Are you building an enterprise aspiration app?

Are you building an enterprise aspiration app?

Photo by reynermedia

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

What is an aspiration app?

An aspiration app is developed for the purpose of boosting an enterprise team’s career prospects, impressing the upper management, getting promoted, or landing a higher paying job. An aspiration app is not meant to solve real-life business problems even thought it is pitched to do so.

So how does this work? Normally a group of marketing managers, IT managers, system analysts, and business analysts get together and initiate the idea of building an app to address an 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 of all it starts with a design by committee approach and everybody contributes some document 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 easily adds up to 50 or 100 pages. There is more focus on form than function, because the purpose of the app is to create a wow effect rather than improving an actual business workflow. There are no plans for future iterations and improvement. No usability testing happens No user feedbacks are 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 who can deliver an impressive looking app with the long list of requested features and charges the lowest possible fees. It would be largely naive if any app development agency try 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 is futile and will land in the trashcan, because the aspiration app is going to be disposed once it served its purpose. It is going to be launched on the app store, showcased in annual meetings and seminars, but hardly ever get used.

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

Aspiration apps can be a source of cashflow for the app development agencies who are willing to work bellow 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 who hired them on their client list. These agencies are not aiming to earn long term relationships with their clients and 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 do serve a purpose. They boost people’s careers within a 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 mean time, if you have initiated a mobile or cloud app development project to solve an ongoing problem within your organization, know the difference. 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 be constantly building, testing, and gathering feedbacks. Real solutions start simple and highly focus 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 actually 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 specialized in knowledge system apps and services.

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