Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Develop and Publish a Mobile App: Compelling Idea and Solid Plan Are Key to Placing Product in an App Marketplace

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Develop and Publish a Mobile App: Compelling Idea and Solid Plan Are Key to Placing Product in an App Marketplace

Article excerpt

When Susan Bruno set out to launch a mobile application to help women gain control of their finances, and Leonard Wright decided to develop an app to enhance his client interactions, neither wealth manager could foresee the dizzying array of detours and dead-ends they would encounter on the road to the app marketplace.

Bruno, CPA/PFS, managing partner of Connecticut-based Beacon Wealth Consulting LLC and co-founder of DivaCFO LLC, was forced twice to find a new vendor to write the code for her app, DivaDocs. Wright, CPA/PFS, a wealth management adviser in San Diego and co-host of a weekly radio show on financial planning, saw Apple reject his app multiple times. Both financial planners lost deposits when the developers they hired to build their apps either closed up shop or simply disappeared.

How can CPAs interested in launching a mobile app avoid the types of problems that plagued Bruno and Wright? What are the best practices in mobile app development? This article lays out a series of steps CPAs can follow as they seek safe passage through the mobile app minefield.

FILL A NEED

CPAs should not pursue the creation of a mobile application without a clear and compelling reason to do so. The road to submitting an app to Apple's App Store or one of the myriad Android app stores is riddled with potholes that can knock the project off course or kill it, costing CPAs significant time and money.

"Don't build an app just to have an app," said Ben Schell, a website and mobile app developer and owner of Blue Pane Labs. "You're going to end up with something that nobody really wants to use."

To avoid that, CPAs should be able to answer "yes" to the following questions:

* Would the application address an unmet need in the marketplace?

* Would delivery to mobile devices enhance the value of the content or functionality the application would provide?

If those questions are answered in the affirmative, the next step is to determine whether the same functionality could be delivered as well or better through a mobile website. That decision requires an understanding of the differences between mobile apps and mobile websites:

* A mobile app is a software application designed to run on the "native" operating system of a mobile device. Native apps are not interchangeable, said Michael Ham, vice president of operations at CPA2Biz, the AICPA's for-profit technology subsidiary and provider of technology development to the Institute. A native app designed to work on Apple's iOS will not work on Android and vice versa.

* A mobile website is a website optimized for mobile devices. The content is reformatted and often streamlined to provide a better experience on mobile devices than the full website does. Mobile websites may also feature enhancements for touchscreen navigation. A single mobile website will work on a broad range of mobile browsers and devices.

This article focuses on the development process for native apps. For an expanded comparison of native apps and mobile websites, see Exhibit 1.

For CPAs, native mobile apps should do at least one of the following, according to Ham:

* Expand the firm's product or service offerings using the built-in capabilities of smartphones, such as cameras, global positioning systems (GPS), etc.

* Enhance the firm's brand.

* Initiate interactions with clients that reflect the changes in communication methods being used at the client level. In other words, if clients are texting and emailing via mobile devices, their CPAs need to engage them in the same manner.

Bruno suggests that CPAs ask themselves this question: "Can I leverage my expertise and create a new virtual business from what I already know?" In Bruno's case, she knew which vital personal and financial documents her wealth management clients have to gather when they work with her. She then applied that knowledge to design DivaDocs as a "scavenger hunt" that helps women (and men) track down those documents in a "fun way. …

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