Week 4: Outsource App Development or Keep It In-House?
In the second phase of the mobile app lifecycle, Create, many organizations grapple with the question of in-house mobile app development vs outsourcing to an expert third party. Mobile app development requires specific skills and expertise, and achieving project goals demands the appropriate bandwidth. Most marketing organizations are not likely to have both. The reality is, even game developers and other app publishers outsource from time to time, utilizing pre-built app components such as software development kits (SDKs) to speed the development process.
At the end of this lesson, MBA candidates will have a working knowledge of the issues to consider when deciding whether to develop a mobile app in-house, along with the options available for outsourcing or licensing.
Key Points / Discussion
As a marketer, you’re already familiar with building a strategy for a marketing initiative. Certain fundamental questions help you define the project objectives, scope, etc. In mobile, those basic questions remain the same, but the answers often look a bit different than they do for more traditional channels. Let’s explore.
Consideration: Does your digital / mobile team have the right skillsets?
All mobile app strategies should be native-first—built with code native to the device they’re intended to run on (iOS, Android, etc.). Consumers now expect “authentically mobile” experiences. They want the kinds of unique features and capabilities that are only possible with native code. So-called “write once, run anywhere” code sounds promising, but only native code can consistently deliver the kinds of rich experiences that consumers expect.
However, developing for Android and iOS requires specific tools. The average Android developer can’t just switch over to iOS without additional training or study, and a traditional web coder is unlikely to have the skills for mobile.
Obviously, if your organization is in mobile game development or a related field, you’ve probably already got the dev skills needed. That said, if your plans include emerging mobile capabilities (such as Voice) or specific audience needs (such as accessibility for users who are blind or visually impaired) you may at least want to talk to your team to see if there’s a skills gap that might be most effectively addressed via outsourcing, rather than attempting to staff up or train up in a big hurry.
Consideration: Does your digital/virtual team have the bandwidth?
In many organizations, the digital team is responsible for the website, advertising, social initiatives and more. If your team has the skills but not the time to achieve your mobile objectives within your goal launch window, you’re better off working with a third-party provider.
Workaround: Licensing app components or pre-built apps
Mobile apps are often built with one or more pre-built modular components (known as SDKs or “software development kits” for the non-developers among us). As a result, many organizations license SDKs to save time and money on an in-house development effort. In fact, you can license complete app solutions, which can be customized with your branding and specific content. Licensing is often the fastest and most budget-friendly approach, offering proven performance right off the shelf. Plus, if you choose the right partner, they don’t look pre-built at all.
Net Takeaway: How to Decide
Develop in-house if BOTH of the following are true:
- Your digital team has the necessary skills and experience
- Your digital team has the bandwidth to deliver on schedule
License an SDK if BOTH of the following are true:
- You simply need to add specific functionality to an existing app
- Your digital team has the skills and bandwidth to integrate the SDK on schedule (OR you have the budget for an outside partner to do the integration work)
License a pre-built app If BOTH of the following are true:
- The licensable app meets your mobile strategy needs, budget, timeline and quality expectations
- The app can be branded according to your standards
Work with a custom app development partner if ANY OR ALL of the following are true:
- Your mobile strategy necessitates unique skillsets not found on your in-house team
- Your launch window requires a team that can get to work quickly and focus entirely on your initiative
- You want a completely customized solution, with all of the bells and whistles—plus the ability to support future use cases
- You want an expert partner that can support you across the entire mobile app lifecycle