Custom Mobile Apps for Business Still in their Infancy

on December 16, 2014

While there may be little debate about how the world of mobile devices is impacting traditional PCs, there are still some big questions remaining about the speed of this transition, particularly in the business world. The truth is, we’re still in the very early stages of the mobile conversion process and some research I’ve recently completed shows this.

One of the big questions for business mobility revolves around custom applications for the enterprise. Custom applications have been and continue to be a huge part of the day-to-day life of business workers and their IT organizations in companies of all sizes. Indeed, many companies’ most critical operations are run via custom-written applications.

In the world of mobile devices, however, things are much different. Apple’s recent announcement with IBM to build custom applications for iPads in business shows even market leaders are just getting around to solidifying their efforts in this area. My firm, TECHnalysis Research, recently completed a survey of 485 IT professionals who are specifically involved in the creation, specification, or management of custom applications for their small (10-99 employees), medium (100-999 employees) and large (1,000+ employees) companies across the US. The survey findings plainly show we are still in the early stages of the mobile revolution in the enterprise.[pullquote]Survey findings plainly show we are still in the early stages of the mobile revolution in the enterprise.”[/pullquote]

In the world of custom business applications, PCs are still king, although strong progress is being made in mobile devices. 98% of all companies surveyed are using custom applications for PCs, while 78% are using custom applications for tablets and 81% are using custom apps for phones. There are some interesting differences by company size as smaller companies—who typically have smaller IT departments and budgets—show a much lower tendency to build (or buy) and use custom mobile apps than larger companies. As the chart below shows, only 62% of small companies are building and/or using custom tablet apps, while 84% of medium-sized companies are. On smartphones the numbers are bit better, with 71% of small companies and 85% of medium-sized companies using custom mobile apps.

Custom Apps for Mobile Devices

©2014, TECHnalysis Research

On the surface these numbers seem reasonable, but when you start digging deeper, you realize there are still a number of other challenges for custom mobile apps. For one, a greater percentage of companies of all sizes have to rely on 3rd party development firms to help build their custom apps than they do their PC apps. Clearly, there’s a shortage of skills for building custom mobile apps in many businesses.

More importantly, the range and types of employees using custom applications still varies quite a bit by device type. For example, 71% of custom PC apps are deployed to all employees, while only 37% of tablet apps and 43% of smartphone apps are deployed to the entire company. In fact, the top groups to receive and use both custom tablet and smartphone apps in most companies are only the top-level executives (53% and 47% respectively). This clearly suggests that the mobile application efforts are still only in the early stages.

Finally, when you look at the type of applications that are being built, and even though standalone apps built for the native OS of the device are the most common individual category, they still only make up about 1/3 of custom apps being built for smartphones and tablets. A much larger percentage are more PC-like browser-based apps, HTML5 apps or even virtual desktop-based streaming apps. Again, this clearly demonstrates we are still in the very early stages of the transition to a more mobile enterprise.

There’s no question we will see a great deal of growth in custom mobile apps for business. In fact, with the relative stagnation of the consumer smartphone market that’s expected for 2015 in mature markets like the US, I believe one of the most important trends next year will be the increasing usage of tablets and smartphones for business. But, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and think mobility has already taken over. That day may be coming, but we’re not there yet.

The complete version of the Custom Enterprise Mobile Application study will be available to clients of TECHnalysis Research later this week. Please contact me if you’re interested in learning more.