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Customer-Centric Development: It's Now Or Never For IT Shops

IT leaders must focus on what customers want from mobile apps, or CMOs will just give up on internal IT.

In the last six months, my client inquiries about mobile development have become increasingly frequent but predictable. IT leaders schedule time to discuss mobile development technologies, and come in prepared to talk about the merits of HTML 5 or native device development. The first thing I do is take them back to square one: Who's the customer they want to serve? Choosing the right mobile development technology is ultimately a function of understanding the customer, their usage patterns, what devices they carry, and when they want to use them.

These IT leaders are lucky in one respect, though -- at least they're engaged in the conversation about the new generation of customer-centric apps that their business peers want. I also speak with chief marketing officers who have given up on their IT shops. It's bad enough that their IT shop doesn't have the skills to build iPhone and Android apps, but the larger problem is that IT leaders and the development team don't share the CMO's sense of urgency to get close to the customer.

A laissez-faire attitude about serving customers was somewhat understandable when internal IT was the sole source for developing and deploying applications. Now it's career limiting: the growth of cloud based deployment infrastructure, coupled with digital agencies and consultancies that combine technical chops and customer-centric design gives business leaders credible alternatives to in-house IT. They don't have to take whatever IT is reluctantly prepared to develop and deploy for them.

So how do you keep your development shop from becoming this generation’s glass-house gang?

Finding developers to build the apps is the easy part. You surely have developers on staff who will jump at the chance to learn the languages and frameworks for the next generation of multi-channel apps.

A few months ago, I spoke with a developer at a large beverage manufacturer who built an iPhone app for his company on his own time just to learn how. Now he's part of the team setting mobile strategy. This scenario, in which developers seize the initiative, is pretty common. The bright ones see the writing on the wall. Mobile + Cloud is this generation's seismic shift, like client-server a generation ago.

The hard part is changing your development culture and processes to be more customer-centric.

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