Published on 30 June 2012
"There's an app for that," is pretty much my friend's stock response to practically any problem in the world. If the app does not exist, my friend suggests that someone should build an app for that problem. His world is an app world.
But, he is not the only one. Almost everyone is jumping onto the app bandwagon. Most social media companies such as Facebook or Twitter are available as native apps; as are public service agencies that use these apps to communicate with their customers and provide real-time updates.
In many ways, apps are a win-win situation for everyone. While mobile-based apps offer mobility and convenience for consumers, web-based apps such as salesforce.com offer the promise of anywhere computing. For small businesses, apps are a business opportunity and an alternate distribution mechanism for their products.
The plethora of information surrounding apps has only confused users. In this post, let us cut through the clutter and answer basic questions and see if you need one for your small business.
What is an app? What are the major types of apps?
An app is short for applications. An application is a sort of software that can be used for a variety of purposes from entertainment to finding routes to managing your employees. There are two types of apps: web-apps and mobile apps.
Web apps are applications that are available over the Internet. Thus, you do not need complicated installation or setup steps to access or use the apps; instead, all that is required is a web browser.
For example, NetSuite cloud-based application suite all core business processes of a company. Web applications can be accessed through browsers such as Internet Explorer , Chrome or Mozilla on regular computers. Similarly, they are also available through mobile and tablet browsers. In fact, this is where the situation becomes interesting (see question below).
Mobile applications or native applications are applications that run directly on mobile or tablet operating systems. Examples of such applications include the Facebook or Twitter application for tablets. They are generally available in an App store. You need to download the application and run it on your smartphone or tablet to access it.
How can apps help small business?
Apps are small business-friendly and can help you in various ways. For one, they provide you with an alternate distribution model. Because they use tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, you can develop or use applications to distribute your products and services. Web applications are also an excellent way to increase employee productivity. Think about it: these applications enable your employees to be productive anywhere. This means that you can enter, access, and analyze data anywhere. Finally, because they are cheap, paid on demand, and enable you to work from anywhere, they reduce your office (and real estate) costs.
Should I build and use an app for my small business?
Yes, you should. You should consider building an app because your clients are increasingly shopping online. As I mentioned earlier, consumer technologies such as tablets and smart phones are simplifying life for office workers. Your small business employees are no longer constrained by a physical location (such as an office) or device (such as a desktop or laptop). What's more, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model has made it cheaper for you to rent or access these applications. According to a March 2011 poll by telecommunications company AT&T, three-fourths or 72 percent of small businesses indicated that they use mobile apps in their business. In fact, 38 percent reported that it would be difficult to survive without mobile apps. Similarly, 40 percent of small businesses report all their employees use wireless devices or technologies to work away from the office. According to the research, this represents a 66 percent jump over the past two years. Finally, an equal number - 33 percent - reported using SaaS services and, also, claimed ignorance about cloud apps!
Can you give me some examples?
Sure. Productivity tools from Zoho CRM to your contacts and customer relationships. You can use web-based help desk applications such as Desk.com to monitor social media, log requests through multiple media include SMSes, and provide help desk services for your clients. The possibilities for web-based and mobile CRM applications are countless. You can create a better team collaboration, organize projects, content, and analyze customer engagement on-the-go with applications such as Mavenlink. Similarly, you can schedule your workforce priorities and change inventory levels on-the-go using mobile ERP applications such as Epicor.
Can I use apps on all browsers, operating systems and machines?
That's where the catch lies. Most web applications are optimized for regular browsers such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla, and Chrome. However, there is an all out war in mobile and tablet operating systems. Android OS, a free OS developed by Google, is leader of the pack. However, Apple's iOS is fast catching up due to the increasing popularity of iPhone. Apples' iOS has over 425,000 apps with over 15 billion downloaded. Google's Android has 250,000 but the number is increasing at a faster pace than Apple's.
So, do I need a mobile app or web-based app?
That depends on your business product or service. Typically, mobile applications require appropriate infrastructure, such as smart phones and the correct appropriate operating system. Web-based applications, on the other hand, can be run on any supported browser. Of course, you need to optimize your application for a mobile experience. In addition, you should ask yourself whether your product or service requires a dedicated browsing experience (such as Facebook or Twitter) or a browser-based experience that enables hopping between several tabs or pages. For example, you can use a mobile app to offer special deals or content to your customers.
A recent survey by Adobe and research firm Forrester may help: according to the survey, 66 percent of shoppers prefer to use their browser when buying goods and services from their mobile device. On the other hand, 52 percent preferred using mobile applications for social media and gaming.
I use many business apps. Can I connect them to manage all data from one place?
Nothing can be easier. Cloud apps give even small and mid-size companies instant access to powerful tools to tap into big data streams, track and manage key business processes and get a fine-grained view of their team member and customer interactions. What's often missing is more transparency and a unified view across all the different cloud apps a company uses. Thanks to services such as CloudWork, SMBs are able to hire a virtual systems integrator. It lets them instantly integrate apps from different vendors, manage them securely in one place and track their KPIs across all apps and all users. Better knowledge of real-time data sets - from transactions to social media feeds - will be critical to reduce costs and drive profits. It will also spur development of new services that can be seamlessly and painlessly connected through the CloudWork platform.
There are many apps to choose from, so your next challenge is likely to be in the discovery process. Thankfully there are companies offering recommendation services, such as business application marketplaces, that will help you find the best application for your specific needs and company profile.