Mobile Enablement Presents Challenges, Opportunities as Enterprises Retool Apps for the Future Now

Updated: March 17, 2011

The ubiquity of smartphones and more than 300,000 mobile apps available on Apple's App Store, coupled with the ease and convenience of mobile computing is putting pressure on IT to mobile enable B2C and B2E applications to facilitate organizational efficiency and keep up with consumer and employee demand for mobile access to applications and content.

When it comes to enabling mobile access to mission-critical enterprise apps, companies have made far less progress.

It's no surprise that millions of employees around the world are bringing their smartphones and mobile devices to work, resetting workplace expectations to have always-on access to the instantly available business apps that they've grown accustomed to from their personal lives.

According to a survey conducted by the Yankee Group, 90 percent of organizations surveyed have already enabled smartphone access to corporate email and PIM. Yet when it comes to enabling mobile access to mission-critical enterprise apps, companies have made far less progress, with only 30 percent of those surveyed providing smartphone access to customer relationship management (CRM), 20 percent to enterprise resource planning (ERP), and 18 percent to sales force automation (SFA).

CIOs scrambling

IT leaders and industry analysts are noticing CIOs scrambling to mobile-enable legacy applications to make them available on smartphones, tablets, and even GPS/navigation devices. And, IT departments are feeling the growing pressure to get this done in a matter of months -- to not only stay ahead of the competition, but in many cases, just to keep up.

One of the main challenges companies need to overcome when enabling mobile device access to existing data or legacy applications is the lack of "mobile ready" web service application programming interfaces (APIs) for existing applications.

Adding a service-level interface to a legacy application is a complex development project that typically involves a full or extensive rewrite of the existing legacy application. A common problem is that throughout the years an application has been written and modified by multiple developers, which are likely to have left the company, along with their institutional knowledge about the application. This situation had led many companies to basically re-write the application, which can take several years of coding and insurmountable resources and budget.

This situation had led many companies to basically re-write the application, which can take several years of coding and insurmountable resources and budget

It's essential that organizations evaluate these important factors when embarking on a mobile enablement project:

  • Do the applications you want to mobile-enable have documented APIs?
  • What components and features of your business application do you want to mobile enable?
  • How are you taking into account form factor?
  • How will you deal with business logic and processes too complicated to be executed on a mobile device with a limited keyboard, where air time needs to be controlled, and server round trips need to be minimized?
  • How will you deal with service interruptions requiring the ability to queue processes for later execution on the back end?
  • Will you be combining data from multiple apps into one mobile application?
  • What mobile platforms do you need to support?
  • To what extent will you want to modify or extend your mobile application in the near future?

The best way to facilitate mobile enablement projects is with focused, goal oriented, up-front planning that doesn't underestimate the complexity of the process, especially when dealing with traditional data integration techniques.

What many companies aren't aware of is that there is an alternative approach to developing custom-built, native apps that doesn't require dependency on pre-existing APIs.

Known as "browser-based data integration," this emerging approach makes existing business applications and data "mobile ready" by allowing organizations to wrap their existing web application without changing the systems that are already there.

By creating a new web service interface "wrapper" without re-writing any of the existing code, mobile access to enterprise B2C and B2E applications can be possible in days or weeks, not months or years.

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