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A mobile-first development approach to enterprise apps

Aaref Hilaly, partner at Sequoia Capital, explains why mobile-first development is the next big thing for the enterprise.

Enterprise architects who launch a mobile-first initiative can develop a more compelling, intuitive user experience than architects who try to cram the desktop experience into a mobile device, according to Aaref Hilaly, partner at Sequoia Capital. A mobile-first strategy calls for using cloud mobility services for quick, cost-effective development. The challenge? Enterprises will have to reimagine their workflow in order to take advantage of the mobile-first mind-set and stay on top of cloud offerings.

Mobile first development

A mobile-first development approach will also require rethinking the back-end cloud services required to support mobile applications, said Hilaly during the recent Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise conference in San Francisco. He noted that mobile has swept the consumer world, evidenced by the growth in mobile access to Facebook. Yet in the enterprise, most people are using mobile only for email and calendaring. However, he expects that to change, now that cloud services provide more flexibility to support business processes.

While companies could commit to leveraging big data internally, it can be difficult for them to recruit the team and build the infrastructure in-house. Consequently there is great interest in using cloud services to provision the back-end services required for mobile-first apps.

Organizations need to come to terms with the fact that people communicate differently across different messaging applications. Unified communications applications have failed because they don't reflect this tendency. In essence, we form a bookmark in the brain for choosing the right channel for a particular person.

A good mobile strategy will focus on choosing the communication media dictated by personal preference and environment. Here, Hilaly offers advice on how to develop such a strategy, and discusses such enterprise concerns as native vs. hybrid development, the impact of rogue apps on IT, and mobile security.

Native or hybrid?

Organizations have multiple choices when it comes to rolling out a mobile-first development initiative. Deploying the application using a hybrid tool allows you to create the application once, then deploy it across multiple mobile devices. Native applications must be coded for each type of device.

Hilaly noted that it is much easier to create a cross-platform mobile app using HTML5. But these tend to be more limited in their ability to leverage native functions on different devices.

This raises a question of how much development to do internally with custom applications versus how much to leverage third-party packaged apps. The benefit of packaged apps is that you can push the development costs to third-party vendors. Hilaly sees an evolution from recruiting mobile development managers in the enterprise to packaged applications that can manage various workflows.

Staying on top of rogue apps

The rise of better mobile apps and the cloud services that drive them make it easier for managers to roll out new applications outside the purview of IT. This shadow IT is a huge problem, Hilaly said. To help minimize the risks, companies will need better tools for identifying rogue apps in the enterprise, tools like those from Skyhigh Networks, which Sequoia has funded.

Skyhigh recently conducted an assessment of 6 million corporate users that found that the average organization has 626 cloud applications, but only 11% were enterprise-ready. "There are literally hundreds of cloud apps in use in your office," Hilaly said. Organizations need some way of getting their arms around this issue.

On the mobile side, there has been an evolution from managing at the device level to managing at more detailed levels. "You need a solution that covers device, content and applications," Hilaly said.

Staying on top of cloud offerings

The popularity of mobile in the enterprise has led to a plethora of new applications and services. This can make it difficult to stay on top of new cloud applications that could improve your business. Enterprises need a different approach to staying on top of this wave of innovation, Hilaly says. The No. 1 thing he recommends is to create a trusted circle of friends with which to share information about what works in practice.

Another good practice is to leverage social media. Hilaly recommends following a few people in key areas to keep up on new developments. This can help to inform your opinion about these developments, and makes it easier to identify and track two or three of the most relevant cloud services for your business needs.

Rethinking security for mobile-first

The rise of the mobile enterprise will also lead to the growing use of analytics and big data, said Arif Janmohamed, partner at Lightspeed Ventures Partners.

We will see a huge number of applications that take advantage of big data for mobile-first applications.

Arif Janmohamed, Lightspeed Ventures Partners

The cloud has helped to reduce the cost of managing and processing large collections of data. Now you can store and process it in the cloud so you don't have to think about the infrastructure that will host the back end. "We will see a huge number of applications that take advantage of big data for mobile first applications," Janmohamed said.

But CIOs and CSOs are wrestling with the fact that in the old days there was a conga line of boxes for building compliance and an audit trail around what people did with the data. Now people are accessing data from mobile devices and laptops rather than tethered desktops. These devices tend to operate outside the traditional domains of the firewall.

Using mobile to streamline workflows

Mobile-first development means reimagining the entire work experience for mobile devices. Although a wide variety of cloud-based applications exist that can support mobile, Customer relationship management (CRM) vendors have not solved mobile workflows yet, said Andy Byrne, CEO at Clari.

This is in large part because CRM applications were designed for desktops, and it is difficult to rethink how sales get done in a mobile way. Web incumbents like Salesforce do well in supporting new kinds of marketing capabilities around mobile. But they don't always support efficient workflows for specific use cases, Byrne argued.

A cloud-based approach for rolling out mobile services can make it easier to experiment with new applications without considerable up-front investment and time. You can get a small pilot up and running within a day, said Byrne, then use quantitative and qualitative data about how users are using the applications to guide the rollout to a larger group. This allows you to prove the value quickly.

As CIOs build quantitative metrics of value, they can create a line item in the budget for producing a mobile app. If you design the right app and get engagement, the information about how it is being used in practice creates a level of insight about how users are engaging with the application. This creates a virtuous circle.

Reduce data entry with cloud services

One day, we might look at data entry the same way we look at a rotary phone, Byrne said. Better back-end systems for automating much of the work of capturing data will leave workers more time for other projects. This will allow information will find its way to us, rather than users looking for it.

The role of the cloud is to aggregate the sources of information and proactively curate and push the data to the user, so they don't have to get the data themselves. This makes workers more efficient. "We can reduce data entry by 80% by capturing information from email and phone calls," Byrne said. "This is allowing sales reps to spend 20% to 25% more time doing eyeball-to-eyeball sales, which is what they do best."

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