Charles Bagnall: We live in a post app world - or do we?

18 Jan 2018 Expert insight

For many, apps seemed to be the silver bullet for effective engagement, yet now we often hear people assert "We live in a post app world now". Could apps be a thing of the past? Charles Bagnall of Advanced reviews this apparent contradiction.

The main factor underlying this debate is relentless rise of mobile technology. 86 per cent of online donations made from a phone or tablet. The reality is that away from the office it is quicker and easier to use a mobile device. Charities know this - for out of office stakeholders - donors, members, local representatives, volunteers - engagement needs to have a mobile capability. Advanced's own customer research shows that 66 per cent believe social media, overwhelmingly mobile-based, has improved engagement; a similar proportion have invested in Cloud technology to underpin mobile access to key applications. So, what is the best way to engage users on the move?

Let's look at which apps work well for charities and why. Two of our own examples -  starting with Nottingham Student's Union – they faced increasing work from expense claims submissions. The Advanced team created an app that used the phone's camera to capture receipts and then submit them to HQ for payment. Students loved it because they could use it anytime and anywhere. Head office approved it because it reduced processing times by 15 per cent.

In another example, membership organisation FSB replaced its triplicate carbon-copy application forms with a tablet-based app for their recruitment agents. The great advantage of an app here was that it could work offline, so agents were not bothered by connectivity issues when working with prospects. At Advanced, we also the geolocation features of phones to greater effect in enabling visiting care workers to automatically record the time and duration of visits to client locations.

Should you use an app?

So why not always use an app? Firstly, it incurs overheads such as security and OS versioning that make them expensive to develop. Secondly, apps work so well because they do one job brilliantly. Focused on one process, designers can make them intuitive, quick, fun. But if you need an app for every process, that could become expensive.

So what makes it worthwhile to develop an app? Be sure they will be widely used by many, often and over several years. Larger charities running major campaigns can afford to create an app for just one campaign given huge audience size and associated revenue target. However, an app for a short campaign with a modest budget can rarely repay the investment.

Are there alternatives? Modern Cloud software, written as a responsive web application (RWA), works equally well in the browser on any device – whether a laptop, tablet or phone. If part of a suite of applications – such as the new Cloud solutions from Advanced – adding new functions is easy, and doesn’t carry the same incremental cost of one-off app development.  This applies equally to your business software as it does to your supporter engagement. It can also address issues such as GDPR compliance. An app just for consent sign up seems unlikely, especially given that best practice for GDPR compliance continues to evolve – not so easy to embrace if every change requires rolling out a new app version…..

So we undoubtedly don't live in a post app world - there is absolutely a place for popular apps that maximise the internal DNA of a mobile device (camera, location), that solves a persistent and widespread problem, or can show a return on investment in the context of a campaign. But given many briefs simply do not fit that criteria, moving more applications to the Cloud looks an appealing and viable alternative allowing you to engage easily and flexibly with users - wherever they are. 

Charles Bagnall is head of product management at Advanced

Civil Society Media would like to thanks Advanced for their support with this article


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