Coast Technology will explore software development from the user’s perspective. Great technology makes work and life easier. We believe that computers are really just a “reflection of the people using them” so we want to show that angle in both our writing and our work. These are easy to digest and will focus on new technology. NO, IT DEGREE REQUIRED.

This morning Apple highlighted my Sunday morning by informing me that my screen usage last week was up 26%. For a guy who lives in front of a computer and iPad for work, a 26% increase is not easy to do. I’m not quite sure the purpose of Apple’s love note. You think about it; it is like a donut maker saying, “do you know you have eaten 12 so far today.” As he happily sells you another. While Apple’s intentions are unclear, it did get me thinking about the apps on my phone. As a business owner, have you ever looked at your phone and thought, “does my business need a mobile App?”

The fact is, building a mobile app for your business is not an easy proposition. If you are going to do it, you need to understand the importance of having a mobile App for business or the advantages of having one within your organization. In the coming paragraphs, I’ll share my thoughts and lay out the case for why a business needs an App.

Okay, Okay, Do We Need an App?

By 2019, over a third of the human population on Earth had a mobile smart device such as an Android phone, iPhone, or iPad. Buildfire recently reported that Mobile apps are expected to generate $189 billion in revenue in 2020. Today there are 2.8 million apps available for download in the Google Play Store. 21% of Millennials open an app 50+ times per day, and 49% of people open an app 11+ times each day.

So yes, the numbers indicate that your business does need a mobile app. But beyond the numbers, developing a mobile App for business can offer your company valuable marketing opportunities. In the age of COVID-19/Social Distancing, it can help you reach your target audience in ways you have never thought of before, putting you well ahead of your competition.

Key Selling Points To Building a Mobile App

1. Direct Communication and Engagement with Clients and Customers

One reason why your business needs an App is to improve direct communication with clients and customers. Society has shifted to a digital-first social distant mentality in the last eight months. Just count the number of Amazon trucks going up and down your street daily. With access to a wealth of information at just a touch of a button, business mobile application development has opened the door to clear and direct communication between customers and businesses. The information gathered from customers using these Apps is invaluable for any business, with shopping behavior and buyer personas being readily available to help enhance marketing strategies.

2. Customer Feedback and Connection

Today’s customers are demanding. They want to be heard through convenient forms of communication on their schedule. They reach out, wanting to know the answers to questions, like “where the heck is my order?” To which if it is not on the way, they want to reach out and complain. Mobile App design and development make both these processes much easier for everyone. The idea is that the quicker a customer can communicate their concerns and receive a response, the less likely they will leave that bad Google or Yelp review.

3. Keeping it Brand Compliant

A mobile app is an extension of your brand. Therefore, it is a chance for you to remain faithful to branding while being able to explore how it can be presented in a completely different way. The phone’s digital and mobile nature can also be thought of as a new advertising platform for the business that can say whatever you want it to for your brand, thus increasing awareness. Developing a mobile App for business allows you to reach potential a new demographic of customers that find using Apps more preferable than a web browser.

4. Always Be Closing

Custom App development also allows notifications and information to be sent to customers in an instant. If this information is useful and relevant to them, for example, containing information regarding exclusive deals and offers, it can help you make loyal customers who value using the App.

5. Make Them Love You Even More

Suppose your company has a loyalty program or is considering introducing one as a way of encouraging sales. In that case, an on-the-go digital loyalty scheme via a mobile app is an effective method for building and creating a community of customers. Once customers are rewarded for their spending, they are much more likely to come back. A mobile app makes it a much more comfortable and quicker process for them to do just that.

6. Go To The Head Of The Line

One of the essential benefits of mobile apps for business use is that it will make you truly stand out from the competition. Apps are very relevant in modern technology today and gaining traction and steam every minute. As Matt Damon eloquently opines in the movie Rounders, “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half-hour at the table, you are the sucker.” While app adoption levels are healthy, it hasn’t quite taken off across the entire board yet, allowing you to get the edge over any competition.

In my next entry, I will dive deeper into the competition angle and explore some cool new technologies that will give you a lot to think about. For now, I leave you with one question. If cost wasn’t a factor, would there be any reason why your business shouldn’t have an app?

Google reported last year that  2 million apps actively used Firebase every month.  That number has now spiked to 2.5 million as COVID caused many organizations to look for new ways of keeping people connected.  The spring and summer of 2020 ushered in a new wave of innovation and development.  

At the recent Firebase Summit, global businesses like Gameloft and Alibaba and education startups like Classkick showed off their use of Firebase’s newest features.   Classkick, a full-spectrum learning platform, has its backendpowered by Firebase’s Realtime Database.  Additionally, the fast growing app is supported by Google Cloud. Classkick onboarded thousands of teachers and school administrators over the last several months so that students could continue to learn effectively from home and stay engaged with their teachers and classmates.

There are many new features to Firebase that have developers excited, including the new hosting preview channel that lets you see changes before they are published. Push changes to a preview channel in seconds with a single command and generate an obscured unique URL. The end result is your team can QC the changes quickly and collaborate easily on the next steps.

 

Explore this and many other new features by reading the official release here.  

When Your Office Tech is Older Than Your Employees 

I had the pleasure of doing a technology consultation the other day at the behest of a colleague attempting to improve the organization’s payment processing. In his initial discussions with the organization, he found that the software that ran their office was very outdated. He was fearful that it would not be compatible with modern payment processing solutions.  He was right in his thought process as I quickly discovered the software in question was written in 1998 and had minimal updates since that time.  While in theory, 1998 isn’t that long ago, in the world of technology and development, it is the equivalent of the 1950s to the present.  As such modern features like cloud-based operations, support of touch interaction, adaptability to a wide range of screen sizes and pixel densities, socially-oriented interface patterns such as event streams, timelines, and social graphics were nowhere to be found.

The situation this office found themselves in is not uncommon.  While still a long way from typewriters and carbon paper, old software has a tremendous impact on the operation of an organization. A recent Techradar article points out that an almost unanimous 96% of people think the businesses they work at could improve when it comes to computer software. In comparison, only 17% of people believe that their business is exceptionally well equipped – and 8% say it’s ‘poor.’

Solution In A Box

It wasn’t long ago that places like Staples, and OfficeMax had rows and rows of software in brightly colored boxes.  If you needed better word processing, you just simply went down to the store and picked up the latest version of WordPerfect.  When you were lost in a spreadsheet maze, there was a Lotus 123 for that.  Even today, there are mass-produced solutions for many challenges a business or organization faces.  But just like two snowflakes are not alike, many similar companies have differences that affect the productivity of the software. Some places, like the one I consulted for the other day, have software that is just outdated with few new options available.

Randall Rice and William Perry, in their book Testing Dirty Systems, found 20 common challenges many businesses and organizations experience. Number eight on their list, Obsolete Software, speaks to the heart of the matter.

This refers to software-based on functions found in older versions of databases and operating systems. An example of this can be found in old COBOL code that will not compile on new compilers due to the use of verbs no longer supported in the compiler. Many vendors try to make new releases of support software upwardly compatible. Still, there are usually cases where one minor area of non-support from the base system can cause a major revision of the system. The only other option is not to upgrade the support software. This decision can be justified for the short-term, but a point is usually reached where the software must either be replaced or modified.”

The other area Rice and Perry, points out with their 14th challenge, Incorrect or Inadequate Interfaces with other Systems, plays a massive role in many organizations.

“This means that the software does not correctly accept input (data, control, parameters, etc.) from other systems or sends incorrect output (data, control, parameters, print, etc.) to other systems. An example of this is when a system has electronic data interfaces (EDI) with external systems but does not correctly receive or format the information.” 

In June of 2007, Apple released the iPhone, and the world changed dramatically overnight.  Today we are a mobile society.  Plumbers take payments with the swipe on their phone, attorneys file legal documents from the courthouse steps with e-signatures, Apple Car Play has a Zoom integration, and you can conference with 100s of people while stuck in traffic. iPads, Tablets, Phones, and Laptops have changed the game.  Yet some business software requires things like PC Anywhere or LogMeIn to access from the road.  In the age of Covid, with more and more remote working occurring, it becomes exceptionally problematic as remote access software tends to be slow and unreliable.

Is It Time To Create?

So how do you know if your business or organization should consider investing in a custom software solution? When do you go off the shelf, and when do you go custom?  To answer that question, here are some things to think about?

  • Does my business or organization have a critical need that I’m having trouble finding a service to address?
  • Would my business be able to serve my customers with a custom application better?
  • Do my department’s applications need to be upgraded to work with other departments and vendors?
  • Is our current software challenging to use or outdated? Do employees complain about their use?
  • Is our current software cloud-based or easily accessible remotely?
  • Does our business need a new edge to take on the competition more effectively?

The odds of finding pre-made or off the shelf solutions to fulfill your requirements are slim if you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions. By investing in custom software solutions, your companies’ specific needs are targeted.  All of the things that slow you down or cause issues with your current setup are addressed. Facing the decision to create a custom product is not easy; the Coast Technology team and I encourage you to look at things from 30,000 feet.  Your current situation will not improve on its own, and you need to factor in future expansion. By choosing the right type of software now, you can simplify current operations, reduce errors, improve customer morale, and make your employee’s lives much more manageable for years to come.

One of the core beliefs of Coast Technology is the use of Agile Software Development principles. The term Agile Development came from a meeting with 17 prominent developers in 2001 in Snowbird, Utah. Until this meeting, many Agile concepts were known as Lightweight Software development, which was unfair because these concepts are anything but lightweight. Shortly after the meeting, the group published The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which defined the twelve principles that comprise the method. Those 12 principles are:

  1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
  3. Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
  4. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  5. Projects are built around motivated individuals who should be trusted
  6. A face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  11. Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective and adjusts accordingly

 

Some may say that these principles are just the description of the way all business should be conducted, whether it is software development or not. To that, I would agree wholeheartedly—especially number two, four, five, six, seven, ten, and twelve.

The second principle emphasizes adaptability and change. Too often in business and life, we get stuck on a particular path and are unwilling to make changes. The episode of the comedy The Office where Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute drive off a dock into the water simply because their car GPS said that is the way to go comes to mind here. Michael kept ignoring Dwight’s warnings because if you let the car GPS plan the path, you must follow it no matter what. Change Orders, to use a construction term, are a part of the business. Open minds and clear heads lead to innovative concepts and long-term business relationships.

Cooperation between client and developer is the hallmark of number four. Often, the staff of a project between two companies is at odds when both should work together for mutual benefit. I have heard, “the client is crazy,” many times in my career. Admittedly I have probably said it a few times myself. I’ve often been the point person between the organizations I worked for and the client. A knock on one of my former companies was that the client felt we were elitist and didn’t listen to them, which was strange because our staff felt the clients didn’t listen to us. When my partners and I started Coast Technology, we set out to break this mold. Now I am not saying it is all rainbows and gumdrops. Sometimes we go back and forth like the Hatfields and the McCoys. However, even in the most challenging times, both sides feel like they have a voice, and both sides make a conscious effort to listen to each other.

One of my partner’s favorite sayings is “Character Counts.” I think this applies nicely to the fifth principle. Trustworthiness and motivation are essential parts of character. I am fortunate to have a team of developers lead by Umair Majeed that is the definition of motivated. As an organization, perfection, creation, and doing things others say are impossible drive us more than the project’s financial aspect. Now I’m not saying we don’t like to make money, because we do. But it has always been my experience that if the idea is right, you give excellent service, you are committed to more than the dollars the money works itself out. I bring this up simply because the Principles of Agile Marketing guide one towards people who are motivated to do the right thing more than those who want a money grab.

A significant portion of our development operation is based in Madisonville, Louisiana. It wasn’t until after our company was formed that I began to notice the Cajun Silicon Valley that is developing in the Pelican State. Frankie Russo and 360° Auto, Shawn Burst and DMIO, CenturyLink, IBM are just some innovators that have Louisiana operations. One of the cornerstones of the Louisiana culture is doing business face to face. This concept also coincides with the sixth principle, which stresses Face to Face communication. Even in the age of COVID, we try to meet with our clients face to face when it is safe to do so. When it’s not safe and practical, zoom/meet still takes precedence over email, text, and slack. During development, emotions can run wild on both sides of the client/company equation. I have experienced keyboard bullies in all shapes and sizes in my career. Those same people who hide behind the keyboard are often much easier to deal with in person. What takes three or four email chains can repeatedly be hammered out in a single phone call or web conference. Agile Development seeks to streamline the process, so it is no coincidence that it would emphasize face-to-face communication.

As a kid, I enjoyed watching Popeye with my Pop-Pop. His favorite character was Wimpy, the ever short on cash hamburger loving gentleman. His catchphrase of “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” leads me into the 7th principle, which sets the bar on measurement. Simply put, a working piece of software should be the measuring stick. Early in my career, I had the case of the “next weeks.” Next week it will do this, or it will do that. Even today, I find myself always looking ahead. But experience has taught me that it is better to emphasize where you are rather than where you are going. If you have a development partner that is always pushing the goal line out and relying on subjective terms to measure progress, then you have a partner who is not Agile. If you can’t see the progress on the phone or screen in real-time, then it hasn’t taken a step forward, and indeed it is nothing to pat yourself on your back about.

Garth Brooks has a hit record in 1984 with Unanswered Prayers. Sitting the song’s spiritual aspect aside, it is a song that measures what didn’t happen in life versus what did occur. In the song, Brooks remembers a feeling of a deep desire for his high school flame. “She was the one that I’d wanted for all times, and each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine. And if he’d only grant me this wish I wished back then, I’d never ask for anything again.” Under the intense light of brainstorming or in the heat of development, ideas are born that seem so important at the time. However, with a little reflection and a good night’s sleep, what was feeling vital today can sometimes be left on the cutting room floor tomorrow. Agile Development honors the simplicity of what is done versus what got left behind. The 10th principal reminds us that there are power and insight to simplicity and leaving specific ideas on the bench like Garth’s high school girlfriend.  

I have to admit I have a fondness for TV medical dramas. I think it goes back to watching Trapper John MD and St. Elsewhere with my Mammaw. Even today, I make Chicago MD or Grey’s Anatomy a regular part of my week. In those shows, after someone dies, they have an M&M conference. Doctor friends tell me that the M&M is a real thing, although not as dramatic as their TV representations. M&M’s seek to find out what went wrong so that the next time a similar case presents itself, the team can work towards a more favorable outcome. Great development teams are no different. As the 12th principle points out, to be a genuinely Agile organization, you need to reflect on what has gone right and what has gone wrong. Improving your focus through introspection will pay off in reduced errors and faster lead times. Watching the game film of sorts is the most effective way to prepare for the next outcome or the next project.

Earlier I said these principles go well beyond development. The ones highlighted here today and the entire list can be applied easily to multiple verticals and situations. Choosing a development partner is never easy. Focus less on how and more on the why, and you’ll find that the decision becomes a bit clearer. Firms that use the Agile word in describing their approach are more likely to be the firms that you’ll be glad to recommend to your colleagues and friends again and again.