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Leveraging mobile cloud apps in the enterprise

Benefiting from mobile cloud apps requires a proactive mobile strategy. Part one in this series outlines the requirements for cloud-based mobile application development.

Editor’s note: The proliferation of smart devices and mobile cloud apps in the enterprise is pushing enterprise IT architects to constantly update their mobile device management (MDM) strategy. Whether the mobile devices are company-owned or employee-owned, mobile applications should be written once and deployed to many devices via a mobile cloud model. This two-part series will help you get ahead of the mobility curve.

At a time when most IT budgets are either flat or declining, the one bright spot is mobility. In 2011, mobility budgets are increasing for 42% of participants in Nemertes’ 2010-11 benchmark. What are these budgets going toward? Well, there is a general deepening and broadening of mobility in the organization.

First, we find organizations expanding the number of employees with smartphones -- going from less than 50% in 2010 to over 70% by 2013. The devices requiring support are also increasing at an exponential rate. “It’s hard to imagine we existed before the iPad,” said the CIO of a large publishing company. In his environment he is under continual pressure to deliver services to his employees in a mobile cloud computing model: The services should be available anytime from anywhere and support smartphones, including Apple, Android-based and RIM devices, as well as tablets.

Pressure to deliver new mobile cloud apps

There is a bit of a “build it and they will come” attitude going on with these new mobile cloud apps. Many companies are deploying with the idea that down the road there will be killer mobile applications to justify the expense and challenges of support. And certainly there are mobile cloud apps that provide immediate benefit. These include the following:

  • Time card: Among the highest-rated mobile applications are time card and cost-accounting applications. Employees are screaming for the ability to either enter their hours on their mobile device, or even better, to be able to use Near Field Communications (NFC) to swipe their phone by a scanner as they enter and leave the facility. Of course, this is a perfect cloud-based mobile application since employees are often not in a company facility when they are filing their time cards.

These are just two examples of the expanding number of mobile device and smartphone cloud applications. It’s conceivable that within the next few years there will be hundreds of enterprise-class applications for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. So, let’s get those applications up on iTunes and ready for employees to download, right?  Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. App stores are not enterprise-ready, and there is the added complication of employee-owned mobile devices.

Pressure to support employee-owned mobile devices

Does this sound familiar? Your CFO brings in the monthly cell phone bill and asks the simple question, “Why are we paying for cell phones when everyone already has a personal cell phone they’re quite happy to pay for?” At the same time employees are screaming they only want to schlep one smartphone. Meanwhile some analyst is touting the benefits (productivity, job satisfaction, coolness factor, etc.) of expanding employee smartphone use beyond upper management and mobile workers -- that every employee should be smartphone enabled with applications delivered via a mobile cloud model.

These pressures raise the question of employee ownership of smartphones. Though our research indicates most organizations are still in a company-owned mode, we believe over time at least some percentage of the employee population will have employee-owned smart mobile devices. This issue of employee-owned devices affects every mobility decision, so it must be resolved before establishing a successful mobility plan.

Mobile cloud application development

What’s the best approach? The fundamental rules are: write once, deploy many times and deploy in a mobile cloud model. Regardless of the application it should only be written (or adapted) once and supported on multiple platforms with an anytime, anywhere facility. It makes no sense to write a time card application for RIM and then write it again for Apple IOS and again for Google Android. It also makes no sense to write an application that requires employees to be in a certain location to use it, right?

Writing for multiple smart mobile platforms is not a trivial task. Enterprise mobility architects are turning to Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) to support multi-platform mobile environments. A MEAP is pretty self-explanatory: A development platform supporting the write-once, deploy-many philosophy. Vendors of MEAPs include Antenna, Good Technologies, Kony, Pyxis and SAP/Sybase. An interesting trend we are seeing is third parties (AT&T, for example) partnering with multiple MEAP vendors to deliver MEAP as part of an overall mobility service.

So, do you need MEAP? For three or more platforms (e.g., RIM, IOS and Android), a MEAP is necessary; for one platform it isn’t. It gets sticky with two platforms, and we find many organizations standardizing on two platforms. To MEAP or not to MEAP is a strategic decision. Does the company want to be positioned to quickly deploy the next great smart mobile device or be locked into the two platforms for the next 3-5 years? There is risk on either side: competitive disadvantage without MEAP or wasted resources with MEAP. Our recommendation to companies is that if they see mobility as a strategic asset they should invest in MEAP.

Now that we’ve outlined the necessary infrastructure for mobile application development, we still have the issue of application delivery. Specifically, how does one create a cloud for application delivery? In our next segment, Delivering cloud-based mobile apps to the enterprise, we’ll look at cloud-based mobile application delivery with a focus on delivery via an iTunes cloud, an enterprise cloud or a hybrid cloud.

Ted RitterAbout the author:
Ted Ritter is a senior research analyst with Nemertes Research, where he conducts research, advises clients and delivers strategic seminars. A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Ritter leads Nemertes' research on information stewardship, which includes compliance and the management, access, storage and backup of data.

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