Mobile Worker Applications: Prebuilt or Custom? In-House or 3rd-Party?

Apr 30, 2014

One of the key questions a business has to grapple with when implementing a new mobile software app for its employees is “Do we build or do we buy?”

There are pros and cons to each approach, of course.  Creating a fully customized application takes time, money and sometimes internal IT resources.  However, it promises a solution that is tailor-made to address that business’ unique needs … and it increases the level of confidentiality and control that some firms feel they must retain.

A prebuilt or prepackaged application—whether it’s a 100% out-of-the-box solution or an app that’s 70-80% complete and just needs some fine-tuning—is usually cloud-based.  It can be deployed more quickly (taking weeks or days, instead of months or years).  It’s typically much more affordable (priced on a monthly per-user basis).  And it demands far less time and energy from the customer’s IT employees.

In last year’s August survey of North American mobile and wireless decision-makers, we asked current users of four different mobile apps to describe their approach.  We’ll be asking the same question in this year’s survey for comparison purposes.

Per the chart below, some interesting facts emerge:

  • Simple out-of-the-box implementations – with no customization required – are a distinct minority with newer applications.  However, this seems to change as an application category becomes more established and standardized.  While 28 percent of wireless email users have implemented out-of-box, only 7-8 percent of newer apps (in this case, mobile sales force automation and mobile workforce management solutions) do likewise.  One of the newer M2M apps – tracking portable and semi-stationary assets in the field – follows this same trend.
  • Smaller businesses (fewer than 500 employees) are more likely to implement out-of-the-box when it comes to wireless email and mobile workforce management apps.
  • Prepackaged solutions hold the majority position at this time.  Businesses seem to prefer the advantages that come with prebuilt applications – ranging from 61 percent of mobile asset tracking users to 58 percent of mobile SFA users to 52 percent of mobile workforce management users.  The proportion of prebuilt wireless email apps is the lowest of this group at 41 percent, but it is still more popular than the out-of-box or customized options.
  • The percentage of businesses currently using fully customized applications range as follows:
    • Wireless email – 21 percent
    • Mobile asset tracking – 30 percent
    • Mobile sales force automation – 35 percent
    • Mobile workforce management – 41 percent

What about the use of third-party experts to handle any customization needs?  Are businesses more apt to hire help or do the custom work themselves?  As of August 2013, the trends were as follows:

  • For prebuilt mobile applications that required some customizing, businesses are roughly just as likely to use a third-party partner as do the custom work themselves in-house.
  • For fully customized mobile applications, however, customers are much more likely to develop the application in-house with their own IT personnel.  Depending upon the application category, 60 to 70 percent of the businesses opting to create a fully customized app do so utilizing their own staff.  Larger businesses are more likely than smaller firms to use a third party when customizing.

Prebuilt preferred over custom.  In-house development preferred over third-party.  Will these trends hold in the mobile business apps sector?  We’ll begin to do some longitudinal analysis after the 2014 responses come in.

Pkgd vs Custom 2013 Survey Feedback.jpg

Jeanine Sterling


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