Mobile App Standoff: Web App vs. Native App

For resources-strapped companies that want to get in the mobile app game, a Web app tuned for smartphones and tablets is a wise choice. Just ask Texas insurance provider ANICO.

Mon, May 21, 2012

CIO — Think mobile app, and what do you see?

Executives tapping native apps bursting with functionality on iPhones and Android smartphones. Field salespeople showing off beautifully rendered iPad PowerPoint or Pages slides to impressed customers. Pretty heady stuff for some companies.

But other companies just don't have the resources to launch mobile BYOD this way.

For them, there isn't enough money to hire mobile app development teams for all the different platforms. Mobile device management, enterprise app stores, and mobile security specialists consume resources, too. There's the long and expensive mobile app development lifecycle, which can stretch for months.

American National Insurance Company (ANICO) of Galveston, Texas, was one of those companies that needed to find a cheaper way.

With some 50,000 independent agents and 1,200 employed agents selling its services in the field, ANICO knew it had to arm its workers with an app that could bring customer information to their mobile devices. Feature-rich native apps for all the major platforms were out of the question.

Then the small IT staff hit upon a more realistic option: a mobile Web app.

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With the help of IBM software and solutions provider Streebo, ANICO developed a basic mobile Web app that field agents could access via a Web browser on practically any mobile device. The Web apps singular functionality serves up customer information rightly sized for different mobile screen sizes, such as the iPhone and iPad.

It took only eight weeks to develop the mobile Web app.

"We don't have the resources to develop native apps, it's a lot harder to maintain," says Deanna Walton, assistant vice president responsible for field systems at ANICO. She adds, "a mobile Web app is more attractive because you dont have those security concerns."

ANICO launched the mobile Web app in early February with little marketing fanfare. The idea was to roll this out slowly. On the first day, 100 agents signed up. At the following agent conference, agents quickly asked for more functionality. Recently, 200 agents accessed the system in a single day.

Deanna Walton, AVP Field Systems

Walton and her team are working on bringing more functionality to the mobile Web app. Agents will be able to get quotes and pending case-status information over the mobile Web app. Just last week, Walton was in a team meeting discussing the possibility of pushing rate sheets over the mobile Web app.

However, agents probably wont be able to sync calendars and contacts or use the camera on their mobile devices  mobile Web apps just don't play well with a mobile devices native resources. That's one of the trade-offs with a mobile Web app compared to a native app.

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