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IT's options for developing mobile apps and deploying them to users

When it comes to mobile app development and deployment, options abound. Consider these five different approaches and evaluate how they serve users' needs.

Everyone wants apps, but it isn't always so simple to get them into users' hands.

There are so many options when it comes to providing apps to employees that it can be difficult to decide which method is best. Some of the more popular mobile application development and deployment approaches include mobile app development platforms, desktop and application virtualization, app refactoring, enterprise mobility management and workspaces.

Let's take a look at the various options for developing mobile apps and deploying them in the enterprise.

Mobile app development platforms (MADPs) provide templates and low-code tool sets for developers, IT administrators and even end users to develop wireframes and handle application configuration more easily. MADPs are helpful if an organization does not have a strong development skill set because they handle most of the app configuration for admins. The downside is that IT is beholden to the platform provider to offer continuous support for all operating systems and versions an app needs to run on.

Desktop virtualization can help IT deliver Windows apps to employees' devices. It is especially helpful when dealing with legacy applications because it gives users a simpler means of accessing the apps in a controlled environment, without having to inherit the security holes that come with older, sometimes out-of-date systems. Virtualization enhances security, protecting sensitive corporate data by isolating it from the host operating system. Problems can arise, however, if users run into connectivity issues and cannot access their corporate data. It tends to get a bad rap in the mobile world, but desktop virtualization is still a viable option in certain cases, and IT pros should not discount it.

Application virtualization accomplishes a similar goal, but it does so by delivering individual applications instead of full desktop images. It gives admins the ability to install and upgrade apps from a centralized environment, making it easier to deliver them to employees' devices.

App refactoring is another way IT can start developing mobile apps and deploying them to users. This technology allows admins or end users to take a desktop application and render it for mobile devices without code. These apps basically use the existing code from a desktop application and mask a mobile-friendly, touchscreen-compatible presentation layer over it. By using a template and mimicking the activities that would normally take place on a desktop or laptop, app refactoring can turn an ugly legacy screen into a sleek mobile interface.

App refactoring does a good job rendering and updating keyboard and mouse applications, but it is unable to introduce any improvements or native capabilities.

There are so many options when it comes to providing apps that it can be difficult to decide which is best.

Enterprise mobility management (EMM) tools offer a number of ways for IT to deploy and secure mobile apps. Admins can use EMM's mobile application management capabilities to spin up an internal app store for corporate applications, and its mobile device management features allow them to whitelist, blacklist and push specific third-party apps. For highly regulated industries, EMM is extremely helpful because admins can enforce compliance and security policies regarding who can access sensitive apps and their data and under what circumstances.

Workspaces typically focus on improving the user's ability to access all of their applications and files from any device. For example, anyone who has ever tried modifying a Microsoft Office document on a smartphone knows just how challenging this can be. Sure, the Office app itself has gotten significantly better, but how do users get to the files on their company's servers? Workspaces provide a view inside the file server network that is easy to see and access on smartphones and tablets. In addition, they may serve as a central location for users to access their physical and virtual desktops and applications as well.

These are just a few of the options available to start developing mobile apps and deploying them to users. In many cases, it's a matter of preference and understanding how IT shops want the user experience to be. Admins should take the time to sit with some of their employees to find out how they work and then evaluate how the various mobile app development and deployment options can serve workers' needs.

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This was last published in February 2017

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Which approaches do you use to develop and deploy enterprise mobile apps?
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I think it's important to mention that not all MADPs are created equal - the offering is now so large that I think it should be divided into several categories. One of those is the no-code MADP-- I say this because I've worked in several companies where the IT teams weren't enormous (50ish strong) and we decided to go for no-code MADPs (like Fliplet) because mobile apps are a bit like websites these days, in that the technology can't be separated from the content and the strategy behind them, and often times it's not right to leave IT to manage and create the apps on their own. None of the actual low-code MADPs we tried were actually end-user friendly and all would've relied too heavily on IT, so it made perfect sense.
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