How to Craft a Mobile-Application Strategy

More IT organizations are bypassing the desktop when building new applications, especially for external customers. Here’s what you need to know to create a strategy for mobile-application development.

Timing is essential to the success of a mobile application. Just ask Richard Peltz, CIO of Marcus and Millichap, a $13.5 billion commercial real estate investment services firm. In January 2010, when the commercial real estate market was starting to emerge from a two-year slump, the company began looking for ways to increase brand awareness and exposure for its 1,200 agents nationwide. Peltz came up with the idea of providing searchable profiles of agents and loan originators on the company’s website, which clients could access with their iPhones or Android smartphones.

When Peltz learned that at least one competitor was developing a similar app, speed to market became a high priority. While eliciting input from the marketing group and the vice president of app development, “I pretty much managed the app right off my desk, because I didn’t want to take the time to have it managed by committee,” he says. He also chose to outsource the development to AT&T, rather than try to get his staff up to speed in mobile programming languages, particularly those for the iPhone, he says.

Deployed in December 2010, the app is now being used by a growing number of real estate investors, and it has generated several leads, Peltz reports. Now comes the hard part: designing and building an enterprise strategy and infrastructure for developing and managing mobile apps over the long term.

Marcus and Millichap is in good company. Mobile-first apps represent a conundrum for IT leaders. On the one hand, CIOs are excited about the potential payoffs, and often they’re being pressured to deliver sexy new apps to mobile-toting end users, executives and customers. Developing applications for mobile first, as opposed to porting limited versions of desktop apps onto mobile devices, is “reaching a tipping point, where it makes a lot of sense,” says William Clark, a research vice president at Gartner.

According to data Gartner published in June as part of its report “Magic Quadrant for Mobile Consumer Application Platforms,” 5 billion smartphones were in use worldwide in 2010, and that number was projected to exceed 6.7 billion by 2015, creating huge opportunities for consumer-oriented businesses. Consumer-facing mobile app development will continue to outpace development of Web apps and application development in general through 2014, the report says. Meanwhile, a recent CIO magazine survey of 261 IT leaders found 54 percent of respondents plan to boost spending on mobile applications.

On the other hand, Gartner’s Clark notes that “fragmentation and chaos” in the mobile marketplace, where new releases and versions of mobile operating systems are coming out all the time, has made it difficult for businesses to develop and execute a coherent strategy. And a strategy is critical to the success of such initiatives, analysts and CIOs agree.

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