Despite what your teenage kids might think, apps aren’t just for games and social media.
Custom-built mobile apps are now helping many businesses to serve and support their customers. It’s the modern, convenient way for businesses and their customers to interact.
The learning curve for users is usually low and the existence of an app gives its owner the cachet of being listed on one or more of the well-known app stores.
Where could apps be useful in business and industry?
As apps become ever more popular, there are likely to be some industries where customers will expect businesses to have an app. Here are some examples of use cases for apps in business:
- Housing: managing tenant communications, agreeing leases and requesting repairs.
- Ecommerce: handling point-of-sale transactions, logging order history and generating receipts.
- Utilities: submitting meter readings, enabling mobile engineer tracking and reporting faults.
- Products: support for your car, camera, treadmill or any other equipment that generates data.
The challenge for businesses and app developers
Whether you’re a business that’s building your own app or an app developer commissioned to deliver an app, the challenge is to get the app connected and working with the rest of the business systems.
Here’s the thing: it takes more than a slick user interface to make an app that benefits a business and its customers. The backend integration and associated data processing is what turns the app from a glossy set of screens into a vehicle that adds value to the business and that improves engagement and loyalty from users.
Apps tend to come with their own backend systems, which might lead the businesses who commission those apps to think they’re ready to be used out of the box. In fact, apps with their own backend systems tend to form a silo – think of it as a little island of functionality.
For example, an app developer might need to produce an app that can be rebranded and supplied to lots of businesses or associations that serve their own closed group of users.
In such cases, the challenge is to deliver a solution that allows for consistency on the app side and yet that has the flexibility to connect to the relevant systems and data stores of each discrete operator.
What’s really needed is a “bridge to the mainland” – and that’s what we can achieve through backend engineering of the right integration systems, which is what we specialise in.
We love working with app developers to deliver end-to-end products that serve the needs of the businesses that commission the production of the apps.
This means the ideal partnership for us is to work with the app developers who crack on with making good-looking apps while we complement their effort by taking care of the backend integration.
Put another way, we focus on making the back end of your app as effective as the front end looks.
The end result is an app that has both form and function. And what’s more, that app can deliver more value to the business.
How good backend integration can make your app more valuable
Any business commissioning the creation of an app will want it to be robust and secure while also being able to collect and manage data that allows for better business intelligence. All of these things come from apps that are supported by good backend integration:
- Robustness: we can use monitoring of load and throttling to stop popular apps falling over due to high demand.
- Security: we apply strong levels of data security to ensure that no business or customer information is put at risk and so that the business remains compliant with all relevant data collection and processing rules.
- Insight: gathering and processing data from the app allows backend processing to overlay data sets and deliver business intelligence. For example, combining geolocation data from an app with separate weather data might allow housing associations to correlate requests for certain repairs with bad weather conditions. Such insight means better predictions for the future, allowing businesses to plan rather than to be reactive.
What does an app integration solution look like?
Here’s a quick sketch to show a little about what an app integration process might look like:
In such a scenario, these are the things we’d work on:
- Build the integration layer: focusing on simplifying connections between the app and the rest of the business. Our designs are based on pluggable connectors – components that connect to backend systems and that are easy to swap out. We’ve proven these connector patterns in large mission-critical systems – it’s work we’ve specialised in for many years.
- Understand the data: designing appropriate data flows to enable the system to function optimally.
- Create the API: implementing an API for the app to call that can remain the same no matter which business the app is then connected to – lowering your app maintenance costs.
App integration problems you need to solve
Our experience tells us that there are plenty of hurdles to overcome for an app to work well. Let’s take a look:
- Performance: the business and its end users expect the app to work – and fast. You therefore need to understand how many copies of the app are in circulation and how often it is used, as well as the typical response times in the app.
- Load: queues of work may be needed to protect backoffice systems from being overloaded by demand at peak times.
- Security: the security flow must be correct with the right layers of security in place. Getting this wrong could put the business and/or customers at risk. This isn’t a “nice to have”.
- Adaptiveness: as backoffice systems are upgraded and changed, the connectors in the integration layer must be capable of rapid adaptation so that the app continues to function. In general, there needs to be evolution of the integration systems to keep up with the (often much faster) pace of app development.
- Friction: most apps will have to deal with onboarding and removing users. Both processes should be quick and seamless to avoid frustration, complaints and support enquiries from end users.
On top of all this, we must also consider how the app should know what its ultimate source of truth is, and what happens to the potentially large amounts of data the app might generate. This information could be (among other things):
- Where is the app being used?
- When is the app being used?
- How often is the app being used?
Getting all of these things right comes down to the way the backend integration of the app is set up. When it’s done correctly, the result is an app that delivers more value to the business and its end user. It also means that the app developer has played a part in delivering a more valuable product to their client.
In other words, good backend integration delivers a win for everyone involved in developing, deploying and using the app.