Building an app isn’t the only way to pursue digital transformation. It’s just the one that may lead to the most direct and immediate business results. 

Sure, you can revamp your website, launch a new email newsletter or experiment with a new social media platform. All of those kinds of tactics can help enhance your customer experience. 

The difference with a mobile app is that it can create value both externally (if you’re creating a mobile app that will be used by your customers) or behind the scenes if the app is intended for employees. 

An app is also powerful because it tends to bring people closer to making decisions, conducting transactions or other forms of action. They can act from wherever they are, accessing data they need from anywhere. A good app makes this quick, easy and sometimes even more fun compared with traditional approaches. 

That said, the demand to create a mobile app doesn’t necessarily start with the CIO or their team. It can often come from other parts of the business, or even the senior leadership team — sometimes with great urgency. 

Given that most IT departments have more than enough on their hands already, building an app initially can look like one more unwelcome chore. It can also be a project that threatens to get in the way of upgrading others systems or checking for cybersecurity holes. 

This is all assuming you have the resources in-house to take on a mobile app. Some CIOs have entire teams of developers ready to take on a new assignment. Others run an IT department that’s much more lean. 

Whichever situation you’re in — and whether you’re being tasked with creating a customer-facing or employee-facing mobile app — there are some standard considerations you should keep in mind as you get the project underway:

1. Treat the line-of-business leader as a partner, not a customer

There has been a long history in IT of “serving” employees as a sort of internal customer — people who essentially make requests or give orders. That attitude may work when you’re provisioning laptops and software that runs major parts of the business, but an app should be born from a partnership. 

This is a great way for CIOs to get to know other parts of the business better. Instead of simply doing an interview for requirements gathering purposes, look for opportunities to job shadow or conduct other primary research. 

If you’re asked to create an internal app for the sales team, for instance, spend a day with an actual rep to see how the app might positively change their day-to-day work. Developing an app customers will use to place orders for curbside pickup? Do a little role play with your associates where you take turns walking in the customer’s shoes. 

2. Map the flow of data across people, systems and back again

A well-designed mobile app becomes almost like the missing link that connects customers or employees to an experience in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. You only achieve that kind of design, however, if you understand what it means in terms of information management. 

While an app may store some data locally, many times they will need to draw upon a diverse mix of applications that are tied to various areas of the business. You’ll need to think about whether the sources of data are already cohesive or will require some kind of integration. You’ll need to ensure strong security and to set access privileges. 

This may be more straightforward depending on your existing tech stack. The best IT platforms will be able to make the exchange of data across a CRM, marketing automation and service tools seamless, for example. This is another good reason to invest in cloud-based solutions that can be extended via mobile apps. 

3. Abstract, automate and acquire whenever possible

Some mobile apps will require creating absolutely everything from scratch — but not in the majority of cases. 

Much in the way website designs eventually became relatively standardized as businesses recognized common needs in navigation and functionality, mobile apps differ more in details than in overall approach. 

Before you ask your team to do any serious coding (or before you hire developer talent), look to third-party marketplaces such as AppExchange, where there is a treasure trove of existing business apps that have already been created and proven successful. 

Low-code development, via tools such as Salesforce Lightning, is another way to quickly move from an idea to an actual app. It’s also a way to get the line of business users involved in a more hands-on way. 

4. Answer the critical adoption questions 

If you build it, they might come . . . or they might not. 

Often mobile apps are conceived with assumptions that users will gravitate to them almost without any prompting. A quick survey of any consumer app store will prove otherwise. Getting the adoption you want can take almost as much, if not more work, than developing an app in the first place. 

Will you need to create a specific marketing campaign for a consumer-facing app? Could you somehow introduce it naturally as part of an existing experience? Are there other digital channels, like your web site or newsletter, that would encourage people to try the app? If it’s an employee app, can you create incentives or find champions that will encourage the majority of the team to make using the app a new habit? 

If you want to build an app, that means you (or someone else within the business) wants it to become more than a nice-to-have. A great app becomes a tool customers and employees eventually feel like they couldn’t live without. 

In that sense, the “development” of an app doesn’t end with the launch. You’ll continue to iterate, improve and reimagine what your app will do. And as that happens, your business will keep on benefiting from the results.