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The Challenges App Agencies Face in 2017

One of the questions we are often asked at Kumulos is what are the challenges app agencies face in 2017? Well, where better to find out than in Barcelona as, once a year, over one hundred thousand people who work in mobile telecomms, handsets and apps descend on the Gran Via conference centre for the spectacle that is Mobile World Congress.

In amongst the glitz and glamour of the latest handsets, drones, VR headsets and IoT sensors are the mobile app development agencies who are at the heart of this industry, constantly driving innovation forward with their expectant clients. App agencies don’t just come to Mobile World Congress to win new business, they come to look at new trends in technology and consider how these trends will impact their clients and therefore themselves. I was lucky enough to spend four days in Barcelona with some of the world’s top mobile app development agencies and discuss this with them and, now that a week has passed and the dust has settled, can reflect on the main challenges app agencies face in 2017.

While the technology itself may change, keeping abreast of the latest technology is always one of the challenges mobile app agencies face in 2017. Colin Sykes, Digital Account Manager at XDesign who speciliaze in helping clients vizualize big data on a small screen says that, for them, “Educating customers on everything that is becoming possible with big data sets on mobile” is a constant challenge. The Edinburgh based agency has solved what Colin sees as one of the biggest challenges app agencies face in 2017 by holding Design Sprints with clients in order to, as Colin put it, “Fully bake the idea”.

In a busy, time constrained, mobile app development agency, proactive client education is often overlooked. As Karl Sakas from agency specialists Sakas And Company wrote in a recent blog post, one-to-one client education “has a place for unique situations, but not for your most-asked questions. Do your core client education on a one-to-many basis.”

This all resonates with Emily Horgan, Mobile Experience Consultant at Bemo. “Knowing the right technologies to focus on is one of the challenges app agencies face in 2017. Customers may think they want an Alexa app but is Amaxon Echo really the right technology for them? At Bemo, we try and see past the technology and focus on the problem we are solving for them and finding the right solution for that via User Research and Design Sprints. This approach will guarantee a successful outcome for the customer.”

The value of such Design Sprints is not to be underestimated and it is therefore no surprise that successful mobile app agencies now have the confidence to charge for a service that, in days gone by, they would have effectively given away for free during the tendering process. The London office of global digital agency Mirum are even offering a free Innovation Sprint as differentiator for prospective clients.

But as networks get faster and handsets become more powerful, mobile app agencies have to know what is possible in order to be the trusted advisor for both existing and new clients. The justifiable hype around Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) is why keeping abreast of latest tech trends is one the main challenges app agencies face in 2017.

For Ross Tuffee, CEO of DogFi.sh Mobile, “Identifying the specific use-case around IoT” is the biggest challenge app agencies face in 2017 “Why should I connect my toaster to the Internet?” for example (other than the obvious use case of course of alerting your personal trainer when you succumb to a couple of slices of toast an hour after your last HIIT session!).

The relative immaturity of these new technologies does not help easily solve the challenges app agencies face in 2017. Dan Burgar, President of the Vancouver chapter of the VR/AR Association and Business Development Director of VR studio ArchiactVR, bemoans the lack of analytics in Virtual Reality. “It is still early and widespread adoption hasn’t hit yet, but when it does, customers will want to know where are users looking in the experience and what can we do better? Also, think about the importance of this data for advertising purposes for example. No one is really doing this.”

So was attending Mobile World Congress worthwhile for busy mobile development app agencies and has being there helped them solve these challenges app agencies face in 2017?

For some, this is indeed an important part of why they came to MWC 2017, and will come back to MWC 2018 next year. Taavi Tammiste, Head of Data Science at the Estonian based, software and product development company Mooncascade. “We don’t just come to Mobile World Congress to find customers, we want to find partners who can help us improve our business”.

I went to ask Rory Mudie of New York and London based App Store Optimization specialists Redbox Mobile, if Mobile World Congress had been worthwhile. As he would only answer my question if I agreed to accompany him on a tour of the App Planet exhibition while he was looking for ideas for their stand for MWC 2018, I’ll take that as a resounding “Yes!”.

However, as Vuk Pupovic, CEO of Serbia based Web Development and IT Consulting firm Quantox Technology, reminded me; Yes, the technical challenges app agencies face in 2017 are not insignificant, but as long as the outsource app development market remains an extremely fast-growing, hot market to be in with no shortage of demand for their services, the business challenges app agencies face in 2017 are even more important to solve if app agencies are to exploit this opportunity. “To be honest, I haven’t really had a chance to think about where we will be at the end of 2017 – I’ve been too busy attending shows, following up on leads, onboarding new clients and hiring new staff.”

So, while the likes of AR/VR and IoT are technical challenges app agencies face in 2017, mobile app development agencies have very good track record of rising to new technical challenges and also have a solid plan centered around User Research and Design Sprints to guide their customers to the right solution for them. Therefore, are the biggest challenges app agencies face in 2017 the even more familiar business challenges?

Gustavo De La Vega, Founder and CEO of Colombian agency NativApps certainly thinks so “We have customers that operate in a wide range of industries including health care, telecomms and logistics to name a few. Every market has different challenges but if you ask me about one that’s common in all industries, it would be managing the customer relationship and the experience that your customer has with your product or service. NativApps Inc has grown at 15% per month for each of the last 16 months and we want to consolidate our presence in Europe. Definitely keeping that pace of growth is a huge challenge for us.”

So it would seem that it is indeed the business challenges app agencies face in 2017 that are the most important for them to solve if they are to continue exploit the massive opportunity that lies ahead for them. Many mobile app development agencies like Chelsea Apps Factory, one of the UK’s largest app agencies, grow by working with clients as digital partner on a retainer bases to constantly measure and optimize app performance in order to deliver real business impact for their clients. I asked Mike Anderson, CEO of CAF, if he had confidence in their ability to rise to the business challenges ahead and of their prospects for 2017. His response? Quite simply… “Very!”