8 mobile app development challenges for the enterprise

Enterprise users expect easy access to mobile applications to perform a variety of tasks on their smartphones, but developing these apps isn’t always easy on the back end.

Organizations can run into many challenges during and after development, often varying based on the size of their dev team, the app’s target audience and other factors.

Gathering user requirements to understand the organization’s business needs is the first step in releasing a mobile app. If an organization is already an Agile or DevOps shop, this will better position its developers for mobile app development. User experience is another top consideration for development because consumer app stores give end users high expectations for mobile app efficiency and productivity. To ensure a smooth app build process, developers should learn how to plan for and deal with these and other challenges.

8 challenges with enterprise mobile app development

It’s important for organizations to be ready to handle the difficulties that can come up throughout the app development process. Common challenges include limited development technology, scalability and security.

1. Lack of mobile app development expertise and experience

Creating an enterprise app requires a team with extensive knowledge of mobile software development. Developers should have experience with database integration, UX design and app security.

Staffing challenges can arise for many reasons, but budget is the most common cause. Having a mobile app development team on staff will be budget-prohibitive for many, unless they can plan to use that team for future projects or make significant revenue from the app. Admins can augment their team with contractors or outsource to a third party, but that raises the project management complexity even further. Cross-training in-house developers is another option, but the training process will be expensive and time-consuming as well.

Staffing challenges can arise for many reasons, but budget is the most common cause.

For SMBs and large enterprise organizations alike, there’s no way to avoid staffing challenges for mobile app development projects. Still, larger organizations with bigger budgets will be in a better position to attract mobile app development talent.

2. Emerging technologies outpacing IT’s knowledge

AI is the latest example of how emerging technology can outpace an organization’s in-house technical knowledge while executives push for an unfeasible vision of innovation. Developers must balance this even with enterprise mobile apps they’re building for internal use. This is especially true if the apps are accessing back-end data, which can give staff a competitive edge when dealing with customers.

A technology roadmap is a strategy document that IT commonly uses to manage the introduction of new tools. For example, if an organization has built a back-end cloud application for analytics, admins might create a technology roadmap to communicate adoption plans to their IT team. Access via a mobile app can be part of that roadmap, including the app features that will be rolled out to users.

Enterprise technology evolves at a frenetic pace. Managing this challenge requires strategy, curiosity and a culture of lifelong learning. An organization’s CIO or CTO can no longer be the only person tracking technology trends; the IT team at large must take on this responsibility, regardless of the organization’s industry.

3. Data management

Because mobile app management involves vast amounts of data, data management is one of the biggest challenges with mobile app development. IT must ensure that data is accessible to users — including those who are offline — while maintaining synchronization with back-end systems, which are complex tasks. This complexity often leads to challenges for data-intensive organizations such as retail, healthcare and financial services.

Managing data across diverse networks and devices is the heart of data management challenges. Data synchronization and consistency remain complex because of intermittent connectivity, network conditions and data conflicts that might be outside end users’ control.

Getting data management wrong for mobile apps means mobile users are unable to access or sync data from back-end systems. For sales and other customer-facing employees, this can result in a loss of productivity and actionable intelligence for business deals.

Getting data management right for a mobile app starts with thoroughly developing a data architecture, choosing a reliable database management system that fits the app’s requirements and implementing data validation. These best practices are just the start of a long list of tasks that go into management and maintenance.

4. UX design

The variety of consumer apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store sets high expectations for enterprise mobile app users, making UX design challenging for many organizations. If a mobile application doesn’t meet end users’ UX expectations, it’s easy for them to ignore it and never use the app again.

To deliver a user-friendly app that meets these expectations, developers should prioritize their app’s user interface when planning their project budget and schedule. Organizations that don’t have UX or UI talent in-house should hire a UX consultant or contractor with a body of work in mobile apps.

Diagram showing the steps in the UX design process.
Developers must factor UX into their app design to ensure that it’s functional and easy to use.

5. Cross-platform app development

Organizations must consider cross-platform app development if they want both iOS and Android users to be able to access their applications. This also means choosing the right development approach and ensuring the app performs well on different devices and OS versions.

Cross-platform app decisions and requirements should come from the organization which will likely come up with apps it wants to sell or distribute to customers. It’s important to lock down cross-platform requirements such as OS compatibility and screen sizes early in the mobile app development process.

6. App performance and scalability

Mobile app performance is the key to user satisfaction, and scalability keeps the app functional and responsive as it grows. Healthcare and financial organizations often face performance and scalability challenges because they require consistently high performance and data confidentiality.

The top reason scalability and performance challenges arise in a mobile app is inadequate resource management and planning. This leads to server overload, inefficient database queries or improper use of client-side and server-side resources as user load increases. Another significant contributor is lack of foresight into the app’s architectural design to accommodate growth without sacrificing performance.

Use DevOps and Agile frameworks to manage performance and scalability effectively for mobile app development. These frameworks enable iterative testing and refinement for peak performance.

Developers must also implement efficient code practices, optimize resource usage and conduct thorough testing to identify and address performance bottlenecks. Additionally, adopting scalable cloud services and using load balancing can help adjust resources dynamically as user demand changes. These measures ensure the app can handle increased traffic and data loads seamlessly. Proper monitoring, regular app updates and containerized architecture can also help maintain performance while scaling up.

7. App security

Mobile app security challenges exist in large and small organizations across every industry vertical. These challenges can come from new vulnerabilities in operating systems, third-party libraries or the app’s code. Rapid changes in technology and user behavior can introduce new security risks, requiring continuous monitoring and adaptation of security measures.

Building mobile apps following a DevOps or DevSecOps methodology is one of the best ways to mitigate security issues that appear during development and when the app goes out to users. Other best practices include securing user data, implementing security protocols and regularly updating the app to fix vulnerabilities.

8. App distribution

Options for distributing enterprise mobile apps include ad hoc builds, TestFlight for beta testing, the Apple Developer Enterprise Program and Apple Business Manager.

Ad hoc builds are suitable for specific device distribution but are cumbersome. TestFlight is simpler, allowing up to 10,000 beta testers, but it requires app re-download every 90 days. The Apple Developer Enterprise Program is a paid service that distributes proprietary apps in the organization. Apple Business Manager, on the other hand, is a free service that manages devices and distributes proprietary apps centrally, with TestFlight and App Review via Custom Apps.

The App Store and Google Play are options to distribute apps to external customers. For new apps, both stores have an approval process that can sometimes be difficult.

App distribution is a necessary element of enterprise mobility and BYOD strategies. It’s important to ensure that the latest versions of mobile apps are always available to in-office, hybrid and remote workers. Challenges occur with app distribution when an organization doesn’t define a standard distribution channel, thus risking that not all users are running the latest app.

Will Kelly is a freelance writer and content strategist who has written about cloud, DevOps, AI and enterprise mobility.