Long production cycles are an evil, especially in the field of mobile technologies, where operating systems are updated every year and new devices appear every two or three months. So you should not be afraid to enter the market with a simple product with a minimum of functionality. But do not forget that at the planning stage of project development it is better to include the cost to maintain an app in the overall budget. Why?
It’s hard to give an exact answer to the question of how much does it cost to maintain an app. It all depends on the specifics of your project. Your apps need to be continually improved in short iterations (less than a month for updates) and with good feedback. In other words, the application should become more sophisticated gradually.
The need for support or why the cost to maintain an app is worth it
Application maintenance is needed for an increased level of quality. The cost to maintain an app fully justifies itself. The main tasks to be solved after the publication of the application are:
- performance monitoring;
- getting feedback from the end users of the product and helping them solve their problems;
- improving the stability of the work and adding new functionality;
- adapting the application for new devices and OS versions;
- tracking the customer company’s business requirements;
- adjusting the product development plan.
Workflow and processes of support and development
All product support and development activities are best performed by the ITIL process within the framework of six basic processes:
- Incident and Problem Management
- Change management
- Release management
- Service delivery management
- Audience management
- Managing business value
Their quality will determine the cost to maintain an app.
Formally, the output is a new release, so the release management process can be considered central to the overall scheme. It consists of the following sequential steps:
The composition of the future release is formed from:
- Defects identified during operation;
- New functionality not included in previous updates or appeared in formulating new requirements.
Incident and problem management
The purpose of this process is to resolve problems detected during the operation of an application on time.
According to the definition:
- Incident – Any event that is not part of the standard (normal) use case that resulted in partial or complete inability to use the application.
- Problem – unknown cause of one or more incidents.
The work in this process is built according to the classic three-level scheme:
- Operations Service – a single entry point for requests. It registers and classifies requests, prioritizes them and those responsible for their execution, and is responsible for solving typical incidents.
- This level of support is in the hands of the customer service department on the customer side. Support only provides helpdesk professionals with the necessary documents and instructions, and helps build a process of interaction with the second level.
Support Engineers – provide technical expertise and resolve atypical incidents, responsible for updating the application knowledge base, identifying defects, and escalating them to the third tier of support. This level also handles the administration of middleware, if it’s used. Problem-solving is transferred to the third level if the cause is related to the product architecture or its software implementation.
Developers and testers – they analyze complex incidents not solved on the second level, fix defects, and test the provided solutions.
The purpose of the process is to assess the cost of making changes, as well as their impact on the product. The process involves accepting RFCs, detailing requirements, and assessing the impact of changes, costs, and risks associated with their implementation.
All requests go to the tracker, where after the analysis of implementation, depending on the degree of criticality to the business, they go either to the backlog of the product or immediately into the spirit of the next release. In other words, when you invest in the cost to maintain an app, you also get additional tools to develop your project.
Also read: 7 Best Change Management Tools for Success
This process involves direct interaction with the end users of the application:
- monitoring user feedback to detect missed bugs, and adjusting the product development plan;
- answering questions on the functionality of the product (unfortunately, this feature is only available on Google Play for now);
- informing about release plans;
- filtering comments.
We are talking about a dialog with users, which makes it clear that the project cares about their opinion.
Obviously, it is almost impossible to work with negative feedback in app stores. They are emotional and uninformative, and besides, there is no feedback. Therefore, it is better to motivate users to report problems to the support service via the feedback form. It can be found on the “About the app” screen or opened at the moment of rating in case the user wants to give a two or a one.
In addition to saving a rating, the feedback form allows you to collect the information you need for analysis: device type, OS version, account information, and context.
Managing business value
The most important process regarding product development justifies the cost to maintain an app. Its purpose is to plan product changes to achieve the key metrics set by the business.
More than half of all mobile business apps don’t track any metrics at all and save on the cost to maintain an app. At best, they check the number of users in Google Analytics. Decisions to change the design and functionality of the product in such situations are made at first sight and are not substantiated in any way. Meanwhile, counting and analyzing key metrics in sync with business goals is vital for continuous product quality improvement.
The process is based on collecting and analyzing metrics at each stage of the conversion funnel. The process involves the following activities:
- Setting up tracking and analytics systems;
- Designing funnels within the application to measure achieving specific business objectives;
- Visualization of metrics dynamics;
- Analytics consulting (what’s good and what’s bad for the business regarding metrics);
- Measures for metrics improvement;
- Providing analytics on direct competitors.
Service Delivery Management
The purpose of this process is to control compliance with the signed SLA and improve the quality of the support services.
Service Level Agreement or SLA is a document that describes the services and defines the cost to maintain an app, how those services are provided, and measurable quality indicators such as:
- Response time to an application;
- Incident and defect resolution time, depending on their criticality and impact on business processes.
The output of the process generates reporting that provides insight into the quality of support and the overall state of the product to all stakeholders. When experimenting with reporting, it is best to settle on the following formats:
- A daily report that informs the release manager of critical issues that have arisen, or overdue tasks beyond the SLA – a kind of siren that turns on when something goes seriously wrong. Daily reports consider, among other things, spikes in negative feedback in the app stores, which is especially relevant in the early days after an update is released.
- The weekly report is a monitor of the feedback received through all the channels checked.
- Crash statistics indicate the stability of the release. Each failure generates a bug report, which automatically goes to the bug tracker if a certain level of criticality is exceeded.
- Statistics on app store recalls, which considers the change in rating over the week, the total number of recalls, and the number of bugs that have been triggered. In addition to quantitative indicators, the support engineer gives a free-form qualitative characteristic of reviews, focusing on obvious problems and frequent user requests.
- The monthly report contains information about the number of hours spent by each of the specialists for budgeting and accounting of the support costs, as well as the percentage of SLA compliance which allows for the identification of systematic violations and making management decisions. The report is intended for project office managers and support and development managers.
Why is the cost to maintain an app justified? Conclusions
Using successful products as an example, we can see that a continuous improvement model is at the heart of the work on them. Only this approach will make sure that their business needs and the needs of their customers are met as much as possible. So build a product support system and remember that the cost to maintain an app will pay off in full.