What You Don’t Know about Mobile Apps Might Hurt You

mobile apps blog picThinking about developing a mobile app for your company? Whether you’re planning to use it for internal needs or external, customer-facing needs, here’s an at-a-glance guide to what will work best for your organization.

Cheat sheet: Phone Gap and Xamarin

When you task a developer with creating a mobile app, you may not be aware of some of the critical decisions that should happen before development begins, and why. Understanding a little more about how these decisions are made can help you save time and ensure that your developer is doing the right thing for your company.

When approaching a new mobile app project, the biggest decision a developer makes is what cross-platform development framework to use. Most people are aware that there is a wide diversity of smartphone and tablet operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, and more), and that they operate differently due to their unique coding structures. Until recently, when a developer wanted to create a mobile app, he or she would have to build it separately in each operating system, hence the term ‘native’ app – one that is built on/within the operating system where it runs. So, in order to create any “mobile app”, a developer really had to build two, three, or more native apps, depending on the desired availability.

With the recent advent of cross-platform development frameworks, developers now have the option to code an app’s functionality once, on a framework that automatically creates functionality across multiple systems. Two of the most important frameworks are Phone Gap and Xamarin.

What are they?

Phone Gap is a JavaScript “bridge” that takes the developer’s HTML and natively compiles it as both and Android and iOS mobile app. It uses the smartphone or tablet as a local web server, and both the Android and the iOS versions of the app then have ability to communicate between the native environment and JavaScript.

Xamarin is shared code that compiles natively –using actual java code and objective C code—on Android or Apple operating systems, using an open source common language. For example, to create an app that checks the weather based on geographic location, a developer could write that functionality once using Xamarin to compile the native code for three operating systems: Android, iOS, or Windows. A big difference from Phone gap is that the user interface (UI) is dynamic and so with Xamarin Forms, even interactive web forms will display as a native app.

Which is better?

Both Phone Gap and Xamarin offer pros and cons for companies and for developers.

If a company already has the web assets developed that will be used in the app, Phone Gap may offer faster-to-market advantages, as it can simply be “wrapped around” the existing HTML code. That said, it works best with brochure-type web content that doesn’t require much interactivity or dynamic response.

Xamarin can compile code natively to run on MacOS, iOS, Microsoft, or Linux machines, and so apps work faster because they run in native code.

The bridge/translation step that Phone Gap requires slows things down, because the smartphone IS the web server. While that’s fine for a couple of static content pages, it doesn’t work so well for filling out forms or searching products to buy. It’s also limited because it is running in context of web, instead of in the native system. (And web browsers on phones have limitations by design, for security purposes.)

Overall, if you’re developing something new and you have a choice, Xamarin offers more bang for your buck in terms of increased control, flexibility and a better performance. On the other hand, if you already have the digital assets – such as a web site – and they don’t require a lot of interactivity for forms or search, or you’re in a hurry to get your app to market, Phone Gap can be faster.

Time is Money: Why Power BI is Your Company’s New Best Friend

time is moneyEver measure how much time is spent in your company waiting for reports to calculate and render, or manipulating them by hand after the fact to show what you want them to show?

I’m constantly surprised at companies who will stubbornly insist on using only the canned reports that come with their software installations and forcing employees to do manual number crunching labor as a matter of principle. (“This system cost a fortune and I’m not putting any more money into it. We’re going to make it work for us.”) The reality is, you and your staff are working for that software! 

For a modest investment in some custom Power BI dashboards, companies can radically streamline the time it takes them to create reports. Creating these reports the right way, using sophisticated ETL tools (Extract-Transfer-Load) puts you in command of your reports and data, instead of being held hostage to the not-quite-what-you-wanted reports baked into the system.

And the bonus? A tool like Microsoft Power BI can process a lot of data at lightning speed, so you have more options to filter, slice, and dice data that never would have been possible before. Such as:

  1. You may have multiple software solutions from multiple manufacturers in place, with no automated way to pull the data together in one place and manipulate it.
  2. You may only have been able to afford the solution that offers basic, low-level monitoring and data storage, and the module/functionality that offers the dashboards you like is enormously expensive. A custom software service provider may be able to create the precise reports you need more efficiently and at a lower coast.
  3. You may want to modify functionality or reporting but your current solution is closed and doesn’t allow you to access or change that piece.
  4. You might want to make reports available via the web, internally and securely, without installing software or security on mobile devices. A custom software provider can also create a secure, customized web app that can be accessed via any location and any device, desktop or mobile. For example, you could see at any time, in real time, how many orders were put through up to the minute on a given day, giving you incredibly sharp visibility into your operations.
  5. You might want to embed reports or KPIs inside SharePoint, Salesforce, or other CRM apps. CRM image
  6. You might want to aggregate data with other apps, for example, pulling data from Salesforce and your ERP or financial system to create a leads-to-quote-to approved order-tracking report. That lets you tie information together that shows lead source profitability.
  7. Or you might want to aggregate data across divisions, getting an accurate real time picture of how your business is doing across categories.
  8. You may want smart monitoring – a dashboard that shows you a correlation between downtime and other factors that is predictive, so you can create a smart plan for preventive maintenance.

Remember:  There are many good off-the-shelf solutions that may meet your needs. Any good custom software provider should take the time to understand your situation completely before recommending custom services over off-the-shelf solutions. They can help you see through vendor sales talk and identify red flags with existing systems, or, if you have what you need already, just show you how to use those tools better. A good provider has the understanding, skill, knowledge, experience to know what questions to ask to help you find the answers you can’t get yourself.

Contact Ectobox any time for a no-obligation discussion of your situation and whether custom Business Services is the right choice for you.