Apps in the Enterprise
Whether the corporate IT world is ready or not, a growing number of employees now use a variety of mobile devices to access and carry corporate data. Powerful smartphones are becoming omnipresent – led by the universally enticing iPhone. While tablets such as the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab are set to make major inroads over the next few months.
With this in mind, the changing app culture has become a key discussion point. IT managers are faced with the challenge of quickly and effectively deploying mobile applications, while maintaining high levels of security, as well as providing employees with a user-friendly experience that increases productivity. A critical step in the future of mobilising today's workforce lies with mobile device management and the move towards an Enterprise App Store model.
The demand for applications is driving mobility into the enterprise much faster than many predicted. For this reason, apps, more than anything else, tell the tale of what is and what isn’t working in the mobile enterprise. According to a 2010 survey by Forrester Research, 75 per cent of companies report “increased worker productivity” from deploying mobile applications, through increased employee responsiveness and decision-making speed (66 per cent); faster resolution of customer and internal IT issues (48 per cent); and improved customer satisfaction (42 per cent). Extending business data and applications to mobile devices exponentially increases the value of these corporate assets through real-time access, always-on availability, fewer delays and faster execution.
Firstly, it is important to question what kind of mobile apps are most important for the business. There are many compelling mobile application priorities across the landscape. The key areas that consistently come up in discussions are consumer- and employee-facing mobile applications to increase productivity, reduce decision making, capture travel information and expenses, approve and reject purchase orders, and enable CRM. In addition, employees are calling for industry-specific applications that optimise business processes.
IT developers need a clear view of what workers are really looking for, and should understand the business processes and how they are tied to each other to create effective enterprise apps. Within an organisation, roles can be further broken down by creating app stores personalised to the individual and to their role. The gap between IT and employees at all levels in an organisation is closing, and this is where innovation and synergies between various business divisions can come together.
Development of business mobile apps has been moving more slowly than the development of consumer-facing apps. This is changing, however, as more and more business apps find their way onto smartphones, enabling the workforce to manage mainstream business tasks, from sales to marketing, customer service and consumer research on their phones.
The most significant reason for concern around the growth of business apps however, is due to the security of mobile devices. With these vulnerable to being lost, hacked or stolen, there is a need for new tools and practices for keeping sensitive corporate data safe. Security management across a diverse set of mobile devices remains a challenge, and there is a growing need for vendors to move to address these concerns.
Currently, IT managers report that possible data security issues with mobile applications cause 65 per cent more problems than the 25 per cent incurred by mobile implementation alone. Security-related risks with company data are minimised with the emergence of enterprise apps built on secure mobile device management platforms. A secure enterprise app store would also decrease the current issue with app deployments in the industry. Business data and apps can be isolated from users' personal apps and activities in a secure virtual container, and IT can remotely wipe a device that is lost or stolen.
Finally, for enterprise mobile applications to be successful, they should have a much shorter development lifecycle than a traditional business app. In the near-future, businesses will be able to create new, lightweight applications that are flexible and customisable. Application developers will also need to gain a better understanding of how workers are interacting with enterprise applications, and how these interactions differ on a mobile device compared to a laptop/desktop.
Taking the above into consideration, companies that have put off deploying mobile enterprise apps, despite their business benefits, will soon have no excuse. Those who continue to stay put will one day look up and realise that they are miles behind their competitors, and will not be able to catch up.
Ian Thain is senior technical evangelist at Sybase