Mobile app development: The state of play

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Recent predictions and reports from analysts paint a challenging picture for business-focused CIOs as they move to a 'mobile-first' app development model.

Image: Shutterstock

Over the years, the focus of user interaction with computers has shifted inexorably from desktop to laptop, to tablet and smartphone, and will presumably continue on to wearable devices such as smartwatches. As it does so, the pressure intensifies on software development teams to 'mobilise' existing customer-facing and internal applications, and to create brand-new 'mobile-first' apps and services.

To add to the problem, the mobile landscape is both fragmented and fast-moving: not only are there multiple native platforms (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) plus HTML5 and hybrid apps to consider, but the devices themselves are also evolving rapidly -- adding new screen sizes and functionality like fingerprint recognition, NFC and an increasing number of sensors, for example. Meanwhile, companies' legacy back-end IT infrastructure may not be set up to support efficient and secure mobile access to the relevant data.

All this gives CIOs plenty to think about as they strive to cater for customers who expect to interact with their favourite brands, and employees who need to be productive, on their mobile devices -- even when they're offline, in many cases. Recent analyst reports examine the scale of the enterprise mobility challenge, and offer some advice on how to tackle it.

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Towards the end of last year, IDC made ten key predictions for mobile enterprise applications and solutions in 2015:

  1. IT organizations will dedicate at least 25% of their software budget to mobile application development, deployment, and management by 2017.
  2. Difficulties linking mobile platforms to existing databases will cause 45% of mobile enterprise app initiatives to be delayed or go over budget in 2015.
  3. 35% of large enterprises will leverage mobile application development platforms to develop and deploy mobile apps across their organizations in 2015.
  4. The number of enterprise applications optimized for mobility will quadruple by 2016.
  5. 30-40% of organizations deploying more than five mobile applications in 2015 will realize substantial business agility benefits by establishing an API tier in their enterprise IT architecture.
  6. Over 50% of large organizations will invest in enhanced enterprise mobility management (EMM) capabilities to secure apps and data in 2015.
  7. By 2017, 100% of the line of business (LOB) apps in customer-facing roles and 75% of LOB apps in internally-facing roles will be built for mobile-first consumption.
  8. IT departments will require major reorganizations by 2016 to assume broker-integrate-manage as well as service orchestration functions.
  9. Competitive necessity will supersede productivity and efficiency for 50% of mobile enterprise app development in 2015.
  10. By the end of 2015, only 15% of large organizations will have adequate mobile security governance for process and policy.

Recently, Forrester Research published a survey-based report on The State of Mobile App Development, which delivered four key takeaways:

  • The pace of app enhancement challenges e-business professionals
  • Infrastructure -- not budget -- inhibits update frequency
  • Too few build apps in-house
  • Build IDEA teams with creative developers that are mobile natives

In case you're wondering, the IDEA cycle is the central concept behind a 2014 book, The Mobile Mind Shift, by three Forrester analysts -- Ted Schadler, Josh Bernoff and Julie Ask. The correct way to approach mobile development, they say, involves four steps:

Identify the mobile moments and context. In this step you map out all the situations and scenarios in which you can serve someone on a mobile device.
Design the mobile engagement. This is the step where you bring business people, designers, and developers together to decide how you will engage a customer in his mobile moments.
Engineer your platforms, processes, and people for mobile. Mobile engagement requires much more than an app. What changes will you need to make to your core operations and systems?
Analyze results to monitor performance and optimize outcomes. Your mobile application is not complete if you're flying blind. Capture, track, analyze, and act on the data to improve the engagement.

A key point about these four steps, say the authors, is that they form a cycle: "because you can't do them just'll inevitably want to extend the mobile moments as you learn, which means going through the cycle again." This in turn requires a team and an execution platform that can be extended over time.

Returning to Forrester's State of Mobile App Development report, the combination of mobile platform fragmentation and problems with back-end infrastructure figure prominently in the reasons why businesses struggle to keep their mobile apps up to date:

Source: Forrester's Q2 2014 Global Mobile Executive Online Survey

The report's recommendations urge e-business professionals to "own the technology conversation" with in-house developers and third parties, specifically: Get comfy with acronyms ("learn that you develop with Objective-C for iOS apps, Java for Android apps, and C# for Windows Phone/RT apps -- and that Cordova isn't just a city in Spain"); Spend time with your developers ("Bring pizza and drinks to the next retrospective or scrum. Understand them. Learn their culture. Learn to speak their language"); Hire developers who have grown up placing mobile first ("...take the opportunity to hire some newer developers who have cut their teeth on mobile apps and modern web-scale architectures'); Build one IDEA team at a time ("Start your internal hiring with the goal of building out a single self-contained IDEA team and align it with an important business-to-consumer [B2C] app"); and Be strategic when it comes to vendor selection (" smart and choose vendors that can grow with you while not locking you in").

The mobile landscape is complex and fast-moving, as businesses get to grips with mobilising their applications and services, and vendors of mobile development tools strive to offer the most appealing combinations of platform support, back-end integration services and hosting/deployment methods. Given that, in Forrester's survey, nine percent of companies have 21 or more customer-facing mobile apps (and 23 percent have 11 or more), there's something of a mobile mountain to climb in the coming years.

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