Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) got it's start serving up the backend of mobile applications with maybe a basic level of security. The growth of the enterprise mobile apps market, reliance on the cloud, and evolving MBaaS enterprise customer requirements means that the MBaaS platform is ripe for integration and convergence in the future. When I spoke with Burley Kawasaki, senior vice president, platform for Kony while writing Dreaming of a more secure and hybrid MBaaS future he mentioned a potential convergence between MBaaS and Mobile Application Management (MAM).
MBaaS and MAM and the convergent future
Kawasaki told me that typical Kony customers use their Mobile Fabric solution. In my assessment, Kony is evolving away from the traditional MBaaS definition and positioning themselves as more of an infrastructure player. Kony includes app management as part of their solution and integrate identity management that federates with other providers.
"The mobile device doesn't know anything about how many different back-end identities you have, Kawasaki explained. "It's doing all the mapping of the user token, as well as then it handle the role permissions as well, it's doing the authorization and authentication. It's all token-based so that at no time do you ever pass any of your secure identity information back and forth to the mobile device."
"People want to be able to add very intelligent app policy," Kawasaki said. "I'll give you a use case, let's say I built an app that's got some sensitive information and I want to add different access to different categories of users."
The use case that Kawasaki gave is of a sales app that enables sales reps to open the app and view sales pipeline data for their region. You then open application access to the sales VP, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), or another group. You'd then want turn application features on or off. Normally you'd have to put a lot of application logic into your app, so you get convoluted, or you might have to have different apps, one for each different audience according to Kawasaki.
"We're now enabling with app management, we're adding into Mobile Fabric, the ability to actually control that via policy so that your administrator, whether on the back-end managing security, they can put policy configuration on or off and then that's dynamically changing the behavior in your application," Kawasaki said.
"It's not a developer change, but it's linking the application one-time behavior with the IT admin or security control policy," Kawasaki said. "That's all at an application level. It's not a solution where you have to enroll your device or it's not an MDM [mobile device management] heavyweight type of solution. You can have particular apps that you can turn them on or off based on I'm in the office turn it on so that I've got greater access or if I'm entering into a branch enable certain features or not based on who I am and the kind of work that I do."
"The fine graininess of the application security is much richer than maybe, again, the previous identity services that you'd see," Kawasaki said.
One of the reasons Kawasaki uses to sell the potential of MBaaS and MAM convergence is being able to block certain app features based on app policies.
Kawasaki sees MBaaS and MAM on a collision course. He thinks the reality of buying two different software categories and integrating them isn't the best solution. His alternative is enterprises purchasing a single mobile infrastructure that they'll be able to build upon for handling both services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).
He added that MBaaS/MAM convergence means app management can become more strategic and less invasive because it all becomes the backend of the service, backed up by policy, and becomes part of your application definition.
MBaaS and MAM: A separate future
Mark Lorion, Chief of Marketing and Product for Apperian, a mobile applications management platform provider, sees MAM and MBaaS solving different kinds of problems. He's not sure he sees a future convergence of these two platforms.
"It's very logical, but MAM's role is broader than that because some of the apps that would be managed on MAM are coming from MBaaS platforms, but a lot of them, and arguably more right now are coming from other kinds of application areas," Lorion said. "Consumer apps, or enterprise apps built natively or some of the dev platforms or web apps or whatever or MBaaS apps, all of those come together in MAM. So for MAM and MBaaS alone can consolidate a lot narrower than at least the mission that MAM has."
"I don't personally see that happening anytime soon," Lorion said.
He also said that his company is hearing a lot more discussions around MBaaS enabled apps with some of their prospective customers.
"I think ultimately the more these systems interact with each other, you lower the barrier for IT and organisations to actually use this stuff, and it becomes less daunting to create and maintain an app," Lorion said.
Which alternative future
While Kawasaki and Lorion see future MBaaS/MAM in different lights, it's important to consider that the only constants in the future of enterprise mobility is that platforms inevitably converge. We witnessed it in the mobile device management (MDM) market. From my perspective, MBaaS/MAM convergence may depend on the enterprise and how they've built out their internal app library versus some industry-wide trend. The prospect does remain an interesting future possibility though.
Do you see a future convergence between MBaaS and MAM? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.