A new age of ‘digital urgency’ has dawned for app development

The world is a very different place from this time last year.

One example of this is that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies across the world to innovate in order to support employees working from home and customers who can no longer visit stores most effectively.

At the heart of this transformation are electronic devices. They’ve been evolving rapidly over the last decade. Yet for the last 12 months, almost all of us have been working with colleagues, talking to friends and relatives and buying products and services via laptops, tablets and mobile phones. Apps are the vehicles for us to do that.

As a result, apps have been (and remain) a critical element of companies’ rapid digital transformation and in delivering their capabilities – irrespective of their location, sector or size. They also create more of a level playing field and allow anyone to compete, as we’ve seen in the financial services industry with app-based ‘challenger banks’. However, the challenge comes in how those apps are developed and how long they take to go live.

Just before the pandemic struck, we commissioned some independent research to look at application development times for our annual report on the state of application development. The research found that the majority of apps took between three and six months to deliver, with some taking over a year.

While that was acceptable then – in a pre-pandemic world – delivery times of more than three months now seem like a lifetime in the new era of ‘digital urgency’, where the situation can change rapidly, and apps must be updated or changed completely to meet the new requirements (and expectations) of users.

And, as a result, businesses can no longer take a siloed approach to development, with developers being given a brief and delivering an app in three months’ time as a fait accompli. Whether an app is for an internal or external audience, the team needs to take a more agile approach, developing a first version quickly and then iterating over time, based on feedback, in order to develop apps that meet exact requirements and are focused on user experience.

For that reason, everyone involved in the project – not just those focused on the technology elements – from senior stakeholders to representatives from the lines of business – need to be involved from the beginning and throughout the process, in order to provide the feedback needed to steer the project to the desired outcome. This too benefits from reduced development times, as people only have to focus on the app for a period of days or weeks, rather than months.

We’ve seen this time and again with our customers using apps both to respond to the pandemic and in day-to-day operations – across the public and private sectors – but one example in the UK that highlights what I’ve been saying is Worcestershire County Council.

Realising the impact the pandemic and associated restrictions could have on its service delivery, it developed five apps that would allow it to protect staff, help it continue to provide its services and plan contingency measures, along with offering new services to help its more vulnerable residents.

Initial versions of the five apps were developed by the digital team within 24 hours and then refined based on feedback from internal stakeholders so that they met the rapidly evolving requirements of the teams involved, including HR and Public Health.

The apps then went live in under a fortnight, which allowed Worcestershire County Council to continue to deliver – and even expand – its services to its residents, whilst planning for future requirements and updating apps to meet the ever-changing situation.

While apps won’t always be needed to respond to a global pandemic or seismic shifts in working practices, there is no doubt that they are now at the heart of all our personal and working lives. As a result, the expectation from users is greater than ever, so making sure they’re fit for purpose has never been more important. And part of that is the time it takes to get apps live and updated, when required. Long gone are the days of having months to do that – as we now live in a new ‘age of digital urgency’.

Goncalo Gaiolas, VP of Product, OutSystems