In a world where smartphone technology is integral to every day life, developing a bespoke application for your company could be the key to greater efficiency and improved customer service.

Not only does a bespoke app allow you to stay connected and make life easier for your employees and clients, it will also help you enhance business connectivity and engagement by giving you usable, easy-to-access data that can be implemented for things like predictive maintenance, schedule optimisation, and energy cost reduction.

In this article, Rob Holmes, Managing Director and Co-Founder at RGS IT explains what makes a great app, how to ensure your app is future proof, and complexities to consider before beginning your bespoke project.

1. Where do you start when it comes to developing an app for a new client?

Like all bespoke systems development, it’s all about the functionality. Functionality is the starting point for everything we do at RGS.

So to get started on an app development project, we sit down with the client and go through their requirements, discuss what features should be included in the app, who are the target users, what are their expectations (if any) of the app. This first step is vital to ensuring that the end product does what it needs to, for the people who will use it. If you compare this to designing a car, for example. You would think that a car design is straight forward, but actually there are many different types of people who use cars. Someone taking their kids to school and then going on to do the shopping has different expectations of their car to, say, a Formula 1 driver!

So, it’s vital we get the requirements of all parties firmly understood right from the start. That way, we have a clear understanding of the direction we’re traveling in.

2. What are the benefits to an organisation of designing a bespoke application?

There are two primary approaches to implementing a new software system: Off The Shelf or Bespoke. Each has it’s own advantages. For example, it wouldn’t be sensible for everyone to commission a bespoke word processing package because such software is so widely used that companies like Microsoft® can develop excellent word-processors which meet everyone’s needs. However, once you start looking at software aimed at running a specific business, things become a little more nuanced. Every business is unique, therefore a system designed to run that business will also (to a greater or lesser extent) need to be unique.

Whilst the up-front cost of developing bespoke systems is high, the longer term benefits of a well-designed bespoke system always outweigh those costs, therefore providing a clear return on investment. In addition, it will typically take longer to implement something bespoke, so that needs to be taken into consideration too.

That said, once your bespoke system is live, it will be serving your business for years to come, ensuring that your unique business is running optimally and without limitations imposed by systems designed for wider audiences.

3. What are the complexities that are usually overlooked when initiating an application project?

It is easy to think that a software development is going to take place in isolation, operating within a “silo” all on its own. This is almost never the case though.

We talked earlier about the benefits of bespoke systems over off-the-shelf, but in reality, what will typically happen is that clients need a hybrid-development. An obvious case is accounts software. All companies have to complete accounts which must conform to standards imposed by the authorities. Hence, most companies will use off-the-shelf accounting software such as Oracle, Sage, or for smaller companies Quickbooks or Xero. However, if you have bespoke systems running the primary business function, you need data from that operation to be passed into the accounting system. This requires integration software or “middleware” to be developed in order to ensure that data residing in the bespoke system is not stuck there, requiring users to re-key data in order for it to transition into the books of the accounting software.

This kind of integration can be complex. Often, the shape of the data held in the bespoke business management system will not suit the accounting system, therefore some transformation is required to make the data suit the target system. You will often find that development of the core software is the easy part, but integrating it with other line-of-business systems is where the complexity lies that people often don’t consider initially.

4. What makes a great app?

It sounds obvious, but it is (and always has been!) “ease of use”. As soon as something becomes easy to do, everyone will be able to do it and an app will become mainstream. Think of photography. When I was young, I was a keen photographer and even had my own dark room (for those younger than me, google “dark room” – you’ll be amazed what used to be involved with making a photo!). Creating photographic images was complex, involving expensive camera equipment, rolls of chemical film, developer acid baths, photographic papers etc. Now, with the advent of digital photography and easy to use software, anyone can take awesome photographs instantly and at little cost. The result? – photography is ubiquitous with cameras literally everywhere.

The same can be said for many walks of life where simplicity and convenience make things that were previously the domain of specialists accessible and attractive to the masses.

This is why usability is so important for app development. If you get the balance right, a previously complex process can be made simple and therefore anyone will be able to do that process easily and accurately.

5. How do you ensure the apps you develop are future-proof and adaptable?

Developing software to be compatible with future changes in requirements is always tricky. How can you make something today that will adapt to something you haven’t thought of? Well, using careful design practices can help. By splitting larger systems into components and embedding specific functionality within each separate component it becomes simpler to make updates to individual areas of functionality at a later date.

A good example of this is security. This is an ever-changing area of technology as we constantly strive to stay one step ahead of the hackers and criminals who would like to compromise our systems. So, when a new security technology emerges, how would we reverse engineer that into our legacy bespoke systems? If all the security requirements of the application are encapsulated within one “security component” then it becomes much easier than if it was merged together with everything else in the application.

6) Please provide an example of an app development project you have worked on and how it helped the organisation meet their goals.

We are currently working with a local client in the steel industry. They have a lot of legacy machinery in their factory and we are helping them to implement Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) technologies in order to track the activities of their machinery more closely. This means that where they were previously unable to extract benefit from their new data and were running blind in many areas of their business, they now have accurate real-time data about how their machinery is operating, enabling them to make better decisions on efficiency and process.

For example, this client can now identify the precise amount of time that a specific job took to process on a particular piece of machinery, together with how much energy that machine consumed during that period. This means that they can now conduct more accurate job-costing on each job put through their plant than was previously possible. There are many other benefits too… predictive maintenance, schedule optimisation, and energy cost reduction to name but a few.

How we can help

If you’re hunting for a future-proof, usable app that will integrate seamlessly into your existing software and meet all your business requirements, bespoke app development is the right route for you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to explore your app development options and find out how we can help you enhance your efficiency with new software.

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