How to Make Apps for Other Businesses

The problem with there being an app for everything is that everyone thinks they need to have an app. You might be thinking, "Hey, my company needs an app!" You might be right, but you also are just as likely to be wrong. It can be tough to know. Maybe you need an impartial third party to weigh in. 

Well, if you're in Chicago, Solstice Mobile is one such place to turn to. Since 2001, it has been the "leading enterprise mobility consulting firm" that helps companies set mobile strategies and then also help its clients get going on those strategies. Or, in the words of Founder/CEO J. Schwan: "Our core mission is to help large enterprises embrace mobile technology. We're working with a lot of the Fortune 500 here in town on defining their mobile strategies, identifying the mobile moments in their organization where they could leverage the power of smartphones and tablets to make their business better."

So, if you're interested in dipping your toe in, give this a read, because I talked to J. Schwan about his company and its services, and some common misconceptions companies have about getting an app made. 

What's involved with being a third party to help others make their apps? What's reasonable of people to expect when they hire someone like you?

J. Schwan: I guess from a business standpoint, our job is to bring talent together that is very knowledgeable and interested in the space. One of the biggest challenges that we have right now is around hiring and training that talent because the demand for mobile expertise outweighs the supply right now. A lot of companies are behind. We'll work with firms and we'll help them set their strategy if they don't have one already, and depending on where they are on the maturity curve, they may or may not know where they need to go with mobile. We'll help them both functionally identify the opportunities they have in their businesses to use mobile to make things run smoother. It could be a marketing-type function or utility that they could bring to the customers, it could be a new channel for payment, it could be a new channel for purchasing products or internally it could be a way to improve the supply chain or improve the distribution.

We identify all that stuff and then we educate them on the technology side of the coin and say, "Hey, here are there available technologies that can help you get there, here are the pros and cons of each and here's the ones that we think make the most sense for you." And we'll help them build it if they need help building.

Have people gotten savvier about what to expect?

J. Schwan: They've gotten savvier. From a year ago to today, folks are a lot more educated. A year ago we were helping people understand the difference between an app and a mobile website.

What's something you're striving for as a company, either internally or externally in supplying this service?

J. Schwan: One thing we're doing internally here is working hard at making the development process for mobile more efficient. Right now it's still very cumbersome, the tools that are used to develop mobile apps. They aren't nearly as mature as the ones to develop for the web. So we're looking at opportunities to actually improve the velocity of building these applications. We've launched a product called AppLauncher. It's on our site. Basically it allows people to build native apps faster and allows larger teams of developers that are creating these applications to collaborate easier. Right now a lot of the tools are very independent-developer focused. They're focused on the guy that's working out of his garage. It doesn't really scale into a larger company context. So, we're building a set of tools that allow for those teams to scale. It's going to increase the pace of innovation with this stuff and it's going to drive some of the cost down, so, adoption will be higher.

As the mobile technology for smartphones and tablets starts to become more commoditized, we're going to need to consistently pivot to stay on what's coming next. So that's one of the exciting challenges that we have as a consulting organization.

Since you're put into the role of being an educator about this technology to companies, how often are you put into the position of explaining, "You know, you guys actually don't need an app?"

J. Schwan: That's a big part of the front end of what we do, is helping people decide which channel makes most sense. And depending on the use case, an app might not make sense. We feel strongly that the mobile web and apps are both going to be around for quite some time. It's not an either/or proposition. There are times where one makes sense and the other doesn't. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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