Advice on enterprise apps from two people who build them for a living

Raw CEO Neha Sampat and CTO Nishant Patel at DEMO. Credit: Raw Engineering

Neha Sampat and Nishant Patel are the cofounders of Raw Engineering, a development shop that specializes in building enterprise mobile apps. 

Earlier this month at the DEMO Mobile conference, CEO Sampat took the stage to launch built.io, the latest contender in the red-hot backend-as-a-service (BaaS) sector. Essentially, these services make it easier for developers to create mobile apps by abstracting key functions that are hard to build from scratch, like authentication, and making them available as a cloud service. Leaders in the field include Parse, which was acquired last Friday by Facebook, and Cloudmine, which focuses on enterprise apps. 

There's no question that built.io is entering a crowded market, but the platform grew out of several years' worth of experience building mobile apps for about 15 large Silicon Valley tech firms. (The pair declined to offer customer names.) They believe that built.io will stand out because it integrates content management with development -- for instance, if the marketing department adds new content to a back-end content management system (CMS), the differences will automatically be updated in all the relevant apps, without forcing the user to download the full files -- and through its use of analytics, which draws on consumer app-monitoring company MixPanel for inspiration. 

I talked to Sampat and Patel, who serves as CTO, last week and asked them what enterprises should look out for when building -- or speccing -- a mobile app:

  • Go "pure native." "We get a lot of requests for HTML5- based apps, and that story sounds good," says Patel. "But being in mobile space for 5 years now ... I  prefer native." Patel has a blog post on the Raw site where he explains why -- essentially, he argues that the cost savings promised by HTML5 are mostly illusory, and the sacrifices in terms of performance and features are usually not worth it.
  • Ask for exactly what you want - you might be surprised. "Clearly think through your requirements, but don't overthink them," advises Sampat. "Dont be afraid to ask for things that might seem difficult to do, often they're not."
  • Don't bypass established IT systems.  Sometimes, a department will try and bypass IT to get an app done more quickly. That's a mistake. For instance, "a lot of guys have single sign-on between apps," says Patel. "If the marketing department is driving this, they don't understand all the IT issues and will tell us to create a separate login to bypass system. That's generally not a good idea because customers have to deal with another set of logins." He continues, "We get happy when they say we can integrate with IT systems."
  • Make simple things simple and complex things possible. "If you want to let the user dig deeper, in the psyche of advanced user, we make that possible, but without disengaging with the simple user," says Sampat.
  • Track what users are doing, and adapt accordingly. Your app isn't done when you first roll it out, advises Sampat. Instead, you should see what users are doing with it, and add, move, or remove features as necessary. "There was a tablet-based sales playbook we built for one enterprise customer," explains Sampat. "Using analytics, we saw one particular user story getting a lot more attention. So we built into the design a way for that user story to pop up and be featured. That's a very simple use case that could apply to anything a user could care about."

For more informatoin about built.io, or to sign up for the beta, visit the web site here.

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