The mobile App Internet wags the IT dog

In new research, Forrester sizes the App Internet market and says the mobile app market will have a profound impact on the entire IT delivery system. Ted Schadler provides some key takeaways for enterprise IT professionals.
Written by Ted Schadler, Contributor

Your workforce is mobile and loving it. They love it because they can get things done anywhere, anytime, on any device. You can almost see happy tails wagging as they check their email. But they haver no idea how disruptive mobile devices are to the IT status quo. Sure, mobile email is a small dog to train. But what about mobile business apps? That dog is bigger than a rhinoceros.

To keep your workforce loving your business applications as they go mobile, you will have to redesign the fundamental architecture for delivering apps. The architecture of Client-Server (and Browser-Server) is inadequate. You will need to build from an architecture of devices and services.  The mobile app Internet is that architecture: local apps (including HTML5 browsers) on smart mobile devices and cloud-hosted interactions and data.

My friend and colleague John McCarthy has written a seminal report for Forrester clients sizing the market for the mobile app Internet. In this report, he lays out the growth model for mobile apps (six drivers of growth), segments the market for mobile apps+services (mobile apps, application development, mobile management, and process reinvention), and sizes the total mobile apps+services market ($54.6B by 2015).

This is an important report. Everybody should read it. Here's my take on what it means for content and collaboration professionals:

  • First, mobile apps completely recalibrate expectations about what a good experience is. As consumers of business applications, we now expect them to be as simple as Angry Birds, as useful as WebEx on iPad, and as convenient as Google Maps or the American Airlines iPhone app. And we expect them to be dirt cheap, always-upgraded, and self-service. Dense business apps built in old browsers or Windows marchines won't spread mobile joy. Either build native mobile apps or design fabulous HTML5 experiences. The design point for HTML5: Make HTML5 apps as good a user experience as a native mobile app.
  • Second, you will have to deliver workforce services on any device, any platform, any screen size, any location. The lock between client and server is dead. It's now an architecture of devices to services. All of a sudden, you will need an interaction layer to separate the data and transaction layers. NPR's Zach Brand figured this out and built an XML API so anybody could build a mobile app that draws on NPR content over the Internet. (So far, at least 20 mobile apps are available for NPR.org content.) Every workforce application will have to go through the same re-engineering. The design point: Start with SOA, then add a REST-ful interaction layer. (My colleague Jeffrey Hammond has more on this here.)
  • Third, your software partners will be more important than ever. Many software vendors are still waking up to the mobile shift. Some get it. Some don't. Salesforce.com's mobile support is looking good while Oracle and SAP's is not yet. Cisco's mobile collaboration tools reach most platforms while Microsoft's don't yet. The design point for software vendors: Build great mobile apps for at least iOS, Android, and QNX/BlackBerry. (You know tiny apps for Windows PCs will be next; it's already happened on Macintoshes.)
  • Four, every business application will have to be refactored to work on smart mobile devices. The design model for mobile apps is complete unlike anything your developers are used to. Mobile apps are contextual, immediate, tiny, stripped down, and rapidly improved. And as we've already learned, you can't even build for iPhone and deploy on iPad without degrading the user experience. So it's an app for every platform, for every smartphone and every tablet. Wow. This is gonna be tough to do. (And while virtual cient solutions are an okay stopgap, they won't deliver a mobile app experience. The developer design point: Help employees get something useful done in 12 seconds.
  • Fifth, the cloud takes on new importance as a key element of the mobile app Internet. When your goal is to deliver a great mobile app experience, it's best if mobile devices and their local apps can get directly to the interaction logic and data they need. Tunneling through firewalls and maintaining complex interactions on an application server hosted in the data center will be very hard to get right. Porting apps (or their interaction layer) to a SaaS alternative will be much easier. The requirements of the mobile app Internet should also cause you to re-examine your email and portal services. The experience design point: I get the same response over the 4G network at the airport as I do over the Wi-Fi network in my building.
  • Sixth, every business network will have to support secure zero-click access to corporate apps. Mobile apps and access forces a huge rethinking of how networks are built, secured, provisioned, and maintained. The design point: Deliver the same experience from every location, home, work, conference room, airport. And if login clicks are required, then security will be compromised. So zero clicks.

The list of disruptions goes on: enterprise app stores to provide the mobile app experience to employees; design and development skills to build mobile apps; business analytics skills to refactor applications; new reimbursement and support models for employee-purchased devices; more money in the budget to support tablets as a a third device. I and colleagues, such as Jeffrey and Sarah Rotman Epps, are hard at work on what the mobile app Internet means for you.

This is one of those rare moments in time, when a single report can serve as your rallying cry to overhaul your approach to workforce applications so that your company (and you) will thrive in the age of the mobile app Internet. What have you learned about the mobile app Internet so far? What challenges do you expect? How are you overcoming them?

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