Mobility is one of those areas of IT that most people believe is mainstream. The explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops has led to a workforce that is more likely to work out of the office than in the office. This is not just an issue for in-house developers but also for commercial software companies as well.
The most obvious problem for many is that of websites. They display poorly on small screens, the User Interface (UI) is clumsy and graphics can take a long time to load. A significant percentage of cloud-based applications are not designed with a mobile first approach. Many software vendors have simply shoehorned their applications onto the cloud and this is shown in the UI of their mobile clients. The biggest problem is with in-house applications as development teams lack the key skills to write mobile applications and often have no budget to retrain their developers.
Mobility is no longer an option
Google has forced the hand of many website owners by giving those sites that are mobile friendly higher rankings. For many, this is long overdue and it is surprising how many corporate and commercial websites still fail basic mobility and disability checks.
A new survey conducted by OutSystems and TechValidate shows that business owners are starting to realise that they need to drive change, not just expect it to happen. The survey results which can be downloaded here (registration required) looked at what critical business functionality for apps businesses wanted this year. It also looked at the mobile architectures likely to be used and the type of apps that enterprises plan to build during 2015.
Mobile heads the business functionality requirements
When asked about what functionality was critical for apps being delivered in 2015 the responses were mixed. The top five requirements are:
- 30% want websites/portals that are mobile-friendly
- 16% expect to be focused on the integration of disparate systems/data sources
- 13% wanted mobile apps
- 11% are focused on modernising legacy systems
- 10% intend to replace legacy systems
Although better mobile support for websites and portals is seen as a key priority, it is interesting that mobile apps are less important that integrating the application sprawl companies are suffering from. According to analyst firm Creative Intellect Consulting (CIC): “A significant part of that sprawl has been created by the explosion of cloud-based systems that have been purchased by business users outside of the control of IT departments.
“Another major contributor has been the expectations that big data and analytics will deliver new revenue streams. Unfortunately, to get there, companies are still struggling with data cleansing and merging of data sets before they can begin any analysis.”
These two issues are clearly identified with 16% focused on integration of systems/data and the 21% who are still trying to address issues around their legacy systems. Upgrading or replacing legacy issues is often seen as a good time to introduce greater mobility support but the survey doesn’t call out how much of the mobility requirement from respondents is related to changes in their legacy portfolio.
When asked about how many apps will be mobile or have at least a mobile component the results were evenly split with four options.
- 25% expect that 76% or more of the apps they deliver will be mobile or have a mobile component
- 26% expect that 51-75% of the apps they deliver will be mobile or have a mobile component
- 23% expect that 26-50%% or more of the apps they deliver will be mobile or have a mobile component
- 26% expect no more than 25% of the apps they deliver will be mobile or have a mobile component
Choosing the right architecture is key to sustainable development
The respondents were given three choices of architecture for their applications:
- 60% expect to use a mobile web architecture
- 65% intend to build hybrid applications
- 26% will build native applications
What is interesting about these figures is how few are building native applications. A few years ago, the difference in performance on mobile devices between native applications and those built, for example, in HTML for portability was significant. The problem was that many developers were left with complex streams of code that often needed adapting for each device. Making this worse has been the explosion of device formats.
The advantage of using a mobile web architecture also means that developers have to learn a controlled set of skills that can be applied to multiple projects. The survey highlights that there is still a constant growth in new programming languages which means companies will need to think carefully and even resort to being prescriptive in terms of their future app developments.
Enterprise apps still top the in-house development work
Despite there being a long list of apps that enterprises expect to be writing, the top five are pretty
- 53% – process automation
- 36% – reporting and analytics
- 31% – executive dashboards and scorecards
- 26% – CRM
- 24% – collaboration
Compared to last year this is very similar to the list of apps that companies were planning back then. However, it is unclear how much of this work is new apps, continuation of previous work or as part of a wider integration with cloud-based solutions. Given some of the early responses, it is not unrealistic to see some of this work as integrating cloud solutions into existing legacy environments.
A good example of this is collaboration software. While keeping the data inside enterprise controlled environment where data sovereignty is an issue, all of the major tools are now available as Software as a Service (SaaS) and work across a range of devices. Any organisation trying to write its own collaboration software is wasting developer time and effort.
CRM is a more complex problem. The very big CRM vendors have been moving their software to the cloud but not as native cloud applications. This means that they still have issues with performance and latency. The result is that born on the cloud software vendors in CRM are beginning to eat heavily into the customers based of the established vendors. To limit this the big vendors have all developed their ecosystem of third party developers to help speed up the delivery of new functionality.
The growth of hybrid cloud and the ability to integrate different products through an increasing number of open APIs is making it easier for companies to migrate from legacy CRM. But this comes with a price and that is the complexity of applications landscapes. Enterprises that were already struggling to integrate their existing environments are being swamped by the need to integrate cloud applications purchased by business units.
Mobility has been development target for over a decade. The explosion of the App economy shows that in some areas it is not only possible to deliver mobile apps quickly but also get the right level of functionality for users. This report highlights yet again how much work is still to be done not only inside enterprise development teams but also by software vendors.