In the years since the launch of the iPhone in 2007 we have seen a huge shift in the power base in the IT world. Probably the most significant change is that your IT department is no longer in total control of the computing power in your business.
Everybody is now walking around with the power equivalent of a 1970s mainframe in their pocket. Increasingly they want to be able to use that power to complete their daily tasks. We are seeing a growing demand from business users for mobile apps to enable
them to work better and with the freedom to do that on the move from any location.
We are also seeing more and more companies looking to make it easier for their customers to do business with them using mobile apps. If you're not one of them then remember this – if you have customers then you have mobile customers.
Research analysts Gartner predict that there will be a tidal wave of demand for mobile apps in the years ahead. With that in mind here are some things that you, as a CIO, will have to know about.
1. In the mobile space tactics are the new strategy
The pace of change in the mobile world is so rapid that it is hard to plan far in advance. New devices and form factors are being constantly released and operating systems are updated at least annually. This market is characterised by very fast innovation
and very quick obsolescence.
When it comes to deciding what apps to build and what devices and form factors to support it is best to try and not second-guess what might happen in the future and just deliver something now with the knowledge that it might have to change as the market
2. You cannot mandate the devices your users can use
This is a hard one for many IT departments to accept but let's face it, the stable door has opened and the horse has long since bolted. Mobile phones and tablets are personal devices that each user chooses for their own reasons. Whichever way you look at
it you will need to support a range of devices and form factors.
In some instances, B2E apps for example, it may be possible to supply a user with a company-supplied device to enable them to complete certain tasks. I've seen this use-case in hotels and shops where staff are equipped with tablets to enable better customer
However, in the wider scope of apps that you will end up building, you will unquestionably have to support multiple devices, multiple operating systems and multiple form factors.
3. Choose your app development environment carefully
Unsurprisingly, the mobile app development market is still immature and is constantly evolving. It is fair to say that no one mobile application development platform (MADP) vendor dominates the market.
What is clear though is that the major players Apple with iOS, Google with Android and Microsoft with Windows Phone have no vested interest in providing development environments that work across their rivals' platforms. So my advice is - don't look to them
as your first choice development platform.
Given that you will have to support multiple devices, multiple operating systems and multiple form factors you need to be looking at a platform that supports a write-once, run everywhere model. Otherwise you will end up spending a fortune supporting multiple
native toolsets each with their own different skill set requirements.
A good place to start looking for help in choosing an MADP is Gartner's magic quadrant particularly focusing on the leaders and visionaries quadrants.
4. Should you choose Native, Hybrid or HTML5 is the wrong question
The reason that this is the wrong question is that the choice of deployment model needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Each app, or set of apps, will have different requirements that will govern which deployment model works best.
For example, apps that need to work in offline mode may need to be deployed differently to apps that only work in online mode. It's all about the context of how the app will be used and what specific capabilities it needs.
I would advise caution in letting anybody convince you that any one deployment model is the correct choice for your organisation in all situations. The key thing to remember is that the success of a mobile app will very much lie in the users' hands and their
experience with the app. The choice of deployment model must ensure that the user has the best experience possible with the app.
In large enterprises it is likely that you will build native, hybrid and HTML5 apps so this further increases the importance of choosing the right development environment. A good development platform should enable you to deploy all types of apps – native,
hybrid and HTML5.
5. Expect to build hundreds, even thousands, of apps
Mobile apps differ from enterprise applications in that each app will only address a single task or a small set of tasks. Each mobile app is typically designed to address one small area of functionality unlike enterprise applications which are designed to
cover a whole set of business processes.
Another key differentiator for mobile apps is context i.e. how, when and by whom will the app be used? So for instance a user with a tablet might have a different set of capabilities than a user running the app on a smartphone.
In large enterprises apps will need to be built for internal consumption, B2E apps, as well as external consumption, B2B and B2C apps so these organisations should expect to build hundreds of apps and more.
6. Speed to market will be vital – Be Agile
In the world of mobile, user demand will put increased pressure on your ability to deliver new apps and updated apps quickly. Users are conditioned to receiving regular refreshes from app vendors so they will expect the same from you.
You will no longer be able to totally control the update cycle for your apps. New releases of the mobile operating system will force you to make out-of-cycle changes to your apps. The release of a new or upgraded device will also force you to update your
Never forget that mobile devices are now a fashion business. You will have to support the latest devices or risk alienating your users. The last thing you need is for a new phone to come out, or a new OS version, and for your app to start crashing.
To stay on top of these demands I strongly recommend that you adopt agile processes, or work with an experienced agile partner. You are going to need to adopt a continuous delivery mindset if you are to succeed.
7. Create your own app store and let third parties build apps for you
When Apple launched their first App Store they couldn't possibly have imagined the sheer volume of apps that would be built for their platform. The creativity and flood of new ideas that emerged took everybody by the surprise.
You could achieve a similar outcome by applying some forward thinking to your mobile plans. Rather than looking to build everything yourself you could create a set of mobile-enabled APIs across your core systems that would allow anybody with secure access
to build apps using those APIs.
You could make these APIs available to any of your employees, suppliers, customers or other 3rd parties. Apart from the positive effect this would create it could also offload the burden, and cost, of trying to stay on top of the growing demand for apps
that you will undoubtedly face.
Contrary to what many people believe, you don't have to release these apps through commercial app stores. There are many ways of setting up your own enterprise app store which enables you to securely deliver apps to the right audience.
In the financial services world we are already seeing a number of banks do exactly this. Credit Agricole, Deutsche Bank, Capital One and others have created app stores and are successfully engaging third party developers.
In the mobile world the user is in control. They are the ones who choose how they want to interact with your business. Today, and into the future, they expect to be able to use their mobile devices to carry out their daily tasks.
Your job as CIO is to ensure that your organisation is able to meet these demands and to deliver the apps that will be needed. The 7 points addressed in this paper should help you on your journey.