Your company needs an app, and although you’ve researched all your options, none of the applications or platforms on the market meet your organization’s specific needs. Maybe a few of the existing software packages have some of the tools and features you need in an app but not all of them. Maybe all the software out there lacks a specific integration. Maybe you need something that simply doesn’t exist.
Whatever the reason, it’s time for custom application development. But wait: while building your own software seems like a great idea — after all when you’re developing your own apps you have infinite flexibility — you can’t just rush in. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
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What is custom application development?
Custom application is pretty straightforward — you’re building custom software: applications tailored to your business’s specific needs or challenges, rather than consumer off-the-shelf (COTS) software. In fact, to build or to buy is a classic question that businesses have faced ever since off-the-shelf software became readily available.
So first — do you really need to build your own custom apps? There are a few questions you should ask yourself to make sure custom application development is right for you.
- Is there software out there that, with a few customizations, meets my needs?
- Do I need this software right away?
- Is the software I need going to have to scale?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider looking for off-the-shelf solutions that you can customize. Why? Software development can take a long time, depending on what you’re building. If you need something now, you may want to find an application that mostly meets your needs and talk to the vendor — or an IT consultant — about possible customization. Also, if your company is growing, and you need to go from 20 users to 200 in a short period of time, you may also want to try an off-the-shelf solution. These are often built with flexibility in mind.
But if you answered no to all three questions — if you’ve got time on your side, need original software and don’t anticipate a big, sudden boom in the number of users your application will have — then a custom application is probably the way to go.
There are three kinds of custom applications that can be built:
- Mobile applications — Thanks to the smartphone explosion of the late ‘00s, everyone knows what a mobile app is (remember “there’s an app for that”?) Apps let you do things on your devices that would take too long if you were trying to use the browser, for example.
- Desktop applications — These are just like mobile apps, but they run on your PC or Mac. You might think of this as “custom software development” instead.
- Web application — A web application is a website, but unlike its wordy cousin, the informational website, a web application is a site that lets you perform an action, a bill pay site, for example.
Any of these application types can be internal — a CRM, for example — or they can be customer facing, like an online storefront. It depends on your organization’s specific business needs.
Now that you know that you’re building a custom application, and you know what sort of application you’re building, you can move on to the next step: finding IT consultants to build your software.
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Working with a software development partner
Unless your organization is large and tech-oriented, chances are you’ll be bringing in an IT consultant to help you create your custom application. Before you even contact a technology consulting company; however, you need to do your homework so that the consultants can do their job well.
The first and most important thing you need to be clear on is what your requirements are for the project. In other words, you need to know exactly what business problem your custom application is going to solve and how you envision your application solving that problem. For example, are you building a customer relationship management application? You should be able to explain why you need to build one rather than buy a subscription to an existing CRM. What exactly will your CRM do that existing applications won’t?
If you’re not clear on the requirements, just let the IT consultant know up front and they may be able to help you with that step. Omni, for example, can help you build or define your requirements before moving on to custom application development.
You should also have a timeline in mind. When do you need your custom app completed? The schedule is something you’ll be working with your consultant on: a good technology consulting company will come to you with a timeline. At Omni, our timelines typically include three phases of releases — those include your application’s must-have features, nice-to-have features and your really-really-nice-to-have features. We will also help you determine if your project needs to have an Agile or Waterfall approach.
A word of warning here: although technology consulting firms will do their best to get you an accurate estimate of how long your custom application will take, sometimes projects can run over. To be safe, budget a cushion of extra time and money for it, just in case your project hits a snag. You should also talk to your IT consultant about worst-case scenarios, so that you’re both on the same page.
Lastly, have a plan for what happens post-launch. Will you be updating your application regularly? How regularly? Who is going to maintain this solution and what happens if something breaks? Remember: software development never really ends and you need to have a plan for the care and feeding of your application. That will be important to share up front, especially if you want your IT consultants to be part of the maintenance team.
It seems like a lot, doesn’t it? But no worries — you don’t need to develop your custom application by yourself. Omni has been there, done that and seen it all. We can help you through all phases of application development. Give us a call and we'll talk about how we can help.
Ready to build your solution?