Mobile strategy is a ubiquitous term in tech circles. And yet, for all the talk mobile strategy generates, the actual results aren’t what had been hoped for in the industry.

In the first place, very few organizations are even acting on the desire to create a mobile strategy. A mid-2016 report from Adobe and Econsultancy found that 48% of organizations had no mobile strategy in place at all. And even the 52% who say they do have a mobile strategy also admit that their strategy is poorly defined.

That’s not good. While every organization, department, and employee is undoubtedly busy, it is critical that everyone know where the organization is headed in terms of technology.

The Next Evolution in Tech

It is absolutely critical to be a part of the next evolutions in tech. That’s not in question, but don’t be too sure about what shape those next evolutions will take. As new platforms, devices, and sensors emerge, this concept of “mobile strategy” will need to adapt. Building an app isn’t enough on its own. Organizations who just build an app for its own sake will likely find their money wasted as a competitor emerges with a completely new way to communicate with and delight users.

These days, if you’re building a mobile app, your best bet is to concentrate on what you need the technology to do. When you view the challenge that way, you may or may not decide that an app is the best way forward. Very few mobile apps are profitable and over half are deleted within a month of download. Only 16% of users will try a buggy app more than once. Whenever you dedicate resources to building a new piece of technology, the focus should be on what outcome you ultimately want the technology to provide. If the goal is profit, look closer at your strategy and make sure the app you have in mind can actually take you towards that outcome. If in doubt, look elsewhere.

None of this is meant to imply that brands should pivot away from mobile entirely. In fact, there are few of us working in technology who don’t understand what an important part mobile has already played and continues to play in the industry. Creative evolution mobile technology has inspired in engineering and design has brought important progress. And sometimes a great app is exactly what an organization needs. But sometimes it isn’t. You have to assemble a team of experts with enough experience and knowledge to distinguish between the two.

Beyond a Mobile Strategy

For many, mobile has been like a sandbox—limitless and ready to take any shape. And that’s part of the problem. Saying you need a “software strategy” feels enormous. Saying you need a “mobile strategy” feels a lot less intimidating, with a clear way forward: build an app. So many companies seem to be doing so well with their apps, so why not just build an app and move on?

Articles from industry publications aren’t helping. For instance, Entrepreneur published an article pointing out that consumers love the idea of apps and are quickly coming to think of them like websites at the turn of the century: a litmus test for the viability of a company. In other words, having an app legitimizes you as an organization. But that short-sighted view ignores both the resources required to build an app and the alternative possibilities. What if you could use that part of your budget to create technology that actually moved you forward as a company?

Instead of using tech as a nice shiny coat of paint to make your organization look cutting-edge, why not invest in actually making your company cutting-edge?

There are so many ways that building an app without a sound strategy and smart allocation of resources can go wrong—especially if you hire a team who cut corners, underestimate backend requirements, or attempt to get the job done with a simple cross-platform app.

We’ve seen the results of these attempts at mobile strategy over and over again. They are always a painful lesson for the organization. Production times can stretch out into months (or even years), and the results can be very disappointing. Southwest Airlines, Facebook, and LinkedIn once invested in clunky, embarrassing apps, and they all fell in the eyes of the public. The very thing they were trying to do—bring their organization into the next evolution of tech—actually made them look unprepared and behind the times.

Instead of thinking of your tech strategy as a roadmap to releasing an app that will blow your users’ minds, find the technology that will benefit your business most in the long run. That might be an app, but it might not.

Sure, bickering about which word to use when talking about your brand’s relationship with technology might seem a bit pedantic, but there’s a bigger lesson here about the importance of focus. Every skiier and snowboarder knows that you’re intuitively going to move in the direction you’re looking. If you come to the table thinking about a mobile strategy, you’re going to be thinking about apps. That’s just how the mind works.

Apps are expensive to build and often not massively profitable, even when they’re great and customers are willing to pay for them. That means the app needs to provide some other value. Do you know what value you want it to provide? Do you know what kind of technology would offer your customers, users, or employees the best experience?

Expand your view. Start looking at the bigger tech pictures. How does your organization fit within the always-innovating world of tech? What could you do if you started thinking beyond apps and into the next evolution? The needs of your organization will be unique, which is why we can’t give you a neat answer wrapped in a bow. Maybe an app is perfect for you. Maybe it isn’t. A broader software strategy will help you discover the answer before you dedicate precious resources. 


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About Tricina Elliker

Tricina Elliker is a regular contributing writer to Mokriya, based in Portland, Oregon. She's been writing about science and tech since 2008 and received her MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University in 2013.