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Local-level digitalization via apps

Friday 15.11.2019 Christian Walter
Christian Walter

Christian Walter ist Geschäftsführer und Redaktionsleiter von swiss made software. Bis Ende 2010 arbeitete er als Fachjournalist für das ICT-Magazin Netzwoche, publizierte zuletzt aber auch im Swiss IT Magazin, der Computerworld sowie inside-it.

Even a team of seven can play a role in Switzerland’s digital future. Bern-based approppo is showing this with apps for KPT, parking app SEPP, and Wiserock – a warning system for natural hazards in the Swiss Alps. The secret lies in a smart combination of front- and back-end technologies.

approppo founders Roger Kislig and Daniel Zbinden

Founded in 2011, the company is currently taking strategic steps to not grow any further right now. Co-founder Daniel Zbinden says it’s all about preserving approppo’s “proximity to customers, closeness to the team, and position at the cutting edge of technology.” The Bern-based entrepreneurs see themselves as enablers of innovative business ideas, which they help to succeed with top-quality Swiss IT workmanship.

Even back when they were still employees, they sensed the emergence of trends such as mobile, agile development and cloud computing. “Our paymasters back then didn’t share our optimism. One manager even said that tablets would cease to exist within three years,” recalls co-founder Roger Kislig. Unfortunately, many people thought that way at the time – meaning the decision to found a company had to go hand in hand with a degree of visionary outreach.

Geo- and live-tracking

One of the company’s first successes was an app for the Bern Grand Prix – one of the biggest running events in Switzerland. As well as providing access to their own performance statistics, runners are also enable live tracking so that they and their fans can track their progress in real time. Features that are taken as a given today were innovations in 2012 – especially as GPS was relatively imprecise back then. “I could run 100 meters in Bern and the map wouldn’t change a pixel,” Daniel Zbinden recalls. The Bern Grand Prix app showed more than just approppo’s trademark technical finesse – it also demonstrated the company’s strong focus on added value. As such, the app was not so much an attack on established timekeeping apps, but a desirable supplement to existing structures. The expertise gained in this project later inspired the development of additional live-tracking and sports apps.  

J-Bend, an app developed for the metal building industry, represented another crossroads. “That was a true business hack. Until then, site managers would provide sheet metal profiles as pencil sketches. But a “6” would quickly turn into an “8”, and the sheet would have to be scrapped.” 

The company then attracted bigger and bigger customers, and new employees joined the team – which continues to consist solely of developers right to this day. However, it was never actually their real aim to grow in size. “It’s important to us that our consultants and developers are one and the same. This allows us to serve our customers in the best way possible, because our people know exactly what consequences a decision will have,” Roger Kislig explains. “And that’s exciting, too, because our broad customer base allows us to immerse ourselves in very different areas of business.”

Turning down trade

Postpaid app Lezzgo is an interesting example. In this case, we had to clarify which transport tickets were the best fit for a given route that involved multiple forms of transport. Parking app SEPP was a similar case. Approppos developed a complete system including backend infrastructure for this purpose. New parking space providers can be added in just a few clicks – the tool could theoretically be extended to the whole of Switzerland, but still only needs one person to take care of it.

Turning down customers occasionally is also part of the company’s philosophy. “One example might be when a website makes more sense,” says Daniel Zbinden. They can draw on an extensive partner network for such cases. The team still hasn’t really let go of its fascination with apps. Perhaps because Swiss digitalization is really possible in this space. After all, an app provides the easiest means for a Swiss company to make a difference to thousands of people’s lives.

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