Are you building an enterprise aspiration app?

This topic came up last week while having coffee with Boris Mann and talking about the state of consulting and product development in Vancouver and other markets. I should give him credit for inventing the term: Aspiration App.

What is an aspiration app?

An aspiration app is developed to boost an enterprise team’s career prospects, impress upper management, get promoted, or land a higher-paying job. An aspiration app is not meant to solve real-life business problems, even though it is pitched to do so.

So how does this work? Usually, a group of marketing managers, IT managers, system analysts, and business analysts get together and initiate the idea of building an app to address ongoing problems within the organization – except that it doesn’t – and the main goal is to build an impressive portfolio piece.

What are some of the characteristics of an aspiration app? First, it starts with a design-by-committee approach, and everybody contributes some documents and input on how the app should be and the list of features. It is a classic Waterfall Model where every aspect of a complete app is discussed in advance. The technical design specification quickly adds up to 50 or 100 pages. There is more focus on form than function because the app aims to create a wow effect rather than improving a business workflow. There are no plans for future iterations and improvement. No usability testing happens. No user feedback is collected. The team assumes that they know all the needs and wants of the end users. After all, what’s the point of usability testing and agile development if the app isn’t going to be used by anyone?

Then the search for an app development agency starts, and they ask for bids. The idea is to find an agency that can deliver an impressive-looking app with a long list of requested features and charges the lowest possible fees. It would be largely naive if any app development agency tried to discuss concepts such as agile development and improving the app through multiple development cycles, iterative design improvement, usability testing, etc.

All the efforts to educate this corporate team are futile and will land in the trashcan because the Aspiration app will be disposed of once it served its purpose. It will be launched on the app store and showcased in annual meetings and seminars, but it hardly ever gets used.

Meanwhile, the organization will continue to deal with its daily business problems using slow and traditional means such as paper documents and Microsoft Office tools. Sometimes a few lucky employees find software as a service (SAAS) solutions that they can subscribe to using their company credit card and allowance to increase productivity.

Aspiration apps can be a source of cash flow for app development agencies willing to work below the going market rate just so they can pay the bills for a few more months and be able to flash the logo of a large company that hired them on their client list. These agencies do not aim to earn long-term relationships with their clients but instead depend on short-term opportunities that aspiration app teams provide them.

So what is the problem?

As wasteful and pointless the aspiration apps may seem, we understand and acknowledge that they serve a purpose. They boost people’s careers within bureaucratic and seniority-based organizations. They also provide a source of income for agencies who win the bids to take on those projects. When there is a supply and demand, there is a market.

In the meantime, know the difference if you have initiated a mobile or cloud app development project to solve an ongoing problem within your organization. It is possible that the aspiration app team momentarily steal all the upper management’s attention to themselves, but their party will end soon. Real business problems aren’t always as exciting and aspiring on the surface. Building solutions for them requires going through many development cycles during which you will constantly build, test, and gather feedback. Real solutions start simple and are highly focused on solving a specific problem. Then they are gradually grown and refined over time. They also cost a lot more than aspiration apps because they are being used, and all that bug fixing, refining, and new features require time, money, and expertise.

rmdStudio is an enterprise mobile app development and consulting company specializing in knowledge system apps and services.

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