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Mobile app development skills: How to meet enterprise demand

How should CIOs gain access to mobile app development skills? That will depend on the scope, complexity, duration and urgency of the work.

As an IT manager and executive for the past 15 years, Norbert Cointepoix saw the rise of mobile technologies and...

the corresponding need to produce mobile apps to meet user demand.

Cointepoix also saw the pros and cons of bringing mobile app development skills in-house versus outsourcing the work.

A resident mobile app team would have the benefit of knowing the business and therefore a better understanding than an outside team of the purpose of the mobile apps and their features. But mobile app development skills are hard to come by in traditional IT shops. Fielding an in-house mobile IT team would likely mean hiring people -- a big investment in a skill that until recently was not considered core to business operations.

Outsourcing would give the business quick access to talent without the overhead of recruiting and hiring. Plus, a team that did nothing but develop mobile apps would be trained in the latest development styles, user interfaces, user experience trends and languages. But there was that risk of misunderstanding the business requirements to consider. Learning curves are also expensive.

Norbert CointepoixNorbert Cointepoix

Outsourcing won out.

"We felt the user experience was very important and looked for vendors that could provide marketing, user experience and development skills to ensure the best adoption rates," said Cointepoix, formerly an IT director at two healthcare organizations and now a consultant at his own firm, Blue Coral and Associates LLC.

Scope, complexity are deciding factors

Cointepoix is not alone in sorting out how best to access mobile app development skills. In its 2016 Trends in Enterprise Mobility, 451 Research reported that an increasing number of IT decision-makers are thinking mobile first (whereby organizations design an online experience for mobile before designing for a desktop experience). For the first time, findings showed a higher percentage of companies planning to prioritize the mobilization of general business apps over the next two years than the percentage of companies focused solely on mobilizing apps for their field service and sales teams.

Seth RobinsonSeth Robinson

The result, said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at trade organization Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), is that enterprises are under pressure to acquire mobile app development skills -- one way or another and for customers and employees alike.

"There's always a tension between figuring out how many skills you want in-house versus what you want to outsource or get on a contract basis," Robinson said.

There's always a tension between figuring out how many skills you want in-house versus what you want to outsource or get on a contract basis.
Seth Robinsonsenior director of technology analysis, CompTIA

Matt Leighton, director of recruiting at Mondo, a digital marketing and technology staffing firm, said hiring mobile app developers as staff is a cost-effective move for some companies, particularly if the companies have ongoing development work and complex apps that need lots of updates and new functionalities. That would translate into enough work to keep a full-time employee busy. Staffers can cost less than contractors, and companies can guarantee that staffers are solely focusing on their needs -- and not one or two other projects that might be on a contractor's schedule.

But Leighton said many IT departments without such high demand find it's more cost effective to hire the skills on a contract basis, using outside developers to build the apps when there's a need and then turning over the apps to staffers for maintenance.

The allure of the enterprise -- not

There's more to consider than work load, however.

Even when an enterprise IT shop believes it has enough work to justify a staff position, the CIO might find it hard to fill the slot because many mobile app developers aren't willing to work in enterprise IT, Leighton said.

"It's hard to get them into a permanent role. The mobile app developers are able to command so much on a contract basis," Leighton said, noting that a good contractor can make upward\ of $200,000 a year with the flexible schedules and variable projects that many enjoy.

"And even if you get these guys, you might not keep these guys," he added, explaining that demand for the skills are so high that mobile app developers have their pick of positions.

Moreover, Robinson added, these developers tend to gravitate toward more cutting-edge and tantalizing projects, which right now are often at startups and consumer-facing companies looking to launch the next big mobile app.

Hybrid strategy to meet demand, acquire skills

The high demand for mobile app development skills is driving up the cost of talent. In the Robert Half Technology 2016 Salary Guide, annual pay for mobile app developers ranged from $107,500 to $161,500 last year; this year it's $115,250 to $175,750, a jump of 8.2%.

John ReedJohn Reed

"Mobile application development skills continue to be in really strong demand, and we continue to have clients asking for that skill set," said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing company.

He said he, too, sees CIOs trying to determine whether they need those skills on staff or on a contract basis. They consider how much work they have and how complex that work is, as well as how fast they need the skills onboard (as a quick turnaround favors contracting the skills).

Reed said many companies are pursuing something of a hybrid approach, using outsourced skills to build mobile apps and also to train employees on building and maintaining mobile apps moving forward.

"A lot of companies see that as a long-term strategy, but if they want to push out an app soon, they have to bring someone in right away," he added.

Robinson said he sees a similar trend, explaining that as more companies seek to offer more mobile options to their customers and employees, they're going to increasingly want to add some mobile app development skills to their internal ranks.

"They're going to want this mobile development to be in-house. But not every company can afford to do this, and it won't happen overnight," Robinson said.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2016

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Essential Guide

A CIO's essential guide to mobile business strategy

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