Kony talks mobile app development, releases research

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How can IT managers avoid the dire consequences of runaway 'shadow IT' mobile app development? We talk to leading MADP vendor Kony.

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Kony is a 'pure-play' Mobile Application Development Platform (MADP) vendor that has earned a coveted place in the 'leaders' quadrant of Gartner's MADP Magic Quadrant for the last two years (2014 and 2013). The company also emerged as a leader in Ovum's Decision Matrix for MADPs, earning plaudits for "one of the best platform offerings for the enterprise."

A few weeks ago I talked with two senior Kony executives — CTO Sriram Ramanathan and vice president of Europe and Africa Jonathan Best; Kony has also recently published a survey from 451 Research entitled the 2015 Enterprise Mobile Application Report. Between them, these resources give a good summary of recent developments in the enterprise mobile app market, and show how Kony is responding to them.

Talking of acronyms in the mobile app world, MADP isn't the only one: "We're an MADP and we're an MBaaS [Mobile Back-end as a Service] and then we've got security and testing..." says Best, describing a standards-based end-to-end platform offering full software development lifecycle (SDLC) support, capable of delivering B2C, B2B and B2E mobile apps — be they native, hybrid or HTML5.

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There's certainly plenty of demand for mobile apps of all kinds, according to the June Kony/451 Research survey, which canvassed 484 IT professionals and line-of-business managers across the USA, UK, Germany and Australia. More than half of the companies (57%) had revenues of $500 million or more, while a third (34%) employed over 5000 people; the main industries involved were manufacturing (28%), financial services (25%) and retail (19%).

Key findings include the observation that, of companies planning more than 20 B2E apps, 60 percent are also planning over 20 B2C and B2B apps. That adds up to a lot of pressure on IT departments, which are expected to manage mobile app projects in 71 percent of the surveyed companies — especially as a significant proportion (34%) currently custom-build their back-end integrations (and 10% rely on their application provider).

The all-important back-end integration component has been part of Kony's platform from the outset, although Ramanathan admits that "we did a very bad job of talking about it". Originally called Kony Server, "it did a tremendous number of things", according to Ramanathan, including support for disconnected offline apps, business rules and campaign management (user segmentation, beacons, analytics), a suite of connectors to back-end systems and mobile orchestration. "Very importantly," says Ramanathan, "all of these capabilities are completely decoupled, so you can use one of our native SDKs or an HTML5 SDK — any client-side framework that you want."

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Ramanathan stresses that the Kony Mobility Platform (KMP) embraces the full app lifecycle "all the way from design, where you get the business heavily involved, lock your design down and sign off on it; then the developer uses our Studio product to connect to all the back-end sources of data, and build across all these channels — whether it's native, hybrid or HTML5, phone, tablet or desktop; and then you manage the app — you can wrap the app, and you've got a complete EMM [Enterprise Mobility Management] suite too."

The EMM component, Kony Management, which can operate standalone or as part of the KMP, is often overlooked in reviews and analyst roundups, which tend to concentrate on pure-play vendors like AirWatch, MobileIron and Good Technology. "Part of the reason we don't make more noise about it [Kony Management] is that the amount of noise we'd need to make would be disproportionate to the benefit we'd gain," explains Jonathan Best, while stressing that Kony's EMM product stands up well against such competition.

Turning back to the Kony/451 Research survey, CRM features heavily among the types of new mobile apps that companies plan to deploy over the next two years:

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Data source: Kony/451 Research

Many of these apps will require offline access — and not just for storage, but also for database operations, which raises the question of synchronisation when connectivity to back-end services is restored. "The hardest part — and this was a two-year engineering cycle for me — was doing runtime conflict resolution," says Ramanathan. "Frequently, in CRM and field-service situations, you only want to sync when you have sufficient bandwidth; we let you define when you want to sync what, and why, and we handle all of that logic when you do the runtime reconciliation." Will patchy mobile connectivity be with us forever? Ramanathan thinks so: "I used to be the mobility telco guy for IBM, and we said 'we're going to make these networks so good, they'll be ubiquitous, omnipresent'...but it just didn't happen."

With so many mobile apps queuing up to be built, and many of the customer-facing ones likely to be native (to take advantage of every bell and whistle on the client device), two key factors for any app development platform will be how closely it can track developments in mobile operating systems, and how easily code can be reused.

On the first count, Kony is keen to stress the quality of its SLA, which takes advantage of a hundreds-strong team in India whose sole job every day, says Best, "is to wake up and track what Apple is doing with iOS, what Google is doing with Android, and what Microsoft is doing with Windows and so on." The result is an SLA for all customers stating that "within 30 days of the developer release of a new version of iOS, Android, Windows or BlackBerry OS, we will have all of the apps that you've built with Kony ready for use with the new OS version," says Best. That's a big job, but Kony can do it thanks to economies of scale: a CIO with hundreds of custom-built in-house apps would find it an almost impossible task.

Other recent Kony developments include Kony Modeler, a 'no-code' solution that provides a set of configurable tools for agile mobile app development, and prebuilt customisable mobile app templates called Kony Apps, currently aimed at the sales, field service, HR, healthcare and retail banking sectors.

According to Jonathan Best, "Mobility 1.0, over the last couple of years, was 'let's get some apps out...let's get some customer-facing apps, and something internally'. What we're seeing now, what we're calling Mobility 2.0, is, projecting the number of apps involved, that this doesn't scale. And because central IT organisations in enterprises haven't had the skills, capabilities and tools to build apps for the business, there's a huge 'shadow IT' spend where different parts of the business have taken some budget and built an app. What you find after a couple of years is, you've got 25-50 different apps and the IT guys are starting to be asked to maintain them, but they weren't documented — and by the way, we've got it on iOS and now we need it on Android."

This is the kind of 'app-pocalypse', or 'app-ageddon' that Kony's platform and tooling is seeking to mitigate.

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