Mobile_AppAlex Bratton is CEO and Chief Geek at Lextech, a mobile strategy and development consulting firm. An entrepreneur who has helped more than 100 organizations identify opportunities and execute technology-based revenue generation, Bratton is also the author of  “Billion Dollar Apps – How to Find and Implement a Winning Mobile Strategy.”

UnboundID: Tell us about your customers and their mobile needs?

Bratton: We work with mid-market to Fortune 500 companies, using mobility strategically to solve business problems. We see ourselves less as an application developer and more in the business of helping companies solve issues and realize process improvements. Sonic Automotive is one of our customers that set out on a path to reinvent the car-buying process, which is so cumbersome for the consumer. They wanted to make the process simpler and deliver a better customer experience. They decided to empower salespeople with iPads, let them appraise a car, find the car, and take the sales manager and finance manager out of the picture. They were able to take a three-hour process and turn it into a 45-minute process, using six different applications on an iPad, or what we call a suite of apps.

UnboundID: How are companies using mobile apps today to interact with customers, improve customer experience and drive loyalty?

Bratton: People are starting to see the need for a business case for the app. Originally, mobile apps were delivering zero value. But now companies are looking at what issues can we solve through providing real-time data to make better decisions and capture more accurate information and add efficiency to a process. If we focus on making workers more productive, it’s a huge benefit to a company. Another problem is, companies sometimes get distracted with mobile commerce. But is that a problem you are solving or are you just shifting people from one channel to another? It might make more sense to develop an app for partners so they can sell more.

On the consumer side, leading organizations realize that mobile is about building relationships. Give people tools for utility, so they can live their lives or do their jobs. If I can only look at my bank balance on an app, that’s not terribly helpful. If the app notifies me every time there is a transaction so I can be sure that it’s me that made it, that’s getting more helpful. In the Sonic case, it’s not just a tool for buying a car but for managing the car long term. Companies that want to succeed should think about how to connect a consumer with someone inside the organization when the time is right. It’s about connecting people, not removing people from the process. Mobile apps are also about personalization – the relevant information being provided to me when I need it.

UnboundID: How do security and scalability play into the development of a mobile app?

Bratton: On scalability, developers haven’t had to worry about memory on a server but with a phone, they do, because it doesn’t have much memory and storage space. If I am trying to load all my SKUs into the app, it’s probably not going to work out too well for the user. Scalability of systems is another huge problem. Mobile apps are often talking to legacy apps that are not built to scale to hundreds of thousands of users. Companies need to build middleware between the mobile app and backend systems, which can handle scale-up to make fewer calls to the backend systems. Also consider trimming down the amount of data that gets sent to the mobile device. That speeds up the user experience. You typically only need a couple of fields in the mobile app. In the area of mobile security, companies can use hardware sensors to authenticate users, and deploy two-factor authentication that’s easy to use compared with tokens. Biometrics, such as the new Apple hardware with a touch fingerprint reader are great because you don’t have to type in a really long password. That means you can still get strong security but you’re not fighting with the user.

UnboundID: What are some key technical challenges in developing a mobile app for large customers?

Bratton: A common problem is when different teams don’t follow internal standards for architecture of the mobile app and then supporting them becomes difficult. Every new app they add makes it exponentially harder to support all apps going forward. You need to have a common mobile architecture, agree how to connect to the backend systems, how to secure the apps, pick common technology standards and then decide on the common user experience elements. For example, the login screen should be the same across all the apps. Another issue is weighing the difference between native and web-based or webby apps. Native provides a more fluid user experience in that developers can build an app using standards that are used on common systems like iOS. A web app won’t look like an iOS app, in contrast. Giving users a consistent look and feel is important but also, today, the app has to keep up with the Angry Birds experience. Users expect top tier in everything we give them. If driving the best user experience is what’s most important for your app, then go with native development.

UnboundID: What are the latest trends with mobile security and identity management on mobile apps?

Bratton: Identity management comes up with every enterprise project, and often it’s because consumers need to use the same user management system that has been on the web site to access other apps.  Integration with identity management systems is typically challenging, because the legacy identity management technologies were created for IT departments to manage users. They’re not easy to build on going forward. Today every technology must have an easy-to-use API or SDK because we are in a world where there are lots of apps that need to talk to each other. The newer generation of identity management tools is helping by focusing on ease of use and API integration.

UnboundID: How are mobile apps affecting the larger customer data integration challenge?

Bratton: This is an omni-channel world. Companies have to integrate mobile with web data and internal and third-party data. Most organizations are still early in the lifecycle of managing data from mobile capture, but Google Analytics is not enough to drive decisions. Mobile integration can show what products customers searched for or where they’ve been online, and then bring that information back into the CRM so that the next communication with them draws on that information intelligently.

Hear how convenience store retailer Wawa Inc. launched a mobile app to improve customer experience in this webinar replay. You’ll also find white papers on enabling digital business with a single customer view.

This article was originally published on the UnboundID Blog.