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September 15, 2013

To app or not to app?

VALDOSTA — To app or not to app?

That, in the 21st century, is the question.

For some companies, developing an app allows them to extend the services that they already offer. Take Pizza Hut’s app. In it, you place a pick-up or delivery order by thumbing through menus, selecting toppings for your pizza, sauces for your wings and any additional items you want. The order is then sent off to the location you choose, with the option to save the order in the app.

In the future, you can make the same order with just a couple of clicks.

The app doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does put more control in the hands of the customer, who can linger over their choices or negotiate with family members or roommates as long as they want. It also saves you time if you tend to consistently order the same things.

Other companies use an app to connect with customers and potential customers, creating a stronger relationship between them and the brand.

For instance, Starbucks’ app does three simple things: finds you a nearby Starbucks; keeps track of any gift cards you have, letting you use them through the app; and offers you customer rewards. The entire app is geared towards improving your in-store experience, making a store easier to find, making gift cards easier to keep track of and sending coupons directly to you, instead of through email or snail-mail.

And there are some apps that take things further, opening a company to new markets and new audiences. The app Comixology offers an easy, digital way for readers to buy comics from some of the biggest comic companies (Marvel, DC) and some of the smaller ones (Top Shelf, IDW). Before digital sales, if you wanted to read, say, “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 — the first comic to showcase Spider-Man — your choices were either pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a copy in good shape or find it in a black-and-white trade edition. Now, you can pay $1.99 to download it in seconds onto your phone or tablet.

Naturally, this is a good deal for consumers, but it’s also a good deal for these comic companies that have been in business for decades; now, their entire back catalog can be a source of revenue long after they’ve sold all of their printed copies.

Of course, these are big, international companies that have ample resources to throw behind developing and implementing an app. How do you decide if an app is right for you and your company?

It’s a question that local company ClientTell asked itself last year. ClientTell works with doctors offices, sending appointment reminders to patients through phone, text, or email, whichever the patient prefers. Earlier this year, they launched an app, Reminder Manager, giving patients another option.

After a quick authentication process, the app sends appointment notifications and reminders straight to the patient’s phone, allowing them to confirm with the app. It also lets patients store the appointment in a phone’s calendar and can store the practice’s number in the phone book. Users can even pull up driving directions to the office.

“It’s obviously tailored to today’s generation, the high-tech patient,” said Chad Greer, ClientTell’s business development director. “It helps us bridge that gap between how a patient wants to be communicated with.”

While that’s good for the patient, it’s also good for the practice, allowing them to get our reminder information quickly and efficiently.

In ClientTell’s case, the app extends the services already offered, though future iterations of the app could allow patients to update insurance information and pay through the app, cutting out all of the paperwork.

In the case of Azalea Health Innovations and its app, Azalea M, the company was looking for a way to make things easier for doctors who see patients across a number of sites: an office, a hospital, house calls.

“Today’s health-care providers are no longer confined to one geographic location,” said Dan Henry, Azalea Health’s chief information officer. “They are making rounds at local hospitals, treating patients at senior-care facilities, and even traveling to personal residences for home health visits. We provide them with a mobile solution that enables them to securely and easily access the financial aspect of their practice from anywhere, at any time.”

The Azalea M app lets providers document a patient visit: the symptoms, the diagnosis, the relevant medical codes. This information is sent straight to the billing staff, cutting down on misplaced paperwork and delayed reimbursement. Instead of carrying around folders of documentation from visit to visit, a doctor just needs a smartphone or tablet.

For both Azalea Health and ClientTell, developing an app allowed them to expand what they already did, adding to existing services, diversifying, adding value. Ultimately, every company has to decide for itself whether or not an app should be part of its brand, but these are good starting questions to ask. Would it add value? Would it add a new service, or would it further existing service?

But whether or not it’s right for your company, don’t expect apps to go anywhere.

“As our global population evolves, we are becoming a more driven, knowledgeable, tech-savvy, and, most of all, mobile community,” Henry said. “In order for businesses to connect with their client base, they are going to have to keep up with these demanding changes.”

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