Three steps to successfully developing enterprise mobile apps
“While businesses are opening up their networks to personal devices with a fair degree of success, one senses that they are less prepared when it comes to developing mobile apps,” argues Adriaan Mocke, Service Line and Capability Lead at Avanade South Africa.
It’s a real issue we are hearing about from customers as Enterprises embrace the “Consumerisation of IT”, a trend fuelled by the widespread emergence of smartphones and tablets as “lifestyle portals” that allow people to run everything in their lives from one device. Research by Avanade shows that 73% of C-level executives see the growing use of employee-owned technology as a top priority, with 88% reporting that employees are using their personal computing devices for business purposes already.
The reason big companies are listening to concepts that may challenge the status quo is simple: productivity gains from anytime, anywhere working are considerable. Also, employee satisfaction rises in a flexible work environment which in turn further improves productivity and helps retain top talent.
In order to gain the maximum benefits from mobility, companies must look beyond the management of these devices. They need to develop their own apps to make business processes available to mobile workers and even business partners, and to communicate with customers more efficiently.
“When it comes to developing mobile apps for the enterprise, the biggest challenge is where to start,” Mocke says. “There are just so many devices and operating systems out there, and one doesn’t want to exclude any potential users or create any security vulnerabilities.”
Mocke advises a systematic, three-step approach:
- Identify and understand the potential users of the app. Developers need to build up an accurate user persona that includes the role played by the user in the organisation and thus how he or she would use the app. A simple distinction would be between a sales executive on the road or a largely deskbound clerk. “It’s also very important to understand what permissions and rights attach to each role,” says Mocke. “You basically need to apply the governance, risk and compliance framework to the mobile environment.”
- Identify the type of access each user persona will require for each app. There are three basic types of access: Public, restricted and confidential.
- Identify the devices to be reached. There are many issues to consider here, according to Mocke. It’s most likely that the company would be following an open policy with regard to devices, as attempting to standardise on one device is likely to be unsatisfactory as devices themselves have constraints. In addition, as noted above, the trend is being driven by people’s preference for using their own devices. It’s therefore necessary to use the data collected in the first two steps to think about what the app will do and who its users will be—and thus the devices on which the app will be running.
HTML 5 is being touted as a language that will bridge the gap between multiple operating systems, Mocke says. Another option could be virtualising the mobile app, as this removes dependence on the device’s native operating system. An advantage is that virtualisation is well understood.
“It’s also important to consider how the IT department is going to manage this heterogeneous universe of devices. For example, authenticating users varies from device to device. The good news is that there are technologies to do this. One route that many of our customers are taking is to install a dedicated mobility server,” adds Mocke. “This makes it easy for the administrator to control and manage the deployed apps, making patches and upgrades much easier too.
“One thing is clear. It’s important to define an individual strategy for the development of mobile apps—there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” concludes Mocke.