“We’ve gotta have an app!” was the battle cry when Apple launched its App Store in 2008. And yes, that was the marketing department on the phone again, asking me for something they didn’t really understand. I developed several apps that had no purpose except to bolster the brand image of the company that wanted the app. For example, one app was a “disrupt your business meeting” toy, which I found particularly useless.

So fast forward to 2012 and what do we have? We’ve got app stores bloated with abandoned software and apps that used to be great ‘a few operating systems ago.’ I didn’t really understand the breadth of the issue until I partnered with a hard-core app programmer who has personally created and launched over 50 different apps for a variety of companies. When we tried to develop a portfolio of software to demonstrate to potential clients, we found that one after another after another had been abandoned by their owners and didn’t work on Apple’s (or Android’s) current operating system.

An app is like a child

The biggest mistake that businesses made with Apps was to treat them like a brochure or some other expendable marketing tactic. Apps need nurturing, upgrades and an ongoing development plan. It’s a little like having a child. And like a child, the app doesn’t thrive when neglected or “sent to the App Store for all eternity.” The App Store isn’t an orphanage — Apple doesn’t take care of forward compatibility for you, and they won’t love your app the way you did when you made it.

What makes an app successful?

Apps are incredibly useful when they are developed as an extension of the way companies do business. For example, if a company works with distributors then the app could be a hand held ordering system or logistics information delivery system. That makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to build an app that delivers a joke each time you shake the phone. See the difference?

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If you are a clothing retailer for example, your app can make the shopping experience better — you can allow shoppers to build their shopping cart before they get to the store. The app would send the order to an associate in the store to build the order. The shopper would arrive at the store with a dressing room already filled with their order (in the correct size) so that they simply try on the clothes in the store to ensure the fit. If shoppers spend less time goofing around with their basic purchases, they can spend more time impulse-purchasing accessories. Cha-ching.

The point I’m trying to make here is that when using app technology to extend your business, make your employees and customers more efficient, and deliver meaningful information is the correct usage for business. If you need help planning your app, talk to your business units and bring a geek along to the meetings. The app will write itself simply by identifying inefficiencies in the customer relationship process, and brainstorming solutions. And once the app starts generating revenue for your company you’ll see that it is a real business tool, not something to build and abandon in the same year.

If you plan your apps well and nurture them, they’ll love you back, and bring some revenue back to you as well. That’s what this technology genre was created to do for you. Promise.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.