Getting ready for the future of apps


Applications continue to change the way we communicate with each other and interact with brands. Once a tool to aid in operations, they’re now emerging as creative solutions for engaging with stakeholders across different touchpoints in their digital journey.

Consider the case of a business traveler in New York looking to attend two-day meetings in London on short notice. They open a travel app, compare flight times, and decide to book the last flight out that day. The app asks if they’d also like to book a hotel, which they do with some additional clicks. The app may also have an integration with a third-party service, say with a rideshare app, and it lets the customer know that a car can be booked in advance to pick them up from the airport. The customer pays for all three via a credit card and receives booking confirmation on his phone and email. They even receive a notification a couple of hours before the flight, reminding them to leave for the airport to make it on time. A single application has taken this business traveler from the consideration stage to the post-purchase stage in a matter of minutes. More interestingly, it’s provided them with much more than just a flight booking service—it’s catered to their entire travel experience, all from the comfort of their handheld device.

This is why organizations rely so much on apps!

Customers place greater importance on immersive experiences than on standalone products and services. So organizations are now shifting their app strategy and design from being a means to perform specific functions, to an enabler that helps them understand consumers better and recommend subsequent actions proactively.

To achieve this, organizations have democratized the role of IT. Stakeholders like business leaders, customers, and partners are getting a say in designing a holistic digital strategy. This, in turn, has changed the way they approach application development, like:

    • Investing in low-code platforms that empower business teams to reduce the burden on IT

    • Leveraging third-party apps and services in the API ecosystem to extend business value

    • Co-creating applications with consumers and other stakeholders to develop customized solutions

    • Incubating emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and the internet of things, to identify how they can help build the applications of the future

But, for all of this to happen, there must be clarity on why they need these practices in the first place.

The answer is to focus on business outcomes for the target audience!

Typically, applications are used by three different segments in an organization’s ecosystem—customers, employees, and external partners.

    • Customers seek a seamless experience across channels, as they interact with businesses using multiple devices. Typically, their interactions pass from one bot to another. In order to make their journey better, organizations need to focus on the humanization of applications. They need to design and deliver applications that are conversational and contextual. Applications should be able to predict a customer’s intent without waiting for them to fill in data or checkboxes, and offer products and promotions based on their previous interactions on the app.

    • Employees can be divided into two groups—the decision-makers, and everyone else. Decision-makers need insightful analytics to help them increase revenue, cut down on costs, or maintain regulatory compliance. Sophisticated algorithms allow applications to analyze all kinds of data—quantitative data like demographics, size of the market, and volume of transactions, and qualitative data, like customer behavior, and delivery and color preferences. To add to it, there are social and emotional cues. Future-ready applications will be capable of not only collecting and recording such data but even extrapolating them for making important predictions.

    • Remaining employees, on the other hand, focus on the need to stay productive and maintain creativity in their daily work routines. Documents, spreadsheets, task management, content collaboration, email, calendar, and meeting solutions are important to their work—and automating the routine and repetitive tasks associated with them will make these employees more productive. IoT-driven applications in the logistics industry are an example of how operational processes are automated based on real-time data. For instance, using a low-code platform, a logistics company can develop its own customized application for its employees to use at warehouse or transit points. This app can make use of OCR to inspect and process goods and help increase operational efficiency and make deliveries happen on time.

    • External partners like vendors, technology providers, and consultants seek a bit of what both of these types of employees require. Depending on their scale and size, they may want predictability and productivity along with insights that help them make the right decision at the right time, without compromising their competitive advantage.

Designing applications for the future

It’s essential that organizations reimagine the way business applications are designed, in order to meet ever-changing customer needs and expectations. This can be achieved by: 

      • Moving away from task-focused applications and toward contextual and immersive experiences

      • Moving away from standardization and simplification of processes and toward bringing intelligence into the decision-making process

      • Moving away from rule-driven code that needs IT intervention and toward business-led solutions that solve problems and are overseen by the IT team

So what’s the most efficient way to create modern responsive applications?

Custom applications supported by an open architecture is one way to go about it. They’re currently in high demand, as they provide connectivity to various devices and file systems, and aggregate data at speed. And the cost of rolling out new installations is minimal, making scalability feasible.

For instance, several retail brands today have deployed AI-enabled apps across their retail stores. These are used by personal shoppers to assist incoming clientele in making intelligent suggestions and increasing the likelihood of sales.

But organizations don’t have the luxury of taking unlimited time to create these custom apps—the competition moves fast and is giving customers more options every day. As a result, leveraging rapid application development platforms (RADP) has emerged as the most viable means to gain an advantage.

RADPs help organizations build applications with little or no coding. Even business users lacking in technical knowledge can create applications by placing the end-user experience at the center of application design. This augments traditional IT practices and extends the ability to innovate to a larger set of people—including business users—leading to the democratization of IT.

The challenges and impact of smart applications

There’s a lot of promise with smart applications, but conflicting forces can hinder an organization from delivering on its vision. There may be cultural inertia against changing already established application development processes or fear of being locked in with a single vendor or platform. The cost of change, or a lack of technical expertise, could also end up causing businesses to be under-equipped to deliver to their full potential.

How can these challenges be addressed? To begin with, organizations have to take a top-down approach. The onus is on business leaders to define their digital ambitions clearly, identify gaps in business and technical skills, and communicate this across the organization. They should also establish joint business-IT accountability for delivering positive outcomes.


It is beyond a doubt that modern, intelligent applications help businesses thrive in the global marketplace. Almost everyone uses a mobile device, and an increasing number uses more than one. As new technologies make inroads into people’s workplaces and homes, their expectations will continue to evolve, making intelligent applications more and more relevant to delivering experiences. Hard-wired coding—a trademark of legacy systems—can be replaced with business logic-driven platforms, and advanced modular design can reduce change and governance complexities. All this opens up a world of possibilities for businesses across industries; possibilities that they can leverage to stay ahead of the curve.

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  • Bharath Kumar B

    Bharath leads the Marketing and customer success initiatives of Zoho Creator. 
    He has over 12 years of professional work experience across SaaS, ERP & Telecom domains. Loves travel, playing badminton and yoga. He believes in keeping things simple.

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