Mobile apps are becoming increasingly common in large businesses, but they are not yet part of the core strategy for many enterprise organisations.

According to research conducted by Vanson Bourne for enterprise-focused mobile backend provider FeedHenry, 87 per cent of organisations have deployed mobile apps for their workforce, with nearly three-quarters planning to increase the number of apps they offer in 2014.

But only 44 per cent said they recognise apps play an important role in their business plans, with just 7 per cent having a fully implemented mobile app strategy.

The need for enterprise organisations to adjust to the changing apps landscape, as well as the presence of a several obstacles that need to be overcome to drive use in business, has limited uptake, Cathal McGloin (pictured), CEO of FeedHenry, told Mobile World Live.

A changing landscape

While most organisations have deployed a few mobile apps, McGloin suggested enterprises are now getting to a stage where the landscape is more complex.

feedhenry-cathal-mcgloin“Many organisations have had their heads down tackling BYOD and mobile device management (MDM) in the past two years, so developing and managing their portfolio of apps has been less of a focus,” he said.

What they face is incredible complexity, due to the diverse devices and OS versions used by staff, the need to connect to a raft of different backend systems, and the range of departments looking to deploy mobile apps.

Security and user management are also becoming more important as apps become more sophisticated, accessing a wider range of corporate data from internal systems.

Another complication, according to McGloin, is that “there is no right or wrong app for the business” as different types of product fit different enterprise needs.

“Businesses have realised that whether to build native, hybrid, HTML5 or web apps is determined by the needs of the business and that can vary from one department to the next, or even within departments, where a mix of native and HTML5 may exist, driven by the needs of different user groups,” he said.

A native app for an Android tablet might, for example, be suitable for service workers in the field while a hybrid approach might be better for a customer service app that can be quickly deployed across a range of devices.

Despite the evolving app landscape, McGloin said organisations are getting to grips with MDM and “maturing towards a more strategic and structured approach to mobile app development and management”.

Nervousness in the enterprise

The main concerns about mobile apps for enterprises centre on security and compliance, with the potential for high costs and penalties if either of these areas are not adequately addressed.

Challenges include separating personal and corporate apps on the same device, and protecting data when transmitted to and from users.

There is also the issue of managing access to apps and data when devices are lost or stolen, or when an employee leaves the company.

Complexity and the perceived high-costs of developing, deploying and managing enterprise apps are also making business decision makers more nervous.

“Many business systems were designed in the pre-mobile days, so liberating the data and making it available for consumption on mobile devices creates challenges for the enterprise,” McGloin said.

Another major obstacle is the mindset of IT staff, as “unlike large scale traditional enterprise applications, mobile apps by their nature need to be user-driven and not IT-driven”.

“The business needs to be able to decide what apps and what features are provided to which users, while IT needs to protect the corporate data and systems that these apps connect to and provide the tools, policies and support to do this. IT can no longer dictate the software that an organisation builds or buys,” he explained.

The rise of backend services and cloud

The increasing complexity of apps and importance of connectivity and security means that demand for backend services has grown, according to McGloin.

And cloud computing will be integral to this in the near future: “Mobile and cloud technologies go hand in hand, so we’ll increasingly see mobile and cloud being inseparable for enterprise mobility,” he said.

Cloud technology enables information to be stored, scaled and managed in “disruptive new ways”, McGloin noted, but also caters for the demands of enterprise apps — such as rapid go-to-market, elastic on-demand scaling, and secure access to business data.

“As enterprise mobility evolves, we expect the cloud is increasingly going to be the point of integration between internal business systems as well as external third party cloud services: all connecting through the cloud to the device. Ultimately, everything can be stored, managed and consumed through the cloud,” McGloin said.

This makes it easier for businesses to push out large volumes of apps across their organisation, and supports the “increasing productivity, visibility and engagement” of mobile workers. And increasing the amount of work done by the backend also frees up app developers to focus on engaging front-ends that drive engagement.

What makes a successful enterprise app?

To be a success in the enterprise, McGloin said apps need to be user-friendly and intuitive: “Enterprise apps don’t have to look as good as Angry Birds, but make them easy to use and employees and customers will start to use them.”

Simple apps are well received as restrictions on the number of features supported make them nimbler and easier to use. “Speed and ease of use makes apps sticky,” McGloin noted.

Another tip is to avoid simply mobilising an existing business process or application, because apps designed from the ground-up have the potential to “transform a current process or bring a whole new way of doing things to the business”.

Developers should look to bring together device features— such as the camera and location services — with business information to improve the user experience.

Apps that are easy and cost-effective to update also do well in the enterprise, according to McGloin, as they can easily respond to the rapid pace of change in technology and business processes.

Scalability is also key: “You can’t always predict uptake, especially for a B2C app, so you need the technology behind the app that will scale as demand grows.”