Enterprise Sponsored Consumer Apps - Development Options

Over the years, the word outsourcing has developed a very negative connotation. However, the reality is that in many scenarios companies do have to consider outsourcing product development. In this blog we examine the various development options available to companies when building consumer facing mobile products. You can use this as a guide to help you think through options that you should consider when developing a new product.

Consumer facing apps within an enterprise are generally sponsored by one of three entities - product or digital, sales and marketing, or customer service. In the table below we look at the type of apps produced by each of these entities, and some examples for each type of app.


Sponsoring Entity Description Examples
Product  Core product or service being offered is  digital  Bloomberg for iPadPayPal HereNike+
Sales and Marketing  Application helps drive marketing  campaigns, or maximize sales Iron Man 3 - The Official Game ,Ikea CatalogCoca-Cola Freestyle
Customer Service  Application helps improve customer service  and experience SQ Mobile, Hilton HHonors

I next combined this with the hiring internally vs. outsourcing development framework that I put forth all the way back in our second blog post

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The key idea put forth there was that unless you are an information technology company and building your core product, outsourcing development should always be on the table. Based on this I looked at the app examples above, and at the options one should have considered when developing these apps.

Example Company Type Product Type Optimal Strategy
Bloomberg for iPad Finance/Tech Core Develop In--house
PayPal Here Finance/Tech Core Develop In-house
Nike+ Fashion/Apparel & Accesories Core It depends
Iron Man 3 - The Official Game Media & Entertainment/Various Non-Core Outsource
Ikea Catalog Retail/Furniture Non-Core Outsource
Coca-Cola Freestyle CPG/Food & Beverage Non-Core Outsource
SQ Mobile Transportation/Airline Core It depends
Hilton HHonors Accommodation/Hotel & Lodging Core It depends

However, outsourcing is a very broad term, and there are a plethora options to consider when looking to outsource. Below are the primary and secondary options available for the examples mentioned above in scenarios where outsourcing should have been in play.

Example Full Service SI*/Consulting Full Service
Boutique Consulting/Industry Boutique Consulting/Mobile Licensed
Iron Man 3      
Ikea Catalog      
Coca-Cola Freestyle      
SQ Mobile      
Hilton HHonors      
* = Systems Integrator;  - Primary Option;  ✔ = Secondary Option

Lets consider the rationale for each of the selections above: 

  •  Nike+: Here the product is part of a core product or service that company is providing, hence if the company has the ability to develop it in-house then the company should. That said, the development of the app itself could be outsourced to a team that specializes in mobile product development. Alternately, a full service agency can be used, however the company might or might not require the additional services that a full service agency offers, and hence might end up paying a higher margin than is required.
  • Iron Man 3 - The Official Game: The general industry norm here is to license out game development to external entities, which is what Marvel did here, and it remains the recommended strategy. Outside of this, engaging with a company that specializes in game development for media companies can also be a potential option. 
  • Ikea Catalog: A catalog is probably something that the company releases on a periodic (quarterly, semi-annual or annual) basis, and hence the company should have standard templates and forms that it can use to develop the digital collateral internally, however in the case of this particular app, Ikea was rolling out an augmented reality feature. They could have considered a full-service marketing agency for this, but given the degree of specialization required, a mobile development team that specializes in augmented reality should have been the primary option. 
  • Coca-Cola Freestyle: This app was primarily built to support the discovery of Coke's new freestyle machines. Releasing this app should have been part of a wider product marketing campaign, and hence should have been managed by the full service agency responsible for the campaign. This full-service agency would then have the option of developing the application internally, or outsourcing it to a specialized mobile product development team.
  •  SQ Mobile and HIlton HHonors: In both these case the apps have some very deep integration into the back end systems, including hotel and airline reservation systems, real-time flight scheduling systems, CRM systems, and ERP systems. This type of work is best handled internally or by a full-service Systems Integrator (SI), or a boutique consulting firm that specializes in that particular industry. The development of the front end of the mobile app itself could very well have then been outsourced to a mobile product development team to maximize the UX/UI and development expertise offered by the specialized mobile product development team.

In conclusion, while the decision to build internally vs. to outsource is an important one, it is equally as important to consider the options available when outsourcing and to choose the option that makes most sense for a given scenario. 


International Airline Carriers - Travel Apps & Mobility Readiness

Last week I examined the mobile readiness of apps developed by the 6 largest US airline carriers. This week I did the same with popular international carriers. Below is a table outlining their mobile readiness, as well as availability on and ratings across the major mobile device platforms available.

App Landing Page Responsive Web Mobile Web iPhone iPad Android Windows Phone Blackberry
British Airways No No  ★★★
 Compatible ★★★½
Virgin Atlantic No Yes  ★★½
 Compatible n/a n/a n/a
Air France No Yes ★★½
Compatible ★★★½
Lufthansa No Yes ★★★½
Singapore Airlines No Yes ★★
Compatible ★★★½
n/a n/a
Cathay Pacific No Yes ★★★
n/a ★★½
Emirates No Yes n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

Next, I dove a level deeper to examine the core features supported by each airline on their primary mobile apps.

Feature British Virgin Air France Lufthansa Singapore Air Cathay Pacific
Book Flights   ✔ (iOS)
Check In
Flight Status Push Notifications          
Flight Status and Schedules
Multi-Passenger Check In          
Rewards Status  
Flight Details        
E-Boarding Pass    
In Flight Service Guide          
Alternate Flight Options          
Social Media Integration        
Passbook Integration          
Seat Change          
Weather Information          
In-flight Tracker          
City Guides          
Misc. Fun        
Fare Alerts/Offers          
Upgrade Offers        
Personal Travel Details          
My Trips  
Redemption Bookings          
World Wide Office Directory          
SMS Customer Service          
Virtual Club Tours          
Crew Profiles          
Multi-language support Y (25) N Y (11) Y (12) Y (10) Y (2 partial)

Similar to some observations made in last weeks post, a few things in particular stood out:

  • Like their US counterparts, none of the major international carriers have responsive web sites. As pointed out last week, with the device ecosystem continuing to fragment, and with the current state of the sites built for mobile (again equally as unimpressive as their US counterparts), responsive web design will become a standard sooner rather than later.
  • Apps are an extension of your brand, but they have to have a minimum feature set to be useful. Virgin Atlantic has arguably the most fun brand of any major airline worldwide, and while it delivers on the fun aspect of things, it does little else that can be deemed useful. Not surprisingly, their iPhone app is rated poorly and has attracted some very harsh reviews on iTunes. What is surprising though is that they are the only major carrier that we looked at that has built an app for iOS, but not for Android.
  • Unsurprisingly, unlike their US counterparts, the apps of most major international airlines support multiple languages, with British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines all supporting at least 10 different languages. 
  • Unlike their US counterparts, most international airlines continue to build and support Blackberry apps - this makes sense given that Blackberry's international sales have been their own really bright spot over the last half dozen years. That said, none of the airlines' Blackberry apps have stellar ratings. 
  • Again like their US counterparts, only a minority of the international airlines that we looked at (namely Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific) have tried to take advantage of the larger form-factor afforded by the iPad and built a native app for it. There could be some significant opportunities here that the airlines might be missing out on.
  • The most obvious observation of all: Emirates, which has consistently been considered amongst the three best airlines in the world, does not yet have a mobile app! 

In my view, like their US counterparts, popular international airlines are in the 3rd inning of their evolution to mobile - they too have gone past very rudimentary mobile web sites, built apps, and are now starting to pack on features. The next step would be to step away from features for a bit, assess and enhance overall user experience, and then move towards some more innovative applications of mobile. One example of this is Singapore Airlines doing something very interesting in combining customer service with mobile via. something called PPS connect  (now integrated into their mobile apps). Essentially with PPS connect, customers when traveling internationally, can send an SMS to Singapore Airlines' customer service, who will then call you back within 30 minutes of receiving the SMS. I think the future for providing these type of superior customer service interactions integrated into your mobile app experience offers some very exciting opportunities for the airline industry.