In the second of the series of technical leaning blog entries, our EMEA Technical Lead covers the benefits of white label apps and platforms such as our own. Barry refers to his personal experience and knowledge of being in Retail IT for 30 years.
A Simpler Life For IT Teams
As Scotty says in Star Trek III, ‘The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.’
In IT this quote rings true in many ways; from managing solutions and moving from centralised, monolithic systems that run on set hardware, to distributed cloud based platforms with high levels of data connectivity that need to be in real-time in order to facilitate informed business decisions. It only takes one part to wobble and it could cause the rest of the system to have issues. Anything that can be done to reduce those risk factors needs to be considered. If nothing else, it means one less thing to worry about breaking on a Saturday afternoon or in peak period.
If you haven’t already read my introduction blog post, I’ve worked in or with retail technology for nearly 30 years. Most of that period was in a retail IT team supporting the stores with any issues they faced, and checking the backend systems were running. Hence the reason I always dreaded my mobile ringing at 2pm on Christmas Eve and being told payment card authorisation was down.
Traditionally, the retail IT approach was a question of cost and ease. “Can we develop it in-house? It will be cheaper and quicker than buying a product or service.” This was true when I first started in IT, as there would often be a team of in-house developers sitting in an office above the warehouse, looking after the mainframe via terminal emulator or a green screen VDU. I must admit, I have a small confession at this point: I do own a DEV VT-510 green screen for when I want to experience a wave of nostalgia and complete retro projects on an old microprocessor or FPGAs.
Retailers Have Evolved
Now let’s bring it more up to date. It’s highly likely that the systems, services or applications today will be a mix of bespoke, developed internally, and a mix of new and legacy supplier applications. This can be true in both heritage brands or for retailers who have not had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and therefore still carry an element of legacy baggage.
Any bespoke development or legacy comes with a risk. If something does go wrong, they are often reliant on the one developer/expert who originally completed the coding.
Today’s mantra is very much focused on developing a mobile first approach which means that we move onto mobile phones and tablets. There are countless ways of developing mobile apps, and the methods widen when looking cross platform. Do you go fully native, meaning you’d need a code base for iOS and another for Android? Alternatively, could you use one of the cross platform frameworks available (like React Native, Ionic or Cordova which suits web development)? Other platforms like Xamarin are suited to business developers as it uses C#. The list is endless. Personally, my current preference is Flutter/Dart from Google, and I enjoy learning it to fuel my own knowledge. If asked, most developers will have their own preferred approach.
Of course, that’s without even considering the backend systems in place to serve the app with data and insight the users will need in order to gain value from the app.
Therefore, the way forward for IT teams is to reduce or mitigate the risk of bringing in a new system or app that the business needs to drive sales and growth. This can be achieved by looking to offset that risk to external platforms & apps. This is where white label apps come into their own.
Label Up To Simplicity and Grow With Time
Simply put, a white label app is where a supplier has already produced an app and/or platform that can be rebadged to match a retailer’s brand. It can also be resold as if coming from another supplier or partner. This is totally different to a bespoke app, which can be developed internally or externally, but built with the sole purpose to meet a specific set of client requirements and features.
In white label apps, the code and other elements will essentially be the same between the various branded versions. As a result, it’s easy to support and maintain. Furthermore, the supplier will have invested a number of years into developing the app and incorporated feedback from its clients to improve the app’s function and user experience. This would be very challenging for an in-house team to replicate, without potentially falling into some of the traps above or would take a significant number of iterations to achieve. This can tie up valuable business resources in testing and feedback.
White label apps might come with more features than needed on day one. This is great as businesses can then grow into those areas and simply turn them on, instead of looking at yet another phase of development.
If the feature isn’t there, then it’s often possible that the supplier is already developing it after another client has asked. The benefit of this crowd sourced roadmap cannot be underestimated, as it might well get you what you need in the next release and possibly at no extra cost.
Benefits to White Label Apps
Some retailers are extremely successful at developing apps in-house, and there are some benefits to doing so. However, in many cases it is far more beneficial to opt for a white label solution. This can especially be true in the case of smaller brands who don’t have a significant IT footprint, so might be looking for more out of the box solution.
It takes the pressure off of retailers when a supplier does all of the heavy lifting around choosing an approach, maintaining and supporting the app. Especially where the technology is customer facing such as Clienteling, since it needs to be robust and have high availability. Retailers can then choose to involve the internal developers to focus on the bespoke or data integration elements as they know those systems well.
White labels apps/platforms are much quicker to implement as the code is effectively already written. The project timescale can be shorter than bespoke apps, especially if the data already exists or suppliers have integration tools that have Salesforce connectors (as we do at Proximity insight).
For example, the Proximity Insight app pulls the UI directly from the client Salesforce org that the user logs in to, and the UI is configured via an easily changeable setting in the org. Hence, the code base is already developed and is virtually the same in each client’s org. If there’s a feature not required, that’s no issue. In a few short seconds, we can hide it via configuration with no code release or updated app to distribute.
On mobile, the Proximity Insight app is available on the App Store. All sales associates need to do is login, and they will be on the Salesforce org within a few minutes. If you prefer to align the app’s graphics with your brand, or maybe to make Single Sign On easier for the user, then we can do a white label version for distribution via client MDM.
With Proximity Insight, provided the data can be integrated, clients can be up and running in only a few weeks. To build an equivalent app internally would take far longer to be ready and still require the data integration effort.
Additionally, as our digital retail platform is built on Salesforce, they continue to manage the environment, ensuring its smooth running 24/7. This means that both us and our clients can focus on delivering amazing customer engagement.
Reduced Ongoing Costs
Finally, in the current climate, effective spending and gaining value for money is vital. There are low cost options around using sites such as Fiverr or Freelancer, and they can be great for one-of pieces of work. However larger projects or mission critical processes do need to consider a more enterprise friendly approach, especially when it comes to ongoing support. Bringing in a pre-built platform/app with support gives greater value, as it will have already been road tested. Furthermore, support will be known as the bespoke element is purely in configuration or with in-house teams on the data side.
With the Proximity Insight App being built on Salesforce, nearly all the cost is built into the user licence so it’s a known constant expense and the app is already coded. The only possible additional cost is storage, though that is only in a small number of cases where millions of customers are involved.
Lastly, as mentioned before, retailers need to remember that they can get the next feature they need without the expense of additional development.
Overall, the potential total cost of ownership and support can be significantly less using out of box solutions, such as the connected retail solution that Proximity Insight has created, instead of a bespoke app/platform developed in-house or externally.
Get In Touch
If you’re thinking of introducing Clienteling to increase customer engagement and insight to your brand, I recommend contacting us via the website, LinkedIn or email@example.com. Otherwise, do consider the white label approach before going down the in-house development route, it will save you a lot of strain – and pain!
I hope this was of interest, and if there’s anything you would like to see covered in a future blog then get in touch. Thank you for taking the time to have a read.
I will be touching upon the distribution approaches around white label apps on iOS (Android is a lot easier), why the common approach might not be the most secure, and how Apple could bring in changes.