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5 Questions CIOs Need to Ask Before Building Enterprise Apps

3 min readDecember 26, 2013

Until recently, many enterprise IT departments had stopped trying to build their own internal CRMs, content management systems and sales software. But the era of mobile apps has reset the entire build vs. buy debate.

Over the past couple of years, CIOs have thrown themselves back into the business of application building in an effort to provide mobile access to internal systems. But Mobile Helix’s recent survey of 300 CIOs and IT decision makers confirms that while nine out of ten decision makers had taken steps to develop applications, just 22% of enterprise applications can currently be accessed from mobile devices.

As the survey revealed, building enterprise mobile apps can be more difficult than you might imagine. With the innumerable APIs, developer toolkits and mobile application platforms available, it can sometimes seem like successfully building apps is as easy as creating some technical specs and turning your developers loose.

Here at Revenue.io, we understand the temptation to build your own product. Revenue.io was created out of our own frustration as consultants that there wasn’t a truly great app that could deliver data from CRM, ad sources, and other rich sources of enterprise data to inside sales reps within the context of calls. Nor was there a great call tracking app that fully integrated with Salesforce.com. We were able to successfully build those solutions, but there were many hurdles we had to cross before our apps were ready for prime time.

The CIOs that were surveyed cited a number of barriers to delivery, all of which are familiar. One of the biggest is cost, as 65% reported that the cost of mobile development was the biggest hurdle, especially due to platform fragmentation. 48% worried about the increased cost of support and maintenance, while others were challenged by the problem of finding mobile app developers.

Developing custom mobile software is always an option. But, depending on several factors, it might or might not be the best option. Derived from our experience, here is a checklist of five questions every CIO should ask before undertaking a custom development project.

Are There Really No Viable Products To Buy?

Before developing any app, you should do a thorough search of the market to see if there is an existing product that meets your needs. In nearly every case, buying is more cost-effective than building. During our tenure as marketing and CRM consultants we bought a lot more software than we built. Even if you are convinced that an existing API or developer platform will solve all your problems, you should do extensive research to ensure that it can really be customized for your desired use-cases.

What Investment is Involved in Completing an App Using a Development Platform?

In many cases, the existence of an “easy” development platform convinces companies to build rather than buy. But often custom-building apps with a development platform is trickier than it originally seems. Do your due-diligence. Insist on chatting with companies that have used a prospective platform to create enterprise-level products, and find out what their investment and adoption rates have been.

Do You Have Top In-House UI Design Talent?

Even if you might be thinking of a mobile project project as simply “mobilizing an existing application,” the employees at your company are expecting a real product. If your app doesn’t provide an optimal user experience, nobody is going to use it. Even if you have excellent creative vision, delivering a successful mobile app requires top-tier UI developers to bring your ideas to fruition.

Can You Really Maintain and Support Your App?

It’s also important to make sure that you have the resources to not only build an app, but also support it. Your app will need to be continuously upgraded as APIs and mobile platforms change requirements. You’ll need someone dedicated to monitoring API notifications, as well as developers at the ready to make adjustments when those changes are needed.