It's a golden time for apps developers trying to sell to enterprise, according to Optus business director of marketing and strategy, Scott Mason, but hopefuls need to get in now before the industry consolidates.
Mason said that the current environment for app developers was quite similar to the late '90s for telcos, where there were over 1000 internet service providers (ISPs) in Australia. As some ISPs scaled, there was consolidation of the market as it became harder to compete.
"With app developers, it's very much the same thing," Mason said.
He believed that the growth area wasn't in building apps to be sold on the app store, but instead in building apps for enterprise use. And because the market is full of small development houses, enterprises were working with fairly small companies, he said, bringing opportunity for people setting up businesses straight out of university.
The companies which form relationships with enterprise would become larger, he said, making it more difficult to compete and may force consolidation, as happened in the telco industry, making it important that app developers get in to the market right now.
Roman Surkis, GM products and services for mobile development house Mobilise IT, agreed that it was definitely a ripe time for finding work in enterprise. He added that if a new company had a good sales team and understood best practice and existing architectures, they could find work consulting around the rewriting of legacy applications for the mobile world.
Mason and Surkis provided some tips for developers looking to create apps for enterprise:
1. Deploy apps across multiple platforms
An app can't just work on iOS or Android for enterprise, Mason said. With bring-your-own-device policies coming in, enterprise apps need to run on all platforms.
"The standard environment is an endangered species," he said. "The app needs to be able to be agnostic across various operating systems."
Surkis agreed. "When you write for an enterprise app, you can't write for a particular device," he said. "When we're speaking to enterprise organisations, we're always speaking about how do we write for the majority."
HTML5 was going to become a cross-platform development tool for developers, Surkis said, but added that it still had some shortfalls that needed to be overcome, such as connectivity to databases and the ability to store offline data.
"We're still battling with those questions and we're certainly getting answers, but we're not quite there yet."
As much as developers might want to be able to create standard code and sell it to as many takers as possible, enterprise just doesn't work without customisation, according to Mason.
"Most of the apps that are developed do have the need for customisation," he said.
"Even if they've implemented the same line of business application, they've always put customisations on top of that," Surkis agreed.
And there is no use trying to push a "better" product on enterprise, according to Surkis.
"We want to do it better, but at the same time you're thinking about enterprise, organisations that have always done it in a particular way.
"Are end users going to be able to pick up that technology, consume that technology?"
3. Not just the mobile
Apps have to work, not just on the mobile devices, but also on typical enterprise desktops, Mason said.
Surkis said that developers needed to think about the existing workflow within a business.
"We always talked about the first release should always be something that replicates an existing paper-based system," he said.
4. The cloud
Enterprises have differing stances on the cloud and data storage, Mason said. Developers who ignore where an organisation's comfort point is did so at their own peril.
It's no use having the app solely rely on the in-built security of the platform, Mason said. Developers needed to think in a security-minded fashion when designing the apps.
"Every application has data that's being saved on the device that's going to be used in an offline mode," Surkis said. "The application developer really needs to think about how they're going to store the data."
Which database will it be stored in, how will it be encrypted and how much information should the app store have, were all questions an app developer needed to ask himself, Surkis said.
6. Use all of the phone
When recreating workflows, app developers have many tools at their fingertips, according to Surkis.
"All of these devices today have additional features that we've never had in the past, GPS and geotagging, capturing of photos and even things like scanning," he said.
The best apps will make use of every feature that fits into the workflow.
7. Promising areas
The areas in which Mason saw the most movement for enterprise were apps for workers out in the field, customer relationship management, documentation management and mobile device management. Optus is currently holding a competition for in-house IT teams who think they have a good idea to develop an app, and the winner gets a prototype design built courtesy of the telco.