How many engineers does it take to build a mobile app in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business? Believe it or not, the answer can be zero.
This is mainly due to two reasons. One is that most SaaS businesses still don’t have a mobile app. And two, if it isn’t the core-value proposition, most don’t want to invest in building an internal team. According to the latest report by Strategy Analytics, the small and medium-sized (SMB) market for mobile SaaS would grow from a $6.7 billion in 2012 market to reach $19.7 billion by 2017. That’s a huge jump in an overall SaaS market that’s touted to be over $92 billion by 2016, based on a Forrester forecast.
SaaS is largely consumed over the web on a desktop or a laptop device rather than the mobile devices. The reason being that the products are far too complex and the workflows far to elaborate to compress within a small device. But, a mobile app needn’t do everything the web app does. In fact, most mobile apps of SaaS businesses are built as value adds or dashboards that provide reporting to key stakeholders at the customer end.
The question today isn’t so much about whether your SaaS business requires a mobile app but whether it should be built in-house or not. Here are some questions to consider.
1. What is the core-value offering?
This requires a bit of soul searching if you’re an early-stage company, but if you’re already deep entrenched in your customer segment mind space, then you already know the answer. Is your core offering a web-led product? If yes, you’ve already taken the path to build the web product in-house. Does it merit building a mobile app as well in-house, when that is more a value add than a core offering?
We go back to the first ever question raised in this article: How many engineers does it take to build a mobile app in a SaaS business? The real answer is that it could take a team of five to seven people if you want to produce and maintain a mobile app. If a web app is your core offering, you may not want to invest in building an in-house mobility team until you get traction or validation for your first couple of versions of the app.
2. Does anyone on your team have the skills you need?
Let’s consider that you’re evaluating building a mobile app and would want to do it internally as opposed to outsourcing the development. What you need to assess is whether you have people in your company who can double up or take off to build a mobile app.
Typically, you’d require a business analyst (if you’re documenting the product functionalities and workflow), user interface (UI) / user experience (UX) designer (could potentially double up if they understand usability for mobile devices), backend developers (you don’t have to look around for them when you already have a web app), front-end native app developers (Android and iOS developers) and test engineers.
For the last two resources, the developers and testers, unless one has experience in building or testing for that environment, they most often struggle to put out an efficient app and the result is a shoddy, half-baked product.
Related: 10 Reasons Not to Build a Mobile App
3. Do you have the bandwidth / resources?
This is an important question. Especially, if the core-value offering is a web app, do you have the bandwidth to manage another project or the resources -- time and people -- to build it from scratch?
According to OpenView market survey, cheap and quick mobile development runs the risk of being an ineffective waste of time and resources. One of the biggest reasons why outsourcing is preferred is to get a cost benefit -- you don’t have to invest in time and money for recruiting and training a team of professionals, and by leveraging global IT teams, you get a cost benefit straight off. So, faster product time to market and greater return on investment (ROI) by outsourcing the development.
4. What is the engineering process for outsourcing?
If you’ve decided to outsource the mobile product development, you have to make sure that your vendor’s engineering process is aligned to your company’s. More importantly, when you’re going to leverage a developer as a service company, your internal tech lead or project manager would be overseeing the project. The vendor’s engineering process should align with your internal to build efficiencies in the development process and also to make for a smoother project management process.
If you’re outsourcing the entire project of product development to the vendor, then make sure your product manager does timely follow-ups -- at least bi-weekly sprints -- to check on the progress and overall team and product alignment to your goals.
Whatever you decide, it isn’t an option today to not have a mobile app. Mobile focused companies are growing 70 percent faster than those with a supplementary focus on mobile, according to the OpenView survey highlights.