Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Black Hole of Enterprise Mobility Apps

I was eating my fried chicken cobb salad at an airport restaurant in Chicago yesterday and overheard a table full of businessmen next to me talking about mobile apps.  One of them bragged about how easy it is to develop mobile apps.  He used as evidence the fact that even his brother-n-law had developed one. 

I don't doubt it was a major accomplishment for the brother-n-law, but I do doubt the mobile app in question was actually enterprise ready.  There is much more involved with developing mobile apps than just putting your favorite spreadsheet into an iOS app and getting it approved by Apple.  There are things like deployment, maintenance, integration, app management, single sign-on and security that must be considered.

Unless there is a strategic reason to develop your own mobile apps, you should really look for off-the-shelf mobile apps first from quality mobile app vendors before succumbing to the temptation to develop your own.  I recently spoke about this subject on a webinar that is now available on-demand.  Developing a mobile app is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cost, time and resources required to maintain it long term. 

When I was the CEO of a mobile app company, I remember how hard it was simply trying to organize and maintain all the different versions and code bases of the many custom apps we had developed for our customers.  It was crazy!  We had enough customers so it was justified for us to invest in tools to help manage this challenge, but it was still a cost and chore.

I will say it again, "Mobile apps have a beginning, but they don't have an end."  They will be here for the rest of your career so you need a plan.  Pick carefully the mobile apps that you want to design, develop, deploy, document, archive, support and maintain forever.  It can easily become a black hole with no escape if you don't.

I am also a big fan of cloud based mobile off-the-shelf apps when these are available.  I believe that most enterprises will have several different buckets of mobile apps.  Some buckets require custom developed mobile apps because of their unique features and the competitive advantages they provide, others however, can be off-the-shelf because they are simply providing efficiencies for standard ERP processes. 

Some mobile apps may be mission critical, but are only used by 10 people.  There are no economies of scale.  It may not pay to train a whole team to develop, document and support a mobile app for just 10 people.  Contract an expert team to jump in and develop it, if it is that important and worthwhile.  However, find out if someone else can support it in the cloud.

If your organization is like most I work with, you have very limited resources and budgets.  Pick carefully the kinds of mobile apps you are willing to develop and support yourself.  Don't waste your best talent developing mobile apps that can be purchased off-the-shelf and in the cloud.  Look for opportunities to develop unique mobile apps that provide the biggest strategic value and competitive advantages.  Then development them using a standard IDE (integrated development environment) connected to a MEAP.  Also, if you outsource the development work, make sure they use your standard IDE and MEAP.  Don't let them mess up your standards!


Kevin Benedict, Independent Mobile Industry Analyst, Consultant and SAP Mentor Alumnus
Follow me on Twitter @krbenedict
Full Disclosure: I am an independent mobility analyst, consultant and blogger. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.