These days, it's increasingly rare that 'work' is exclusively done at a traditional desk, in a traditional office on a traditional desktop computer. Of course plenty of people still operate in this way, but many also want or need to be able to perform a range of business tasks on the most convenient device they can lay their hands on, wherever they may be. Such flexible working arrangements pose problems that IT departments are now getting to grips with: discovering and securing mobile devices (mobile device management, or MDM); making sure they are provisioned with the appropriate applications (mobile application management, or MAM); and ensuring the safety of sensitive content they access (mobile content management, or MCM). Many of the solutions in these areas are now coalescing into enterprise mobility management (EMM) suites.
One of the biggest problems facing IT departments as they try to cater for mobile working concerns the kinds of applications they should develop and deploy. It's a key problem because the enterprise software landscape is currently so varied, encompassing traditional off-the-shelf (mostly Windows) desktop applications, custom-written applications, native (mostly iOS and Android) mobile apps, web (increasingly HTML5) apps and cloud-based (SaaS) software.
For example, should CIOs and IT managers wait until native mobile, HTML5 or SaaS versions of their organisations' key commercial desktop apps become available? And which mobile platforms should they support when mobilising their custom-written applications?
Where are we now?
Last year, Citrix surveyed 733 customers (IT executives and other decision-makers from companies ranging widely in size and sector) across North America, Europe, APAC, Latin America and Africa for a study entitled Citrix Mobility Report: A Look Ahead. Despite the widespread influx of 'BYO' tablets and smartphones into enterprises in recent years, Citrix found that Windows applications — mostly deployed on desktops and laptops — still dominate the scene, accounting for 64 percent of the app population in 2013. This is predicted to drop to 54 percent in 2014, with 10 percent difference expected to be made up by almost equal increases in mobile, HTML5/web and SaaS apps:
It's no surprise to find email (plus calendar and contacts) dominating the list of important mobile apps in Citrix's survey, and no surprise to see solid enterprise categories such as line-of-business apps, enterprise file sync and share, and collaboration tools also figuring prominently:
Perhaps the biggest challenge for enterprise IT managers is how best to 'mobilise' all those line-of-business apps, the majority of which will be traditional desktop Windows programs.
This question was addressed in a July 2013 survey, conducted by Vanson Bourne on behalf of enterprise application and data security platform provider Mobile Helix. Among the survey population of 300 IT decision makers (200 in the US, 100 in the UK), the average number of custom and packaged applications deployed per organisation was 424, of which 53 percent were browser-accessible. However, only 22 percent of enterprise applications (including ERP, CRM, SharePoint and custom apps), on average, could be accessed easily from mobile devices:
That's not to say these companies don't recognise the value of mobile access to enterprise apps and data: 71 percent had developed mobile applications, while a further 20 percent planned to do so in the near future. On average, respondents estimated that their organisations would see a 36 percent boost in productivity if key enterprise applications were mobilised:
So what's the holdup? The Mobile Helix survey identified several impediments to the wider deployment of enterprise applications on mobile devices, including the cost of development, concerns over security, and increased support and maintenance costs:
The high cost of developing or rewriting enterprise applications for mobile use is, according to 81 percent of Mobile Helix's survey respondents, down to the complex and fragmented nature of the mobile market. When it comes to developing native mobile apps, only 32 percent felt they had the requisite skills, while nearly half (47%) of those that had developed a mobile app reported reservations about repeating the process due to time, cost and complexity issues.
Productivity gains can be delivered by mobile deployments of enterprise applications. That much seems unarguable. However, it looks as though today's mobile application development platforms (MADPs) could serve the market better.
Mobile Application Development Platfoms (MADPs)
The recent state of play in the MADP market is revealed Gartner's August 2013 Magic Quadrant, which places enterprise software giants like IBM, SAP and Adobe in the 'leaders' quadrant, along with specialists such as Kony, jQuery Mobile and Antenna Software:
Gartner characterises the MADP market as follows. There are three basic underlying technologies: native toolkits (such as Apple's iOS development kit); web toolkits (such as jQuery Mobile); and specialised platforms (such as Appcelerator) that take a more holistic approach to mobile app development. MADP vendors often complement native and web toolkits with tooling including: wrapper tools (such as Adobe's PhoneGap) that allow web apps to work like native apps (so-called 'hybrid' apps); mobile middleware (such as IBM Worklight) that allow native and hybrid apps to communicate securely with on-premise and cloud-based enterprise applications; and application generators (such as KonyOne Studio) that deliver native, web and hybrid apps from a single set of specifications.
If this sounds like a complex and fast-moving market, that's because it is. As Gartner puts it: "traditional enterprise software, low-cost disruptors and open-source sales models are simultaneously having an impact on the market". The result is that "today's leaders can be tomorrow's laggards", so the market research company cautions enterprises to "avoid long-term commitments to any one vendor or technology and re-evaluate their mobile AD [application development] strategy often".
Enterprise mobility in 2014
To get an idea of where the enterprise mobility market is going in 2014 and beyond, we examined a selection (13) of the numerous '2014 predictions' articles that appeared around the turn of last year, assigning the pundits' offerings to a number of categories. The results are graphed below:
Top of the list, by some distance, are predictions concerning the MADP market. Let's unpack some of these.
According to Ovum:
Apps will drive the next phase in the evolution of enterprise mobility, creating new ways of working, and transforming existing business processes. In 2014, enterprise mobile apps will become a core part of the enterprise IT application stack. This will create challenges for the enterprise such as getting the UX right and enabling tight integration with internal systems. It also provides a big opportunity for app developers, systems integrators, and mobility management vendors.
Ovum also says that:
For organizations that already have a mobility strategy in place, the next phase will be to start mobilizing as many internal processes as possible to allow workers to perform their core tasks (beyond email) from whichever device they have to hand, from wherever they are.
FeedHenry sees more big software and IT providers taking major roles in enterprise mobility as some of today's leaders struggle:
The likes of Oracle, Red Hat, HP, VMware, etc. have seen some of the early missteps from SAP and IBM and are looking to capitalize on its large customer-base requirements for viable mobile solutions that fit the requirements for more modern, open development environments and cloud infrastructure.
Echoing Gartner's point that "today's leaders can be tomorrow's laggards", KidoZen predicts that:
2014 will see some important transformations in the IBM and SAP enterprise mobility stacks. After losing market share to leaner and more robust platforms such as the enterprise mobile backend as a service leaders, IBM and SAP will try [to] transform their products to either be a commodity offering attached to their enterprise suites or to be able to compete with the emergent players in the enterprise mobility space.
KidoZen also sees trouble ahead for another of Gartner's 2013 'leaders':
Similarly to IBM and SAP, Kony has been impacted by the emergence of new enterprise mobile players. Differently from IBM and SAP, Kony does not have the resources to reinvent itself without losing significant market share. From that perspective, we think Kony [is] likely to lose relevance or be acquired in 2014.
Analyst firm the Yankee Group foresees a move towards open standards in mobile application development:
The traditional model of very proprietary technology platforms known by the 'MEAP' [Mobile Enterprise Application Platform] moniker is dying a swift death. Mobile application platforms are increasingly prioritizing open and extensible architectures. Support for standards like OData, RESTful interactions, OAuth as an open standard gaining support around authentication, and HTML5 and for open-source third party front-end development tools will become commonplace.
CMSwire is another subscriber to the view that specialist MADPs will be snapped up in a round of large-company acquisitions in 2014:
If you are using Antenna, Verivo or Kony to develop mobile apps, be prepared for a potential acquisition. The biggest problem with mobile applications is that the skill set to create a functional mobile application is different from the skill set to create a web-enabled or standalone application. To bridge this gap, developers need a separate mobile toolkit and any mega-vendor that doesn't have a mobile application development toolkit will be left behind.
(In fact, Antenna Software had already been bought by Pegasystems in October 2013.)
Enabling enterprise mobility — and in particular, adopting the right mobile application development strategy — is one of the key tasks facing CIOs and IT managers over the next few years. And it's no small task, given the heterogeneous nature of the enterprise software landscape and the amount of flux in the mobile device, mobile OS and MADP markets.
Some, such as Mobile Helix co-founder and COO Matt Bancroft, see a relatively straightforward path through this forest of options: "Every device platform on the market today has a high-performance, HTML5-compliant engine. By taking this HTML5 browser-based approach, corporate IT can build a unified applications platform that extends across devices of all shapes and sizes, without compromise in functionality, performance, or security".
Gartner advocates a 'horses for courses' approach to MADP selection, noting that: "If you only need to build applications for the Apple iPad, a Niche Player, such as Apple, may be your best choice". Gartner also cautions that: "While HTML5 promises to satisfy typical enterprise needs, most enterprises find it is only a partial solution today".
One startup to watch in this area could be Capriza, which offers a "zero coding, zero integration, zero APIs" solution to mobilising existing web-based desktop applications via HTML5 or hybrid 'Zapps'. These are created via a Designer module that lets you automatically convert desktop web objects to mobile controls and customise the user interface; when the resulting Zapp is launched on a mobile device, Capriza kicks off a browser session on a secure virtualised server (in Capriza's cloud or on an on-premise virtual appliance), translating mobile-based actions as if they were being executed locally — so no data is stored on the mobile device. This virtualised model also means that Zapps automatically inherit any permissions in force on the desktop app. Capriza also provides an Analytics Dashboard for collecting user feedback and analysing usage metrics.
Approaches like Capriza's may work well for enterprises with large numbers of legacy desktop applications and a dearth of developers with mobile coding skills.
One thing is certain: given the productivity gains that are on offer, enterprise apps will be coming to a mobile device near you before long, if they haven't already. The question CIOs and IT managers are currently wrestling with is how best to make that happen.