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Should my small business develop a mobile app?

By Marty Minchin
Correspondent

Q: Should my company consider developing a mobile app, and how can one improve business?

Going for a tailor-made app is a choice more entrepreneurs and small businesses are making as a way to raise their profile, boost sales and get their services in the hands of more users.

But there are also several good reasons for a business not to consider a mobile app, most importantly if the only impetus is the CEO received an iPad for Christmas.

While mobile apps can greatly increase a business’s efficiency or generate more profits, business leaders need to first think about how a mobile app would integrate with their work.

“There’s no sense in writing a mobile app until you understand what the business’s needs are,” said Josh Oakhurst, creative director for Skookum Digital Works, a custom software business in Charlotte.

“Any business considering a mobile app needs to really have a good reason for wanting one.”

Mobile apps are not just for customers. An increasing number of businesses are employing mobile technology for in-house applications such making information and communication more accessible for employees in the field.

The Electric Power Research Institute, a not-for-profit organization that conducts research on issues related to the power industry, recently worked with Skookum Digital Works in developing a mobile app for welders who work on power plants.

EPRI, which has an office in Charlotte, extensively researches welding, including what metals are best for which processes and proper temperatures for welding. The group issues 100-plus page reports on its findings, which typically are kept on a shelf in an office or on a computer.

A new mobile app contains a condensed, user-friendly version of the reports that allows welders to quickly look up answers to questions they have as they are welding.“We have a lot of technical knowledge and data, and we are looking at how we can use technology to push (it) into the field,” said John Shingledecker, EPRI senior project manager.

“The welding app is one way we can work with members to get them the critical information they need.”

When properly integrated with a business, mobile apps can significantly improve employees’ jobs. Mobile apps, which can be customized, can help employees do everything from approve invoices to track mileage.

SDW has built mobile apps that have digitized 25 years of research, and it has put software on a iPad so employees could access it in the field rather than returning to an office to work on a computer.

“We have given employees two or three hours of their day back,” Oakhurst said.

John Shingledecker, EPRI senior project manager, said that in the past few years, people have becoming increasingly accustomed to using devices such as smartphones and iPads.

“Now there are just so many people who have (mobile devices), and they are used to using apps,” Shingledecker said. “I think that’s why now is the time for (mobile apps).”

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