Last year, I wrote a blog entitled "Thar's Gold in Them Thar iPhone Apps." I argued that a Gold Rush was coming in mobile apps, pointing to the example of a game developer who was successfully charging $1,000 an hour for his services.
Of course, I only really meant consumer apps. To argue last year that mobile enterprise apps was the next Big Thing would've been premature, and let's face it, dishonest. The infrastructure was lacking. And neither the supply nor the demand was there.
The pieces of the enterprise mobility jigsaw puzzle have fallen rapidly into place this year.
Let's take infrastructure first. Version 2.0 of the Sybase Unwired Platform introduced in the spring brought two huge improvements. First, it made mobile development accessible to tens of millions of Web developers. Second, it introduced hybrid Web containers. Using SUP's middleware layer, hybrid Web apps offer rich, native app functionality with the quick development time (and easy portability) of a browser-based Web app.
Version 2.1 of SUP, introduced on Tuesday, extends this a couple of ways. First, it introduces a standalone SDK (Software Developers Kit) as part of SUP that provides even more tools and pre-built components to get rich apps up and running faster. Second, it introduces an OData SDK for developers to more easily create lightweight Web-based apps (think HR approvals like expenses or vacations) that can nevertheless quickly link to SAP server apps using the SAP Gateway.
The latest version of the market-leading Afaria device management platform also now manages billing and deployment of apps from Apple's new Business-focused App Store, aka the Volume Purchase Program for Businesses. This had been a subtle but omnipresent pain point for IT managers.
Let's also tackle the issue of supply. There will be more than 50 apps available from SAP and partners by year end, said Nick Brown, senior vice-president for strategy in SAP's mobile applications unit, during a panel I hosted on Tuesday at TechEd. These include the very-impressive Electronic Medical Records (EMR) app aimed at doctors and set for release later this fall.
While at least 19 of them will come from Walldorf, the majority will come from partners. Partners like Cognizant, the $5-billion-a-year multinational technology services provider. Cognizant is about to release an HR app built using SUP 2.0. This will compete with the 16-odd HR apps SAP has already confirmed as being part of its latest batch of apps. But Girish Ogirala, director of the mobility practice at Cognizant, isn't worried. Companies like his that are closer to customers and specific industry verticals will have no problem out-hustling SAP, he said during the same panel as Brown. Brown smiled - but didn't protest.
And that's it: While building apps would seem to pit SAP/Sybase against the very developers it wants to lure as SUP customers/partners, that has stopped leading ISVs such as IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, CSC, Infosys, Wipro, Tata, Cap Gemini and others from building apps on SUP.
In part that's because SAP is doing its best to downplay that conflict. For instance, SAP is developing a mobile app store for launch in the first quarter of next year. SAP and partner apps will get equal billing, says Brown. Indeed, Brown said that while SAP is committed to selling the apps it developers (unlike in the past when it bundled some for free along with its server applications), it might conceivably one day give away SUP for free - if the market required it.
Gold? I came to this thar Valley looking for Silicon!*
How about customer demand? While not yet mainstream by any stretch, companies are deploying apps. According to one survey, 86% of Fortune 50 firms already offer mobile apps. Another survey by Kelton Research found that 20% of firms were planning to deploy more than 20 apps this year.
General Mills, Tellabs, Home Depot, P&G, Halliburton and Rubbermaid are among the companies running mobile apps using SUP. Or how about Nongfu Spring Co. Ltd., the largest bottled water maker in China? The company has deployed SAP HANA in its back-end to calculate the time and cost of delivering new shipments. What took 24 hours running an Oracle database takes only 37 seconds with HANA. But real-time is wasted if you can't deliver that info anywhere. So Nongfu is arming 8,000 of its field sales reps with mobile devices and apps that will be able to call up that information for customers in, as noted, less than a minute.
I'm not saying 2011 - or even 2012 - is the year that enterprise mobility goes mainstream and mobile ISVs reap the benefits. But before you can pan for gold, you need to buy your mule and pickax and pick the spot where you plan to panhandle. For developers who want to get in on the enterprise gold rush, that time is now.
* You can thank/hate on my blogger-in-arms Derek Klobucher for the caption.