s the thing to do.” The true focus of any proprietary tech should be to improve systems and user experiences. Ask yourself: How can this technology add value for my clients? Will it increase the efficiency of my organization? How can this app differentiate me from my competitors?
Once you’re ready to dive into proprietary app creation with a clear purpose in mind, the benefits will follow.
The Hidden Benefits of Developing Proprietary Apps
Though this should go without saying, each type of available software comes with its own set of pros and cons. At first glance, developing proprietary software can seem like a daunting task. On the other hand, the amount of control, flexibility, and customization available when using company-developed software is hard to beat.
Developing a proprietary app can offer several other hidden benefits, too, including:
Although the first round of development might be time-consuming, the undertaking gets people thinking differently about processes, data, user experience, and other aspects of operations related to technology. It also helps establish a pattern for developing a proprietary app. After the third, fourth, or fifth application, the development process becomes increasingly more efficient.
During the development process, it isn’t uncommon for the team’s mindset to change. A new approach to continuous improvement almost gets ingrained within the team, and a common language eventually forms. When everyone comes from the same place, it can minimize misunderstandings, make it much easier to set expectations, and help establish cohesion among all employees.
Institutional knowledge can be fragile. Lose enough members of a team, and it slowly erodes. When developing a proprietary app, however, organizations begin to capture this knowledge—not necessarily in the apps themselves, but through the documentation involved in the development process. Companies can create a portal of sorts to house this knowledge and make it easily accessible to everyone on the team.
There are other advantages of developing a proprietary app: Building a custom solution alone can do wonders for operations, and the app will meet an existing need. The flexibility, scalability, and reliability can also be advantageous—not to mention custom apps are often much more secure than other solutions.
It’s Not Always an Easy Road to Custom Solutions
Developing a proprietary app isn’t without its obstacles, which shouldn’t be very surprising. It can be an incredibly rocky road for businesses venturing into this territory for the first time. The solutions that come out of the process will be well worth the effort, but organizations will likely run into a few challenges first, such as:
Not knowing the unknown
People don’t know what they don’t know, which can lead to resistance, avoidance, and entrenchment in the old ways of doing business. Most people are more than willing to solve every problem with the same familiar tool or process repeatedly—or at least attempt to. Because there’s no easy formula, using old methods to solve problems gets in the way of development. Awareness is the first step to change.
Not creating a chain of command
Companies with hierarchical structures sometimes assume that the chain of command will follow that of the organization. When rolling out changes, however, it is not a good time to make assumptions; they can easily lead to lost opportunities and wasted investments should something go wrong. Who will keep the project on task? Who will decide what success looks like? Who will determine the parameters and scope of the project? A functional expert might not be present on the leadership team and might be needed to see the project through.
Not valuing oversight
Larger organizations often use IT teams to handle oversight, particularly regarding security risks, governance, data integrations, and more. Smaller businesses don’t always have the same luxury. So, they should partner with a tech company that thinks not only about the nuts and bolts of development, but also how to roll out the new application. Such a partnership can help with optimizing app efficiency, too.
Not focusing on the user experience and design
Though businesses understand the importance of user experience and design, they are often taken for granted when developing proprietary apps for internal purposes. Someone involved might drag a button, put it on the screen, reorient a few features, and suddenly the app will crash when more users start to join. To avoid such issues, much thought and research should go into user experience and design before app development.
Not considering app maintenance
After building any application, a business must have the means to maintain it. Leadership teams need to consider how they will handle application maintenance: How will the company ensure that an update to one application won’t impact the functionality of another? Who will take up the task of improving the app should the team involved with its development leave the company?
As with any business initiative, preparation and planning are vital when developing a proprietary app or optimizing app efficiency, for that matter. By squaring away all the steps entailed, businesses can avoid many of the obstacles involved in the development process.
Taking an Enterprise Approach to App Development
Developing a proprietary app with an enterprise approach to operations isn’t unheard of; many businesses begin with this type of project regularly. However, a little more “pre-work” must happen before the development phase. Keep in mind the following strategies:
1. Get aligned on business processes.
If someone were to put 10 employees in a room and ask them to develop a business process, they’d come up with 10 different ways to do almost anything. If an organization plans to take an enterprise approach, it is an excellent opportunity to establish a common culture and language for the most critical components of operations. Establish consistency and frameworks to build from before development. That way, employees are never left to their own devices.
2. Think about the data.
No matter the size of operations, businesses must ensure employees or third-party partners use data from an approved repository. Data can become stale with time, even more so now with the rate at which data is created. The last thing any organization needs is to use a proprietary app that’s not working with current information.
3. Keep the end user in mind.
User experience and design, as mentioned earlier, are essential—both can impact the adoption of new technology. With so many examples now available, creating a user experience that checks all the boxes can be challenging. Again, it all comes back to research. Understand the processes that will be improved. Get to know the people who will use the application. Seek feedback to identify the pain points they face daily and what would make their jobs easier. Get as close as possible to the user to ensure the application fulfills a distinct need.
All apps should provide a business purpose. That much isn’t up for debate. When developing a proprietary app with an enterprise approach, however, the focus on functionality can sometimes get lost. Make sure team members do their due diligence to ensure the investment is worthwhile in the long run.
Delivering the Necessary Results
Finding the right balance between business solutions and technical enablement can be a challenge for all businesses. The inclination is to put tech around every step in the process, but why automate something that doesn’t require automation? Certain aspects of business, such as “common sense” contextual tasks, are still best left in human hands.
CTG can bring two things to the table right away. One is guidance on how to go about developing a proprietary app in a more organized and systematic fashion. That way, businesses can internally train team members to think and operate in ways where problem-solving takes a front seat.
Our company also helps businesses find that balance. Systems learn how to play well with each other, so to speak, as operations fundamentally change. Guidance is critical to ensuring that one business system communicates with another. It is about finding common ground, so the application can provide the functionality one would expect from a proprietary solution.
Director, Application and Information Solutions and Testing, North America
Rick has executive responsibility for the ongoing development of CTG’s AIS and Testing offerings and teams to deliver innovative, global services that help clients strategically address their business challenges. Rick is an accomplished IT leader and TOGAF Certified Enterprise Architect with 30+ years of IT experience, specializing in enterprise digital transformation strategy and execution, platform/solution architecture, information management, app development, quality assurance, and data/systems integration.