Why Industry Expertise and Digital Agencies Are Ruining Your App

Process Analysis Industry

We often address questions that focus on our experience in certain industries or with specific kinds of organizations. Questions like "Have you worked with advocacy groups?" and "What is your experience in the healthcare industry?" are common. Although we have worked with companies large and small, commercial and non-profit, technology-driven and technology-challenged, we regularly emphasize that this question is not a good lens for selecting a partner.

A successful app is created when app expertise is combined with deep industry knowledge. Companies like Savvy Apps bring the first element and really only our customers can bring the second. When you overvalue industry expertise in a possible partner, you'll often find that you're selecting a generalist instead of a specialist. That can also result in work that gets contracted out, and most importantly, a subpar app experience.

These and other reasons make a strong argument to choose a mobile app company over those with "industry experience." It also opens the conversation on moving to an "App Agency of Record" model instead of the more generic “Digital Agency of Record.” Apps are just too critical today in terms of time, attention, and money to be lumped in with everything else digital. In this article, we'll explore the downsides to prioritizing industry knowledge over app expertise, as well as the problems with choosing a generic digital agency over an app agency.

Non-App Agencies Have Created Far Fewer Apps

The most obvious problem to start with is that non-app agencies have done significantly less app work. Because of that, it's likely they don't know the major reasons apps typically fail. Even if they have done some app work in the past though, it's not enough to really create any sort of in-house expertise. In many cases, it's likely they create fewer than five apps per year. Comparatively five or more apps may be in progress at once at an app-focused agency.

Non-App Agencies Have Few App Lessons Learned

Each time we make a new app at Savvy, we learn something new. It could be a revision to our QA processes and app store submission checklist, honing important app metrics to track, or finding a faster and more efficient way to create apps themselves. When you hire companies that don't specialize in apps, you'll be paying for them learning on the job.

Non-App Agencies May Have Only One Developer

Often industry-focused groups or marketing and communication firms that also "do apps" have just one developer on staff, if any (more on that in a moment). That means there's no one to crosscheck work or push them to do better. That also could result in the developer being much more of a generalist because they have to do all of the technical work. This is a far cry from the teams of people who create the top apps. These teams understand great app design and have significant and intimate knowledge of platforms like Android and iOS.

Non-App Agencies Subcontract Their Apps

The result of not being staffed properly is that digital agencies, industry-focused firms, and communication and marketing groups actually outsource their app work. They turn to companies like Savvy Apps because they realize they can't properly service these kinds of jobs. While that improves the quality, it comes with inefficiencies. Services get marked up and communication becomes hampered. The result is higher costs for less direct access to those actually doing the work.

Non-App Agencies Have No Software Process

Crafting a quality app is a bit of art and a bit of science. While digital, marketing, and communication firms might understand the first, they don't understand or excel in the second. The processes and tools in app creation need to be rigorous to keep the work on schedule, squash bugs along the way, and release an app that will be well-received in app stores. Without understanding the full software lifecycle such as starting with an app discovery process or knowing the right cadence of app updates, it's unlikely an app will even be completed.

Non-App Agencies Lack App Store Contacts

Success builds on success. After eight years of building over 20 featured apps, we know what makes a great app. And we've come to foster relationships with those managing the app stores. When appropriate, we pass certain work to these contacts to review. In some cases, they provide critiques. In other cases, the editors feel the app is worthy to be featured. Additionally, our large network of industry contacts help us both improve and promote our work.

Concluding Note

The bottom line is that valuing industry expertise over app expertise will almost assuredly mean you wind up with a below-average app. Non-app agencies don't have the experience, staff, processes, or networks required to produce the same quality of work as companies like Savvy Apps. Taking all of these points into consideration, it simply doesn't make sense to prioritize industry knowledge above app expertise.

While the idea of an "App Agency of Record" may seem overly narrow at first glance, some of the largest organizations today have dozens—if not hundreds—of external apps and many more internal ones. Whether or not the concept of an App Agency of Record ever even takes hold though is not important. Instead, the key is that companies and organizations are best served by experts over generalists. Those who want to create apps should select app experts who know and hone their craft versus one-size-fits-all firms who "also do apps." You be the expert of your field or industry. We'll bring the app expertise. Together, we'll create something amazing.

Ken Yarmosh is the Founder & CEO of Savvy Apps. He's the creator of more than 20 featured apps, including an Editor's Choice selection and Starbucks Pick of the Week. An O'Reilly author, Ken regularly speaks about application design & development, as well as the future of technology at outlets ranging from Bloomberg TV to Google.

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