How To Select A Mobile Vendor

It is estimated that smartphone and tablet mobile projects will soon outnumber native PC projects by 4 to 1, and development of mobile apps will easily reduce the productivity of enterprise development teams by as much as 20% – perhaps more.

At the same time, an increasing number of organizations are either considering mobile, are already mobile, or are expanding their mobile efforts. Those that are considering mobile vendors generally fall into one of two categories:

1) First Foray: You’ve just crossed the threshold where it makes business sense to provide a mobile app, or apps, to staff. As well, and depending on the nature of your organization and mission, you may wish to serve clients, customers, volunteers, the public, etc. with a measure of the same enablements.

2) Existing Expansion: You crossed the threshold some time ago, but your initial foray into mobile apps is no longer serving mission requirements and people effectively. At the same time, your present mobile vendor shows evidence of being a poor fit to your future; hence, consideration of another one.

More than any other consideration, choosing the right mobile vendor for you is the most important aspect regarding your mobile efforts. Some may be thinking, “But if goals are not properly identified, business stakeholder engagement not mounted, needs and expectations not made clear, milestones not specified, empirical measures not in place – how in the world can mobile initiatives deliver to valid goals and outcomes? Is not the project the most important aspect?”

To that, we can fairly say: It’s a reasonable assumption that your organization knows how to specify and mount projects, and to project manage those to successful conclusion – assuming you have the right vendor as a solutions partner. Otherwise, you can write the best project plan in the world, but if you have the wrong vendor(s) in the mix, you’re going to be in for a big hurt. So, again, choosing the right mobile vendor is paramount. Also, recognize that the right mobile vendor is quite qualified to help you identify and tune all of those aforementioned project elements. Choose wisely.

Let’s examine three very important areas of consideration in supporting your best choice:

Experience: Qualify the vendor: Is mobile a central offering? Or a tangential one? In other words, don’t select a web vendor who dabbles with mobile. How many apps has the vendor delivered? What do these apps do, and accomplish, in the “real world”?

At the same time, avoid vendors who specialize exclusively in mobile, or who cater primarily to mobile. As reinforcement to this caution: Mobile engenders data synchronization and server requests that create an increased demand and burden on present processing and architecture. As another, mobile may demand necessary customizations elsewhere in the enterprise – for example: You may need to update, add, or alter web services. Therefore, you want a vendor who understands the integration of mobile (or its expansion) to your environment in a holistic way. Pick a vendor that has solid experience in the realm of the enterprise, and that understands mobile’s berth within it. Minimally, choose a vendor that does custom enterprise development as well as mobile.

References: Verify experience through references – which really is to say, verify quality experience: Verify success. Verify customer satisfaction. Seek three references, and ask for at least one with whom the vendor has done multiple projects. Talk to these folks. Ask them if the project(s) met the goals; ask about their level of satisfaction.

Does each particular mobile solution enhance the mission, and deliver the proper information and enablements to people? Did the project(s) come in on time, on budget, and on target?

Confidence: Assess the vendor’s, and yours. As to theirs, assess whether the vendor answers your questions effectively: Do they have ready answers? Do their answers truly fit the questions? That is, beware non sequiturs and over-long “answers” that don’t really answer. Place a premium on plain-speaking.

As to yours, how confident are you that the vendor can understand and align to your mobile strategy? How confident are you that the vendor will be a true solutions partner – one that will make valid suggestions for maintaining your currency vis-à-vis today’s business requirements and challenges, and those of the future? How confident are you that the vendor knows how to make efficient progressions and deliveries, as opposed to meandering through a project and burning development hours ($$$)? Ask them about each of these, and assess the responses.

Just as importantly, query the vendor regarding their understanding and support of these business fundamentals:

1) Delivery of the best ROI: You want the best returns on your investments possible. Returns not only mean “bang for the buck,” but you must have a fitted solution – one that delivers to those exacting requirements of the project; not only technical aspects, but the business needs and expectations. Quality Returns, in other words.

2) Effective TCO: Total Cost of Overhead is not only the initial budget and outlay in crafting and delivering something for the Go-Live of Day One. It includes considerations of maintenance and upgrades in serving the demands of the future. Those future demands will be both technical, and business. How easily, and affordably, will our apps be upgraded for new versions of platforms and peripherals? How easily, and affordably, modified will they be for new demands by business?

3) TTV: Time To Value is important – we want vendors who deliver according to the dates promised, quite naturally – but in the first place, we want reasonable timelines leading to the earliest possible dates of service and solution. To employ a little hyperbole: If something can solve and serve today as opposed to tomorrow, by all means lets have it today (with all due considerations of prudency, safety and security, of course).

Remember – when assessing potential vendors, and ranking them against one another, evaluate: Their experience; the fit and quality of their deliveries; their customers’ satisfaction; their expressed confidence in bringing satisfaction to you; and finally, your comfort with the anticipated fit to your organization and its needs.

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