In bridging the gap between the gains enterprise social has made on our workplace desktops and the need for the same success on mobile, a debate has taken shape around the type of mobile enterprise application worth developing.

In thinking about mobile, we naturally should draw from our consumer experiences–from native apps like Instagram to Angry Birds–which have enterprise users yearning for such a beautiful, zippy interface built just for work. Indeed, that kind of magical experience that we just can’t put down is core to successful enterprise social adoption for mobile. However, of late we are seeing more and more mobile apps built using HTML5 as the base technology, which has a “write once and run anywhere” promise.

So as it evolves its mobile technology, the enterprise social sector would be wise to take its cue from both, in the form of the hybrid application. Hybrid apps draw on both native OS and HTML5/mobile web capabilities to address the most pressing needs of enterprise computing, from the growing “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) trend–including tablets–to cost efficiencies, security, and beyond.

This article dives into three key reasons for the enterprise social tech sector to adopt a hybrid HTML5/native approach in developing on mobile, and why there’s much more to gain than to lose in choosing the hybrid way.

Device neutrality

As ZDNet’s Larry Dignan recently reported, the BYOD movement is upon us. This means workers–not necessarily IT–are choosing their own favorite devices for working on the go. As developers of enterprise social technology, we must keep up. In building mobile access to our enterprise social networks, we must provide the broadest reach across all mobile platforms without compromising on the overall user experience.

We also have to take into consideration the human motivation to update mobile apps, which matters greatly to a company with thousands of employees in the network. HTML5 quickly provides the best avenue for all the new functionalities a vendor might have to push to any type of OS. For example, rolling out a new feature or fix is significantly faster; providers avoid multiple OS approvals and users get the upgrades instantly. From the provider’s end, these can come quickly and automatically the next time the app is launched. From a user’s end, they don’t have to check for updates and manually update their app (and if they don’t, they won’t be missing out on new features and, possibly, important work information).

Security consistency

While a hybrid app is not necessarily more secure than a natively developed app, the HTML5-hybrid approach does provide greater consistency in security by ensuring the ability to build out a security access model for any operating platform. At tibbr, we were seeing a big opportunity to expand our single-sign on (SSO) function (something enterprise IT is keen on) to our mobile approach, especially because companies have grown accustomed to using corporate IDs for the process of logging in. By using SAML and other standards, we’ve achieved this SSO for both browser and mobile, so that you only log in to the enterprise social network once, but gain access anywhere. HTML5 has helped us build an SSO infrastructure in universal fashion, rather than having to program for each operating system. What’s more is that access and removal (new or departing employees) can happen instantly instead of taking weeks.

Engineering and product-build savings

Especially for enterprise social vendors with thousands of customer companies and millions of end users, to develop separate native apps would require costly product engineering teams structured around the primary programming languages best suited for iOS, BlackBerry SDK, Android, and Windows. In choosing a hybrid approach, you can achieve coding and quality efficiency–including staff efficiency gains–through just working in HTML5 and Javascript. And when it comes to product upkeep and fixes, the hybrid app provides one code base as opposed to five or six different ones.

At the end of the day, vendors should be putting the interests of its users at the top when building any viable enterprise social network, especially the mobile experience. And for any large enterprise setting up all of its global employees into one enterprise social network, the mobile experience should be just as easy, secure, and consistent as the desktop or web version.

By Sriram Chakravarthy, Vice President of Social Computing Engineering at TIBCO and lead product engineer for tibbr.

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