Hidden costs for building mobile apps: ThoughtWorks

For enterprises, ThoughtWorks head of technology Scott Shaw warned that building a mobile app is not as simple as just writing one and then throwing it up on the Apple App Store; entire IT architectures may require reworking.

When enterprises develop apps, they need to cater them to mobile devices first before even thinking about support for desktops or web browsers. But besides the initial costs required for app development, businesses may also have to invest more in their back-end systems to support it, according to ThoughtWorks head of technology Scott Shaw.

In its Technology Radar report for October, the custom software developer recognised that people are increasingly accessing data through mobile devices, and that this should be factored into enterprise application development.

Organisations that are looking to create apps need to take a "mobile-first" approach, whereby apps are designed to be accessed through mobile devices as a starting point, according to Shaw.

"When businesses start to build apps, normally they think in terms of making desktop or web applications," he told ZDNet. "But forward-thinking businesses are starting to say, OK, let's build an app that works great on a mobile device, and then we can enhance it for larger devices as necessary.'

"There's this feeling of responsive [web] design, which has gained a lot of traction in the past year."

Responsive web design is when a website can provide optimal viewing experiences across multiple devices.

But for enterprises, Shaw warned that building a mobile app is not as simple as just writing one and then throwing it up on the Apple App Store. In some cases, the enterprise data systems that feed these applications don't quite accommodate for access via mobile devices, he said.

"What we see happening is the adoption of mobile for client devices is driving businesses into rethinking their enterprise IT architectures, the types of services, and the way they expose data, not just to mobile devices, but through other channels that may not even have been thought up yet," Shaw said. "That means using web as an integration fabric for their enterprise data to create services that can be consumed in a variety of different ways."

That spells additional costs for companies that may have to approach their IT systems in a different way, he said.

Shaw used one of ThoughtWorks' clients, Realestate.com.au, as an example. The software developer helped Realestate.com.au to design and build its iPhone app, which had to access data from the company's internal systems over the web. This eventually led to another project, which involved creating APIs for a variety of Realestate.com.au partners to access the core data to create even more apps as a method of syndication.

Realestate.com.au no doubt had to spend more money beyond just constructing an app — but in order to stay competitive and innovative, enterprises need to spend those extra dollars, according to Shaw.

"Having to create new services that translate existing enterprise data so it's more easily consumed on mobile devices, or rebuild core systems so they can expose data safely in the right format that can be consumed by mobile, is a much bigger investment than just writing apps and getting them up on an App Store for marketing purposes," he said. "The companies that want to be competitive are definitely doing that now."