App Delivery: Partnering With a Firm vs. In-House Development

As more organizations look to ramp up mobile development efforts, many are struggling with a key decision: do we keep mobile efforts in-house, or find a mobile app development firm to partner with? This is not a question that is easily answered. In fact, it may not even be the right question.

There is a tendency to see app delivery options as a binary: either we develop internally, or we hire a firm. But there are a number of strategies that can work for delivering apps, many that combine both in-house and outsourced work.

This article will help enterprise organizations approach their mobile delivery strategy more critically and make a more informed decision that is tailored to their needs. The takeaway is that you should not approach this decision as outsourcing vs. in-house, but rather define goals and objectives, take stock of internal expertise and experience, and assess organizational readiness to find the best approach to mobile app development and delivery.

Our approach to examining the different mobile app delivery models is as follows:

  1. The merits and downfalls of in-house development
  2. The merits and downfalls of outsourcing
  3. Defining goals and objectives before deciding on delivery models
  4. A breakdown of 4 mobile app delivery models and how to determine which is right for your organization

Your decision on how to approach app development and delivery needs to be based on a number of factors, not least of which is the readiness of the organization and internal understanding of the mobile ecosystem (from both a technical and market perspective).

The Challenges & Advantages of In-House App Development

While we want to avoid looking at mobile app development options as a binary of in-house vs. outsourced, the comparison is still useful to gather the advantages and disadvantages of using internal resources, or hiring a development firm.

Challenges

> Knowledge and Skill Gaps

“Organizations want to have full control over their mobile app development initiatives, however, maintaining a pure in-house development environment is difficult to achieve given mobile is a relatively new competency to many developers. It entails many complexities and specific activities, such as UX design and psychology or cellular coverage testing, which may be more efficiently handled by an outsourced third party experienced in mobile app development.”

Source: Gartner

The reality is that mobile is a new venture for many organizations. The competencies simply aren’t there: your IT team, developers, and technical staff may be experts in web, your legacy systems and services, security, etc., but mobile requires a completely different skill set. The knowledge and skill gap means that a team needs to be hired in order to fill these gaps, which leads to our next challenge.

> Time and Cost

This is relative as later down the road, the cost of an in-house team may eventually be the cheaper option. However, especially in the initial stages, sourcing and hiring an internal mobile app development team that can achieve the goals and objectives of your mobile project is cost and resource intensive. If you are hiring from scratch it will cost significantly more to hire an in-house team than to work with a mobile app development firm, and project ramp up will take far longer — a key consideration if the project is time sensitive.

Additionally, the cost of having a team to support ongoing development and maintenance internally can be very high, particularly if you have a lot of turnover on your mobile team (which is not uncommon given the nature of the work). Developers are only one part of the equation, and having the right talent internally means also hiring a mobile architect, product managers, UX/UI designers, and quality assurance.

> Scalability

One risk of an in-house development team is scalability. If the project grows in scope, you have to once again source and hire additional talent. This is a big issue that will continue to affect organizations — particularly at the enterprise level — as the demand becomes greater.

According to Gartner:

“By the end of 2017, demand for enterprise mobile app development services will grow at least 5 times faster than internal IT organizations’ capacity to deliver them.”

Supporting all mobile app development efforts internally can become a game of catch-up, putting organizations at a competitive disadvantage and increasing time-to-market.

Advantages

> Gaining In-House Knowledge

Once you have sourced and hired the necessary in-house team, you now have the ability to easily transfer knowledge between team members, create documentation as you see fit, and have a team that over time learns all of the finer nuances of the project and become experts on your product, specifically.

> “Homegrown” Project

Developing in-house could result in faster turnaround time and more efficient communication, particularly when it concerns understanding requirements or handling change requests. If your team and stakeholders are located in the same office, this efficiency can be even greater.

> Project Control

Having an in-house development team can allow you more control over your project. You can dictate controls over coding standards; create and implement processes to be followed; decide which project tools your team will use, and more.

Some mobile firms may not allow you the same degree of control over your project, and many aren’t willing to break from established processes to integrate with your tools and team as required. That said, more established firms that have experience working with enterprise clients will allow you to take the lead and integrate seamlessly with your team, tools, and processes.

The Challenges & Advantages of Outsourcing to a Mobile App Development Firm

Challenges

> Choosing a Vendor

There is risk in any software project, and choosing to outsource to a mobile app development firm presents the same issues. Choosing a vendor that is a poor fit for your organization will waste time and money, and at the end of it, you may not even have a viable product to ship. A major challenge, then, is selecting the right vendor. You should create vendor selection criteria specific to the needs of your project, and thoroughly vet potential partners using the criteria as a baseline. Some organizations choose to do this through the mobile app RFP process, or via a vendor comparison scorecard.

> Transparency and Communication

With some app development firms, you run the risk of not fully controlling the direction of your product. Again, this is something that needs to be considered when you are choosing a vendor. Some firms will provide deliverables with very little regard for transparency, opting for a “go it alone” approach rather than one that is collaborative and open.

It’s important that you choose a team that will retain a level of communication and openness that rivals that of an in-house team. Some key things to look for are their willingness to allow you into daily stand-ups; providing access to project management boards for your project; and the frequency of product demos.

> Cost

Relying solely on outsourced development over long-term engagements — with no goal of bringing any of the development and delivery process in-house — can be expensive. This may seem to contradict what we discussed above (the cost of sourcing and retaining an in-house team); however, we are speaking here about different levels of organizational mobile maturity.

As you will learn later in this article, a common strategy that helps achieve cost efficiencies involves a more consultative approach, wherein organizations that are new or early in their mobile initiatives partner with a mobile firm until they are prepared to bring at least some aspects of development and delivery in-house.

Advantages

> Experience & Expertise

Mobile app development companies are specialists, focusing exclusively on the development of applications. They have built the team that organizations who are exploring in-house development struggle to find. Product managers, mobile engineers, architects, UX/UI designers, and other key roles are readily available, and each of these people have a range of skills, expertise, and experience under their belts by virtue of working on a wide array of projects and overcoming a variety of challenges.

Firms that specialize in mobile app development also have a lot of experience gained from years of working on projects that more likely than not will have some commonalities with what your company requires, often in the same industry you’re in. They can therefore leverage the knowledge gained and apply it to your mobile app to shorten time-to-market and reduce project risks.

> Early Adopters in New Trends and Technologies

In order to stay ahead of the competition, mobile development companies must be early adopters and gain expertise in new technologies quickly. They will have fresh ideas, understand the potential applications of nascent technologies, and understand how to make your product cutting-edge. And it’s not just out of necessity that these firms do this; the people in mobile-focused companies are passionate about learning new technologies and figuring out ways they can be used to solve day-to-day pain points.

> Flexibility

As we will discuss later in this article, there are many different options when it comes to outsourcing to a mobile app development firm. You can have your project handled completely by a third party; you can use a mixed-sourcing model, with some development done in-house and some completed by a partner; you can use a staff augmentation option; you may even have the app development firm on retainer. This flexibility allows you to adapt based on the needs of your project and your organization.

Defining Goals & Objectives

While it is important to know the pros and cons of insourcing vs. outsourcing mobile app development, keep in mind that the two are not mutually exclusive, and your choice of delivery model doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Rather than approaching the delivery model upfront, you should first look at your goals and objectives — then you can focus on the approach to app delivery.

What are the business and operational challenges you are trying to address? How complex does your solution need to be? Do you have any talent or expertise on your team that can handle such complexity? Are very specific skill sets needed? Are you going to be using any new, relatively unexplored technologies?

What is your short- and long-term mobile strategy? What are your benchmarks for success? How do you plan to achieve your goals? How much risk are you willing to take on?

From a resourcing perspective, what are your long-term goals? Are you considering working with a partner and eventually bringing all development in-house? Or do you have a different approach in mind? What is the timeframe for this?

After considering these questions and defining your goals, you can begin to explore the various approaches to app delivery. As you will learn, these approaches are better for certain organizations than others.

The 4 Common Mobile App Delivery Models

  • All In-House

The all in-house approach is for organizations that have expertise in the mobile space and understand what it takes — from a strategy and people perspective — to be successful. It is not typically recommended for companies that are new to or very early in implementing a mobile strategy.

  • Project-Based

Project-based delivery models are typically almost completely outsourced, with at least one point person internally to champion the project (though often more than this). This delivery model involves engaging with an app development partner on a project-by-project basis, for example the launch of a flagship iOS app. There is an understanding that the costs associated will produce a particular output.

This is a good option for organizations that are new to mobile and lack the in-house expertise and talent necessary to launch a successful product. The project-based delivery model isn’t without risks; challenges include common software development barriers such as scope creep, changing requirements, changing business dynamics, and product delays.

  • Staff Augmentation

The staff augmentation model involves leveraging both an in-house team and the talent of a third-party mobile app development firm. Essentially, you are hiring developers, designers, etc. to augment your existing team.

Staff augmentation can be less costly, but you assume more risk as you provide the direction and decide what the people you have hired to help your internal team will do. There is no product consultation as there would be in the project-based or retainer model, meaning you don’t get some of the benefits that come with hiring a specialist mobile development firm, such as product discovery or mobile strategy.

  • Long-Term Partnership (Retainer)

The long-term partnership app delivery model is a mixed sourcing model that entails the embedding of internal and outsourced teams. It is a partnership-based approach that is highly consultative, often involving the mobile development firm teaching or training your internal team to the point where you can do the majority of delivery in-house. The way the partnership model is structured is dependent on goals and objectives; for example, the endgame could be to bring everything internally when you are ready as an organization to do so.

This approach is typically best for organizations that have a mature mobile strategy. They know what they are capable of internally, understand the challenges of recruiting and retaining in-house talent, and understand what they need to use a partner for. The advantages to the partnership model include the ability to scale up or scale down partner resources as needed, or to engage the partner for particular aspects involved in the project.

It’s important to note that these delivery models can also be flexible, changing depending on the maturity of your project or evolving business needs. For example, a project-based model may transform into a retainer model as needed; staff augmentation may lead to a retainer model; or a company that before did everything in-house might engage a firm for staff augmentation.

Conclusion

Defining the goals and objectives of your mobile strategy should always precede the choice of an app development and delivery model. Rather than thinking of outsourcing vs. in-house development, you should understand the specific needs of your organization, identify where the gaps and barriers to successful delivery lie, and select a delivery model that best addresses them. There are many different strategies you can use, and often the best choice can involve a mixed-sourcing approach.

Recommended Pages:

5 Major Mobile App Budgeting Mistakes

Building a Custom Mobile App vs. Using an Off-The-Shelf Product