While the consumer mobile app sector is undoubtedly a hot-topic, less focus has been placed on the role of apps in mobilising enterprise data. The increased penetration of smartphones in the enterprise, aided by the widespread adoption of devices including Apple’s iPhone, which was something of a surprise corporate hit, and RIM’s BlackBerry devices, means that many enterprise users are now familiar with mobile email, calendaring and contact management. But there is the potential to go further with this, by mobilising a wider range of enterprise applications including CRM and workflow systems – although obviously this does not come without challenges.
According to Tony Kueh (pictured), Senior Director of Product Management at Sybase, the mobilisation of additional applications such as CRM and workflow systems can offer benefits that “could be equal to or even greater than mobilising enterprise e-mail.”
“Once mobile information workers have customer and critical inventory information at their fingertips at any time and from anywhere, companies quickly realise their return on investment. If mobile workers receive information from back-end systems in real time, they can make better informed decisions and take smart actions based on up-to-the-minute data. For example, they can book orders more quickly and shorten time to revenue, or even negotiate – and close – a sale in a more timely fashion.”
The benefits to embracing enterprise mobility vary depending on industry sector. “Just as the benefits of mobile CRM will vary by department, the efficiencies and gains will also be unique in each industry segment. Some industries, including health care and finance, are primed to adopt mobile applications. And manufacturing plants could also experience significant benefits from mobile access to corporate applications, including inventory and workforce automation,” Kueh says.
Best foot forward
The big issue for an enterprise is how to best embrace the opportunities offered by mobilising enterprise apps. Simply speaking, there are two approaches which can be taken: deploying a number of separate “point” solutions intended to address a single task, or rolling out a unifying platform which brings disparate resources together. As with most differing approaches to a common problem, there are pros and cons to each option. The former is generally perceived as cheaper, quicker and less complex to implement, while the latter really only comes into its own once multiple applications are being mobilised.
Kueh notes: “Historically, new technology appears on the scene and is employed tactically. As the benefits of the technology grow more apparent, implementation increases – most often via departmental deployments, which ultimately force the issue of integration to achieve manageability, security and cost-effectiveness. However, as various departments deploy their tactical mobile solutions, complexity, security and cost begin to rear their unwelcome heads. These concerns grow especially acute when departments begin running multiple applications that require access to various back-end systems and databases on a small group of devices, and as deployments expand rapidly across multiple departments, leaving an exponential increase in the number of disparate systems running independently.”
What is clear is that “wait and see” is not an option. “The mobility landscape is so astoundingly dynamic that you may be hesitant to rollout a mobile enterprise strategy. But at the same time, with a mobile world in a state of flux, waiting for a standard platform, operating system, or even browser before you mobilise your enterprise could easily put you behind the competition and at risk of losing customers,” he warns.
The role of the MEAP
Sybase has been identified as a leader in what analyst firm Gartner (and others) term a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP). This is essentially a unifying solution used to create and implement enterprise apps, while reducing the complexity of managing a wide range of components in the chain, including multiple data sources, enterprise applications, and devices. According to Gartner, “more than 95 percent of organisations will be choosing MEAP or packaged mobile application vendors as their primary mobile development platforms through 2012.”
“One thing that we have seen is that most enterprises understand the trade-off that is made between going with a platform solution and a point solution,” Kueh says. “They often have seen that a point solution is a lot more focused, sometimes cheaper, and usually solves a specific pain point they feel immediately. Our job at Sybase is help customers realise that deploying a mobile enterprise platform can be as simple and straightforward as those point solutions, and still provide the technology assurance to help them scale over time as their mobilisation needs grow. We often see customers who may not have bought into the MEAP strategy come back, after a few apps are deployed, and figure out how to retro-fit a MEAP into their strategy. Needless to say, those turn out to be significantly more painful projects than the original deployment.”
One issue which enterprises face when mobilising apps which is not an issue for consumers is the tight control placed on finances – “of course any business wants to know their investments are paying off, keeping them competitive in the marketplace or enabling their workers to be more efficient.” However, this needs to be done in such a way as to consider the total cost of ownership, development options and how enterprise mobility can be used to a company’s competitive advantage, rather than on up-front costs alone (an approach which would not appear to favour a MEAP).
“Generally, we have seen that consistently when organisations have three or more applications and/or three or more device platforms that they need to support, it becomes economically viable for them to deploy a MEAP rather than go with standalone solutions. The difficulty is not understanding this basic rule, but rather, having the foresight to realise that if you don’t think again, the migration is costly and painful,” Kueh says.
Looking to consumer apps for inspiration
According to Kueh, there is the opportunity to learn from the consumer mobile apps market in order to create products more suited to enterprise mobility. “Beyond e-mail, the various consumer app stores are rife with other popular business-focused applications. Off-the-shelf productivity apps for mobile devices continue to emerge and evolve. To take advantage of this developing trend, a smart IT department may recommend existing apps for the information worker versus building custom productivity apps for the corporation. While some off-the-shelf consumer applications may be sufficient in the workplace, the majority are not rich enough, and not secured, to address the needs in the enterprise. However, with a multitude of available choices and functions, these apps are good sources of inspiration for what enterprises can achieve with internally developed composite apps targeted to core business functions.”
Sybase is a subsidiary of SAP, having been acquired in Summer 2010 in a transaction which gave Sybase an enterprise value of US$5.8 billion. It describes itself as an industry leader in delivering enterprise and mobile software to manage, analyse and mobilise information. “Our strategic position in the market is quite strong, and I humbly say that I don’t think there’s a direct rival to our core value proposition today,” Kueh says.