Maintaining an app is critical to its overall success

Roy Chomko

    Roy Chomko

With the popularity of smartphones, tablets and enhanced mobile connectivity, nearly every business is eyeing some type of app development program to better reach current and potential customers. While executives are usually happy to carve out budget for an app's development and launch, many fail to incorporate the long term costs of an app as well.

As developers know, there is much more to an application than turning it on and letting users enjoy it. You wouldn't purchase a new home without expecting to invest in maintenance jobs like painting, cleaning, mowing, etc. The same should be true for applications. You may want the latest, flashiest app features, but is that application maintainable over the long term?

Developers need to plan for countless updates, improvements and fixes. Prescient development partners will help their clients plan ahead. Most actually incorporate a maintenance charge into contracts. The industry norm for software maintenance is about 15 to 20 percent of the original development costs. So if your app cost $100,000 to build, roundly estimate to pay about $20,000 per year to maintain the app.

That may sound expensive. And for many companies who don't go into the app development process prepared, it is expensive. However, the biggest mistake company executives and their development partners make is trying to create a perfect, bullet-proof application from the start. All they are really doing is overspending on initial costs. In fact, an off-quoted Standish Group report found that 45 percent of typical application features (both web and mobile) are never used and another 19 percent are rarely used. Your goal as a company should be to avoid making those features.

The reality is that no matter how many bells and whistles you include in the original app, there will be a flood of user feedback (positive and negative) almost immediately after its release. Since these users will ultimately determine if your app is a success, smart developers let them dictate app features.

The way they do that is by starting with small, simple app releases and adapting based on consumer feedback. Called end-user development, it's a plan that not only makes your app more beneficial to users, but it also cuts down on both short-term and long-term costs.

Small changes will almost always be necessary, making it sensible to keep your initial development investment down. Release a light version of the app and prepare to release small patches, upgrades and improvements throughout the next few months. Those lighter tweaks and feature additions are also less costly and take much less time than having to completely redo or eliminate a feature gone wrong.

 Many of those small tweaks should actually be planned before the app ever debuts. By scheduling monthly upgrades and improvements, you can address basic problems before unveiling extra features that may further complicate things. Then, you can prioritize which enhancements or bug fixes are next in line.

The video game industry does this to great effect with its "downloadable content" model. By planning add-ons ahead of time, you can properly assess customer feedback during the apps lifetime, as well as before. That feedback will help you decide which issues need to be addressed first and which features customers want most.

Another key factor in your app maintenance costs will be which platform you choose to develop with. If you decide to develop native apps for each phone platform (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc.), be prepared for inflated maintenance budgets. That's because when you choose to update/fix/enhance your native app, you'll have to do separate work on each device's developing platform. So if you do have an iPhone, Android and BlackBerry app, you're essentially doing three times the work. Each time you release an upgrade you'll also have to deal with the platform's corresponding app store. Getting the required approval for each online storefront one can slow down the pace at which you can beam updates to your users.

To cut these problems out, more developers are choosing Web applications, specifically using the feature-rich and continually updated HTLM5 Web standard. Web applications allow businesses to develop just one app that can be accessed by all devices, through the Web browser. The problem with previous Web app platforms is that they often struggled to reach the capabilities of native apps, which are downloaded directly to a mobile device. HTML5 changes that by offering more functionality than previous web app platforms could. For this reason, more developers are recommending HTML5 as a more efficient way of creating an app, both for initial costs and maintenance costs after release.

In general, maintenance of your application is just as, if not more, important than the launch. Like your own home, if it hasn't been shown some handiwork love in a while, it will fall into disrepair. Proper bug fixes, upgrades and improvements are a must to develop user loyalty. In general, end users appreciate even the most minor enhancements. Even the smallest wins show users you care about their feedback, building faith that you will continue to do so.  By building in a maintenance plan early in the process and prioritizing updates afterward, you can keep your maintenance costs downs and your customers happy.

Roy Chomko co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001. Chomko has over 20 years of experience in technology sales, consulting, and development. Prior to founding Adage, Chomko was a principle of a Cisco VAR and a web development firm in the late 1990s. Chomko has also held business development positions with Wolfram Research and GE Capital.