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Why Mobile Business Apps Will Flower in 2011

On the coming enterprise mobile app explosion, Battlestar Galactica said it best: All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

The dearth of serious mobile business apps has been a potent argument by skeptics who question the usefulness of smartphones and tablets in business. It's also a rapidly weakening one, as a recent Wall Street Journal article shows.

"Wireless apps aren't just about slingshotting birds or drinking virtual beers anymore. Increasingly, businesses are getting in on the craze, too," according to the article, which cited several interesting examples:

- Aflac, which built in-house a dozen different mobile apps to its 70,000 sales employees, according to the Journal.

- Life Technologies Corp., a biotech tools maker which has 400 salespeople and executives using iPads and a mobile BI app called Roambi to display its sales data in interactive charts.

- General Growth Properties, a mall operator, which built a survey app for its iPad-toting surveyors to use.

Here's another example that the Journal didn't point out: telecom equipment maker, Tellabs. It has custom-built a warehouse-shipping app for the iPad using the Sybase Unwired Platform that connects to its SAP-based data.

According to a video that Tellabs posted, the iPad app sped up the time to approve urgent and unusual shipments by nearly two-thirds.

Apart from Roambi, the common thread that runs through the above apps is that they were built by the company's own developers, presumably at a high cost in money and time.

All of this has happened before, all of it will happen again: ISVs have til now been largely unwilling to build packaged mobile apps for the enterprise market until they saw enough devices in the hands of workers.

Now that that is true - see Gartner's report today that 1 in 5 mobiles sold today is a smartphone - business app makers are starting to build them.

Any high-tech veteran has seen the large-scale transition from custom to pre-packaged before. The best example is probably the shift from custom enterprise server apps to packaged ones in the 80s and 90s.

My employer Sybase/SAP has already built two mobile apps: a sales/CRM app and a workflow/ERP app that both connect back to SAP back-ends. But we are moving aggressively to become a maker of mobile business apps, rather than primarily hawking our business app development platform, SUP. But non-consumer apps are flowering in the education and enterprise space.

And for end users, buying off the shelf has many benefits. It lowers the time and money for companies to deploy mobile business apps. That shortens the time for companies to earn a Return on Investment (ROI). Both of those make it easier for companies to justify a "Bring Your Own Device" strategy if they don't already have one. All in all, a nice feedback loop that will likely twirl far faster in 2011.

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