IT SEEMS just about every business or cause out there has launched a mobile app, with many doing so because they fear being left behind the curve, rather than placing innovation at the heart of their app strategy. The fear is not unfounded: recent predictions by Strategy Analytics suggest an average 13% year-on-year growth of smartphone usage over the next five years in SA.

However, putting your business on the app map without understanding why your business needs one, what the app is going to do, what value it’s going to add, and what any unintended consequences may be, could put your reputation – and your business – at risk.

According to Statista, there are currently over 2.2-million apps available for download on leading app stores – half a million more than in 2015. With the rapid growth of the app market in the last few years, organisations will find it especially difficult to attract attention to their app if they have not considered the strategic relevance, the potential risks, and unique value of their product.

A case in point is a recent conservation-focused application that encouraged wildlife lovers to tag the locations where they spotted game. It’s a great idea if your intentions are honourable, but had the unexpected consequence of providing animal locations to poachers – with dire consequences for their targets.

From banking to healthcare, apps are being launched by the minute. It has never been truer that if you can dream it, there’s probably an app for it – and this has triggered the upsurge in app development across industries. Also, with so much on offer, not only are people much pickier with what they choose to install on their phones, but the market is now saturated with programmes and software people no longer have any use for.

Some businesses tend to fall into the trap of trying to emulate the success of hugely successful apps that attract millions of downloads and get everyone talking, but do you want your brand to be a part of someone’s else’s conversation, when users compare it (favourably or negatively) to someone else’s solution?

Similarly, many businesses believe that having an app puts them at the forefront of innovation. However, having an app does not instantly make you innovative. Adapting your business model in a way that responds to your customers’ needs makes you innovative, and offering them an application to engage with you is a tool, not a strategy.

Successful apps represent a unique offering that changes the way we experience the world and are designed to improve our interactions with people, places and even brands.

Organisations that get it right are those that workshop risks involved, consumers’ experience of the brand and existing business challenges.

Brands with successful apps are those that understand that these are part of a broader business focus. There’s no point in positioning the app as a way to communicate with the brand, and then not having anyone in place trained to respond to any communication, or indeed the logistical support in place to fulfil promises.

Globally, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines developed an app that epitomises its vision to improve the travelling experience of all its passengers, designed to anticipate their needs without any manual input of their preferences. For instance, based on their previous flight choices, it suggests the best seats for passengers’ needs during the booking process.

Many "doomsday" tech analysts believe apps are about to go extinct because of the fast pace of evolution in technology. While there may be some foundation for this in other markets, South Africans are a lot more practical in their approach to tech than those elsewhere in the world. We’re still in the process of addressing real-world challenges, and with developers only breaking the surface on how best to use artificial intelligence, there are still a number of local opportunities for businesses to take advantage of.

But as much as apps are a tool for reaching different communities, it’s clear that developing an app for the sake of having an app should be avoided. The time, money and effort to build a viable app only for it to fail in its objective because it’s been created to follow a fad or attempt to keep pace with a competitor is an expense that companies can simply not afford.

Lotter is creative director at digital company Platinum Seed.

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