Does Mobile Applications Justify Itself?

by Lalit Popli, Head of Information Technology, ICICI Prudential Asset Management Company Ltd

If you are one of the few people who have started thinking on the cost and effort of making and maintaining your mobile applications, then you should be happy that you are not alone. There are many Marketers and IT professional who after having ridden the 'First Wave' of mobile applications are questioning the same very thing.

In this article we will look at this dichotomy of mobile applications its need and its worth. It is said that Mobile is not only the enabling centerpiece of digital convergence but is the digital bridge for the real world and going forward will not only change our life but our business as well. However the question "What is Mobile App?" is the all-important question that needs to be understood.

A mobile application, most commonly referred to as an app, is a type of application software designed to run on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer. Mobile applications frequently serve to provide users with similar services to those accessed on PCs. Apps are generally small, individual software units with limited function. 

A mobile application also may be known as an app, Web app, online app, iPhone app or smartphone app.

Following statistics also provide answers to question, "Do we need mobile application?"

1. There are more mobile phones than PC's, and 64 percent of mobile phone time is spent on Apps.

2. Customers use mobile Apps 6x more than websites.

3. On average people check their mobile phones over 150 times a day - that's once every 6 minutes!

4. 79 percent of smartphone users use their phones to make purchasing decisions and over 50 percent of those users make some sort of purchase within 1 hour compared to 1 month on a desktop.

5. 85 percent of business owners have a smartphone and 73 percent of them use Apps on a daily basis.

The above added to following 5 reasons make a compelling case for investment in mobile app:
  • The world has gone mobile. 
  • Mobile App provides better sales and services.
  • Real time Data can be captured and accordingly marketing campaigns can be designed.
  • It is available 24*7 with the customers. 
  • Mobile apps provide convenience to the customers and help the brand to build customer engagement.
All went their merry way into developing a mobile app and started getting hit with the following points: 

a) Native v/s Hybrid?

b) iOS, Android, Windows and Java?

c) Replicate website or have a scaled down version?

d) How to take advantage of sensors available on the mobile?

e) Reports and large data requirements.

f) Offline v/s online.

Somehow we all found a way around the above questions, till once again following security questions have reared their head-up:
  • You will have to trust the security features of App store and Play store, i.e iOS platform and Android Platform.
  • Data Caching Vulnerabilities, which are used by mobile phones to increase speed.
  • Not doing full vulnerability and penetration testing of the apps built by you due to time and cost considerations.
  • Using very weak encryption to reduce the resource requirement for your app.
  • One of the security issues with mobile apps are that local session time code may or may not get executed, hence if there is a physical security breach, the same is difficult to control.
  • Communication to servers is not secured fully, which can result in Man-in-the-middle attack.
  • Even if vulnerabilities are identified, the patching process takes lot of time, hence vulnerabilities can be exploited for more time, making your app risker.
  • In today's time most of the developers use code available on the Internet. If the developers do not go through the entire code themselves then it is possible that the code could have a back-door entry leading to data leakage issue.
Having overcome the security questions, the maintenance questions come into play. With changes in security environment, multiple platforms and upgrades in Andriod, iOS and Windows versions, your mobile application must address to these changes as well as support the older versions in some cases. The increasing number of mobile apps build by your organization only adds to the cauldron of the issues being faced by the support team. This leads to the larger question does the Mobile Applications justify itself? The answer to this question is a complex one as there is definitely a strong business case for the same, however how the same gets made and delivered would play a major part in the solution. If proper planning and architecture is taken right at the beginning the maintenance issues are much less and thereby the costs and efforts are much lesser. 

However if the mobile apps have mushroomed over the organization with no thought on platform, architecture etc. then the maintenance cost and effort makes it difficult if not very expensive to maintain the same and therefore reduces its justification.

The clean answer to the question 'Does Mobile Applications justify itself?', depends upon getting the development team responsible from day zero and not getting swayed by less expensive development costs, as in the long run, these less expensive costs hurt the most.

To conclude there is no easy answer to the questions raised. From the outside it looks like no brainer but someone who is looking from inside and that to day after day, the answer starts becoming complex and maybe just maybe rebuilding the mobile applications with hindsight of experience could justify the mobile application.