By 24 October 2013 | Categories: Software



With an award winning banking app, FNB has clearly cracked the art of apps, so TechSmart Business got together with Farren Roper, head of FNB Connect ISP and Business Operations, for insight into getting app developement right.

With the burgeoning smartphone and tabletmarket, applications are everywhere. Fromthe practical to the ridiculous there is something for everyone. Business in particular, has taken to the new technology with great gusto and is offering a raft of value-add apps to make your, and their life easier. That said, it is not a simple process with guaranteed success and there are a number of pitfalls one should avoid.

Essentially, an app is optimised to work on your mobile device. There are pundits who believe that a website could do just as good a job and is far cheaper. Roper disagrees with this statement and says that the digital era is all about consuming technology in a manner that allows the device in use to perform at its best. “It is with this in mind what we designed an array of bespoke and native banking apps suitable to either smartphones or tablets. FNB Mobile and Connect has been developing apps since 2009; our first App was called the

Connect Phone and developed on the Symbian platform. Over  the years we’ve refined and focused on our in-house app development skills. Naturally, banking on mobile was always a priority for FNB with us being the leaders in cellphone banking

(USSD), inContact SMS notifications as well as having a .mobi site which is really successful. For us it was really about using our existing skills and capabilities to find a market niche that would not only add value to a client, but also fit into an increasingly digital world, where we predicted the smartphone explosion not only globally but in South Africa. It was important that we create a quality app and not just build an app for the sake of being first. We therefore took our time and attempted to master the main operating systems, ensuring that we could ‘DIY’ and that we were not dependent on importing skills.”

It is also clear when looking at digital trends such as the number of app downloads, that Apps are a want amongst consumers. In just the Apple and Google stores more than 100 billion Apps have been downloaded with those two operating systems adding at least 4.5 billion additional downloads per month. ‘’Looking at these figures, an app was relevant to our market, our development lifecycles, and our innovations are always informed by client demand.’’

When first starting the planning process there are a number of considerations that need to be taken in to account. You have to make sure you get the product right as getting it wrong can do more damage than not having one at all.

 “A good starting point is always your customer base,” says Roper. “Do they have smartphones or tablets? Because of the

FNB smart device offer, it is a little bit easier for us as we are actually contributing to the growth of the smartphone and tablet ecosystem in South Africa, so most of the customers who have taken up the smart device offer over 24 months use our app. Another consideration is whether you have the skills to develop an app. Once you become a part of the app market, you cannot suddenly stop, pull out or fall behind. This means you must have the right people that know how to build apps, test for quality, and are flexible and adaptive to consistent changes in the ecosystem where there are constantly new versions of devices and operating systems. If you do not have the capability, get someone who does.”

It must also be remembered that your app must be relevant. If app development is something you are doing simply to keep up with a competitor, then it might be done for the wrong reasons.

“This is where you may want to opt for the mobi site instead. Skills are readily available, maintenance is arguably easier, costs are contained and it will appeal to a broader audience. In our instance, we have the ability to do all the various forms of mobile banking (cellphone banking, mobi and app) so we see the app as another addition to the mobi family and part of the holistic mobile offering. The app just happens to be the fastest growing mobile platform and if you told me two years ago we would have 500 000 active customers I might not have believed you.”

Now that you have decided that the app route is for you, there are a few basic tenets that need to be addressed. Planning ahead, and having a clear goal in mind will save a lot of trial and error in the long run.

“The primary concern when building your app should be simplicity. You need to simplify processes and enhance the customer experience of a brand and its products and services. Keeping it simple can sometimes be quite a challenge. Always think about how you can make the experience simpler and faster for the client. One click vs. two, rich media vs. heavy text and so forth. Next, make sure that the app is immersive. With mobile devices today you have the capability to give a customer an immersive experience, so why not? Most devices are touchscreen so let those who engage with your app use their hands. All this is pointless if you neglect the quality of your app. At FNB we build native apps. You would be surprised at the number of apps that are nothing more than a mobi skin – you will get caught out eventually

.” When deciding on what to include in your app it is important to get input from those people who will actually be using the thing. “Listen to your clients. Some of our best ideas are gathered from social media and our clients determine our development roadmap. This is a double edged sword as bad news spreads faster than good, so if your clients don’t like something or if something is broken and not functioning

 , fix it as soon as possible. Lastly, make sure that you provide an ever increasing amount of value as clients come to expect it. There is no point in having an app just for the sake of having it. On our app, for instance we have GeoPay as well as free calls - our clients love this. If someone uses your app once and has a bad experience they will never, never come back. Tech journo Hilton Tarrant coined a great phrase ‘appathy’ – this is a feeling that you don’t want your client base to develop. You want your app front of screen and top of mind.”




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