Nitin is a technology enthusiast with several years of consulting experience working with companies across the gamut, to craft solutions that focus on delivering value on their key initiatives. He shares a passion for emerging technologies and trends, and blogs about its ever-changing landscape; discussing current issues, trends, and best practices. Blending a sharp business acumen with strategic thinking, Nitin has helped companies navigate their path from ideation, all the way to implementation. Nitin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As user interactions shift from desktop to mobile, companies are rushing to release mobile apps that will better serve the needs of their employees and customers. With Gartner predicts that by 2015 mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber desktops by 4:1. A recent report by GIA projects that the market for enterprise mobility will reach a global value of $173.9 billion by 2017. This massive explosion in the enterprise mobility space has lured some companies to take the “wild west” approach to mobile application development. Application developers, armed with existing processes, tools, and resources, run into a plethora of challenges when it comes to mobile app development.
In a recent survey of enterprise leaders by Appcelerator, it was reported that 73% of enterprises have built fewer than five applications, and 39% have built none or just one. These statistics are indicative of the fact that enterprises are struggling to understand the mobile landscape.
Challenges in mobile application development stem from the complex nature of the mobile ecosystem. Creating mobile apps that are well designed and developed can make a company feel like it is chasing its tail due to the complexities involved in creating a great user experience as well as maintaining that experience as the mobile ecosystem evolves. That being said, careful planning and execution of a well-defined mobile application development strategy can lead to significant gains in key business drivers. Given the breadth of information to be covered, I’ve created a three part series – uncovering the challenges, understanding the basics, and discussing the best practices for a robust mobile application development strategy. In this first part, let’s spend some time understanding the challenges.
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Identifying Innovative Mobile Use Cases
When companies are brainstorming app ideas, they typically start with pretty basic needs like access to calendar and email on mobile devices. Although relevant, these use cases are a far cry from the real value that can be achieved. Beyond “extending the enterprise”, meaning developing apps that extend current enterprise applications and processes to mobile devices, companies are struggling to identify mobile use cases that will have a significant impact on defined business metrics.
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One of the major challenges with mobile application development has been user experience. Some enterprise app developers treat mobile devices as just another screen and extend enterprise applications to mobile devices without realizing that user interactions and behaviors are vastly different. This makes for an unintuitive and cumbersome experience for users resulting in low adoption and usage of the application.
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Security around devices and applications can be a beast to manage with so many different devices and so many operating system variants. The ability to access information via mobile devices can bring immense opportunity, but many companies are afraid of this information being misused. As a result, companies are taking the intrusive approach and locking down devices using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions which improperly implemented can lead to a poor user experience, making adoption an uphill battle. Additionally, employees are not in favor of enterprise control over their personal devices, applications, and information. This also puts pressure on the IT team that now has its hands full managing all the devices that access its corporate network. In the event of wiping an employee’s device on their departure from the company, IT could be faced with liability and privacy issues in the interest of protecting enterprise data.
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Development Technology (Native, Hybrid and Web)
By now you have probably come across hundreds of articles that pit the three development technologies against each other. In the battle of these technologies, companies have a good understanding of the advantages/disadvantages of each of the platforms; yet struggle to pick the one that makes most sense for them, primarily because they are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. An uninformed decision can result in considerable expenditure, poor app performance, and lackluster user experience.
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Fragmentation of Devices and Operating Systems
Development There is a significant amount of fragmentation of devices and operating systems (here’s an article to give you an idea) that wasn’t as pervasive with desktop applications. Consequently, mobile app developers have to cater to a variety of these devices and run into issues with developing and maintaining multiple versions of the same app leading to the increased costs. Additionally older operating system versions have significant security flaws that will make IT cringe.
Testing With so many devices and operating system variants, testing truly becomes challenging as well. Along with the variability in device hardware, there are several nuances such as wireless switching, VPN drop/restarts, walk away, switching between apps that need to be addressed for a good user experience. And since it’s mobile, test scenarios must not only be executed on emulators, but also on actual devices to identify any bottlenecks due to network connectivity (3G/4G/wifi/offline) or device hardware (memory/processor).
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The traditional waterfall approach to mobile application development is a sure way to fail. With the mobile landscape evolving so quickly, long planning and development cycles will result in apps that feel dated and irrelevant. Companies should look beyond the development process (think approval of budgets, business cases definition) to increase their agility so they are in a position to respond faster based on market changes.
In Part 2, I’ll walk through the basic elements companies need to think through before starting their mobile application development efforts. These elements will lay the foundation for how companies build and grow their mobile footprint.