For most enterprises, mobility is still a dilemma which they are trying to figure out. In this series, I identified four main mobile dilemmas that enterprises are dealing with today: identifying requirements, the business case, the mobile app platform and internal resources. This entry will look at what many enterprises are struggling with today, what should be the future format of enterprise mobile apps.
Today’s rallying cry at many enterprises is,”mobile first.” I hear this often, companies are moving away from proprietary enterprise apps, mostly that run on Windows and want to lead with mobility. Though I get the concept, and although I’ve lived and breathed mobile technologies in the enterprise for twenty years, it still makes me cringe when I hear it. Why? Not everyone is mobile, and not every app should be. So while I applaud the concept of mobile first, it shouldn’t be the primary strategy. Instead, what I like to lead with is “mobile always.” Now that doesn’t mean always mobile, it means–Always Consider Mobile, when looking at an enterprise app or process. The dream is that one day, with faster networks, improved app design and management, mobile doesn’t have to be a special, or different case. It’s just something that’s part of the process, a part of every plan. And used when needed.
So that brings us to the strategy of next generation apps, those that support mobile needs. Every app doesn’t need to be a mobile app. Most enterprises are trying to figure this one out. Today, most B2C apps for mobile are built in a native platform–iOS or Android, for example. Usually these apps are widely dispersed and targeting tens of thousands if not millions of downloads and are seeking to provide the richest experience. But development and maintenance of these apps is expensive. Enterprise apps are different. Though users want a rich consumer-like experience, they don’t have the same deepness of need, and the target download is much smaller. The development costs are very high considering the number of users versus the number of platforms and variations that need to be built and tested. So companies are challenged with building native mobile apps and are looking to use what’s out there on the market, typically through third-party ISVs.
One answer has been to move away from native development, to development based on browser technologies. Building on a browser that works on any platform, mostly solves the issue of platform variability. Though browsers don’t offer the richest user experience, it’s usually “good enough” for enterprise user needs. But the overall experience is poor because browser-based apps need connectivity to work and don’t have rich offline stores for data access.
Most organizations are moving towards hybrid app development. Using HTML 5 technology, this development capability is increasing in functionality, supports mobile architectures, is easy to adapt to different platforms and provides offline access. Though the standards and products in this area are still developing, many organizations like the idea of building a generic front-end interface that integrates to any enterprise unstructured data store. The maturity of this is still year’s away though as tools and standards evolve.
In the end, enterprises shouldn’t be standardizing around one app technology or strategy. It will be a combination of native, web, hybrid, enterprise-developed and ISVs that is needed to support the different user requirements and segments. The aim should be less around having one strategy and one standard or protocol to support. The enterprise app world is moving away from centering around Windows and the PC, though those platforms will continue to be supported for years to come. The good news is that next generation PC/laptop/netbook OSes like Windows 8.x, Chrome OS and Mac OS 10.x are moving even closer to unifying access systems and management with mobile devices and OSes like Windows Phone, Android and iOS. Though the dilemma remains on how to build one app that works well across every size form factor and across all platforms–the vision is there today and is slowly becoming a reality.