These days it seems like everyone is building an app — not just consumer apps, but apps for the enterprise, too. Google and Salesforce.com, for example, are making hundreds of APIs available, and developers are seizing the opportunity to build on these as more businesses migrate to the cloud.
Whether it’s a project-management app or another Instagram, one rule is constant: A successful app must be deeply integrated with the underlying platform.
But what do I mean by “deep integration”? Think about your favorite smartphone app. Does it take into account the native capabilities of the phone? Does the camera open seamlessly? Can you use your fingers to draw and swipe? Can you easily share a game, photo, or drawing with a friend? The same questions and issues apply to enterprise apps because, let’s face it, if the application doesn’t seamlessly integrate with the product your users “live in” (like an email inbox), users will struggle to find value in it.
Take Yelp’s monocle feature for example. It works flawlessly with your phone’s camera, GPS, and map. You’re able to stay inside one application while accessing all the information you need — location, name of restaurant or bar, and diner reviews.
Now imagine a similarly deep integration between your email and CRM. A tight enterprise integration will pull contacts, calendars, and order history or active deals into the email inbox where workers spend the majority of their time. The same strategy applies to security apps, project management extensions, and more.
So, how can developers be sure they’re building something that will deliver value to users? Here are a few tips to ensure you’re building a deeply integrated (and useful) application.
1. Understand what your customers use and the integrations they need
Survey your current customers. Find out which email platform they’re using, which CRM system your sales customers interact with everyday, and the plethora of other cloud services customers touch on a regular basis. Once you know which platform to integrate with, take plenty of time to investigate what features are missing, which can be improved on, and most importantly which features your users rely on.
Once you’ve settled on a platform for integration, do some research to make sure the platform isn’t working towards the same feature. A good question to ask yourself is, does my product compete with the platform, or does it fill a need for a niche industry or specific job function? For example, Google Apps typically develops features that every user in a given organization can use. It’s pretty safe to say that they will not build an accounting product, since it touches only a few users in an organization.
And if your product already competes directly with the platform, make sure it plays on another level. Common ways to differentiate your app from an existing feature include building an improved user experience or enhancing the functionality of native features.
2. Understand the strengths of your team and product
If your product is the best-in-breed security software, stick with what you’re good at. Building on top of a new platform doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. Your customers use your product because it’s good, and integration will only make the product more valuable to a larger user base. Stick with your niche and don’t lose sight of where you came from.
3. Take advantage of opportunities to integrate
Platforms like Google Apps and Salesforce — and iOS and Android for that matter — make hundreds of APIs available, so take advantage of them. If you can integrate calendar scheduling into your project management app, do it. If shared contacts would make your CRM easier to use, build off of the relevant API. There’s nothing worse than installing a third-party app and finding out the app contains little integration beyond “single-sign on.”
4. Does your integrated product make your customers more efficient on a day-to-day basis?
If you’ve come up with your strategy and can’t answer this question, you probably have some rethinking to do. Admins aren’t going to shell out for an app that won’t make their workers more efficient and productive. If your app adds another step to an already complicated process, it won’t gain traction with admins or end-users.
Building a great product is more than half the battle. Setting up a deep integration should be fairly simple as long as you know what your customers want and need. As time goes on and platforms like Google Apps and Salesforce mature and gain a broader user base, opportunities for even deeper integrations will appear.
David Politis is founder and CEO of BetterCloud, a developer of enterprise security and management tools that integrate with Google Apps. Follow David on Twitter @DavePolitis and BetterCloud @bettercloud.