The 178-page book Billion Dollar Apps – How to Find and Implement a Winning Mobile Strategy is written by Alex Bratton, Founder and CEO of Chicago-based Lextech Global Services. His company works with clients to develop apps to meet their needs and improve their workflows. It is this workflow reform process that makes up the content of the book Billion Dollar Apps.
I always find it difficult to read a book from a topic on which the author has an obvious gain. As Mr. Bratton’s company makes mobile apps, it is win-win for him to suggest that mobile apps are the future and your company should jump on-board – perhaps, even hire his company to build your app. I do recognize that you want industry leaders to be writing the books about such topics but that first impression always leaves me questioning “what’s their angle?”. Billion Dollar Apps actually does a good job of remaining neutral and sharing their process in the book actually comes across as more of a “tipping their hand” in a helpful way more than an advertisement.
Billion Dollar Apps landed straight in the middle of the road for me. The quick review would say 3 out 5 stars and call it a day. Given that the 11 reviews on the book’s Amazon.com listing are all 5 out of 5’s, I think my review requires a bit more explanation.
The book has this teaser:
It is easy to dream up mobile app ideas, but very difficult to uncover and select apps that will provide the most value to your business. The Billion Dollar Apps (BDA) process will help your business identify the mobile app concepts capable of producing the highest Return on App (ROA) in the least amount of time.
Throughout the book, the ‘right app’ versus the ‘obvious app’ is emphasized. This means that thinking through what you want to accomplish can get you a real return on investment. Slapping an app framework around your current site may get you by and make it look like your organization is modern, but that would be the ‘obvious app’. Embracing mobile devices and building the ‘right app’ by rethinking your workflows and changing processes, can see real gains. By emphasizing this thinking, the author urges people to think beyond just the customer-facing apps and include internal workflow changes.
There are a couple of examples in the book that make a lot of sense for an app to revolutionize the business and really provide a competitive advantage. Instead of requiring tedious data entry (if you can even find a network connection), duplication of efforts before real-time collaboration, or multiple trips to a client since the necessary data is not available, an app might be able to significantly improve the process and make employees more efficient and even happier.
To appreciate the book, you have to understand its target audience. I did not find myself as the target audience but tangentially related. In the Billion Dollar Apps process, it emphasizes a change agent as the driving force for a mobile app strategy. A change agent is someone that is very familiar with a business process, how it interacts throughout the organization, and how to improve it for the better. While I like to consider myself a change agent, I’m more of a technical enabler in my current role to accomplish tasks like going mobile or other process improvements. I could see myself on the team evaluating and proposing a mobile strategy but just seemed to be in the room, not the role being talked directly to in BDA.
Billion Dollar Apps is generally non-technical. It’s more of a business process angle on developing a mobile strategy, which could be seen as “how to convince your boss to hire us to build your mobile app” but there’s nothing to stop you from following the process internally or with a different partner. The process is solid but should already be understood by managers or mature change agents:
- Set goals.
- Write out the process involved in the task.
- Find the flaws with the current process.
- Create a new process to solve the problems.
- Analyze the benefits of the new process from the business perspective.
- Get buy-in and prioritize implementation of the new process.
The book does a good job explaining each step of the process and provides suggestions such as who to incorporate on a team to achieve your goals or how to calculate ROA.
I understand the obvious corporate goals of business efficiency and effectiveness, competitive advantage, and reworking core process workflows. However, I have preferred other books’ explanations of process-driven thinking to escape silos within a business. One such example of another book is The Phoenix Project. Having learned those lessons, Billion Dollar Apps rang a little repetitive and actually limited with such an emphasis on mobile as the solution.
Other points that I disliked about the book was that it starts out very iOS-heavy and skips a lot of the practical points – “Laptops are heavy to lug around and can break but this iPad is no problem.” or “We have to spend extra money for software and antivirus on the laptop but we don’t need that on the mobile devices.”. It sounds a bit naive and lacking foresight to skip the extra costs that your IT department should insist on with a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution, which should be included as an additional cost when finding the process revamp ROI.
While being non-technical, Billion Dollar Apps makes a lot of assumptions that the target audience may not know to ask. For a process that heavily involves integrating with other systems, APIs are only mentioned 3 times in the book. When data access from outside applications is so crucial to creating the suggested useful apps, it seems to be setting the change agent up for failure by not leading with that point. The change agent’s proposal along with their time and effort might be wasted if data access is strictly controlled for security reasons or through proprietary means and the core system is too costly to revamp or replace to achieve that level of access.
When it came to a business process, I appreciated Billion Dollar Apps for getting individuals to think through processes and try to improve their effectiveness. As an IT Professional, the book’s non-technical angle seemed a little lackluster and over-promising. I’m all for change agents in organizations, they’re the ones that drive improvements, but I could see an ambitious person picking up this book and thinking success could be as easy as reading the book from cover to cover.
If you’re interested in understanding different examples of mobile incorporation for process improvement and the process one should pursue where a mobile app makes sense, I can recommend reading Billion Dollar Apps. Understanding processes that span the entire organization and seeing their interactions between departmental silos can allow process improvement with a matrix structure. If that process improvement can happen through a mobile device or mobile app, great! This book might just help you through the analysis process of understanding where to go next.
Billion Dollar Apps: How To Find & Implement A Winning Mobile Strategy by Alex Bratton is available on paperback and Kindle from Amazon.com.