Mobile enterprise solutions are a growing trend for organizations looking to improve engagement with customers, partners and employees and maximize return from existing resources and systems. No surprise then that 451 Research’s recent research reveals that more than half of companies surveyed plan to increase their mobile budgets in 2015. With many companies planning to hire developers it isn’t as simple as creating a new team from the existing IT division and redistributing job titles. Front-end mobile app development is different and isn’t for everyone.
Here is my simple guide to app development, based on my experiences with client organizations in Europe.
Pick team members that have the ability and passion to thrive in a fast-moving, agile and customer-facing environment. There is no time for detailed documentation with many mobile projects. Ambiguity is the norm, as is the ability to interpret often vague user requirements and translate them to creative solutions. Developers need to work hand-in-hand with clients, there is no room for a large team of business and system analysts. In the new agile programming world there is often no project manager and development teams are self-managing. This is not a comfortable environment for an engineer steeped in the traditions of legacy IT support and development, which is not to say that there isn’t a role for these more traditional IT skills. Indeed, many industry analysts recommend that to manage the demand for mobile apps while maintaining existing applications and systems, IT needs to adopt a two track approach that supports agility but also sustains the stability of core IT.
Mobile apps can often be identified, scoped, coded and delivered in a matter of days. Even complex apps can be deployed with only a couple of months of development. There is no time to accommodate a detailed ROI-style review of the costs and benefits of funding such projects. The admin will slow the team and impede benefits from being delivered in a timely manner. The mobile solutions team needs to be funded as part of an OpEx budget. The team needs to be trusted by the business and have the flexibility to pick projects that deliver as many business benefits as possible, as fast as possible, without involving budget committees and threatening faster response times.
3. Focus on real customer needs
Mobile-first teams are developing solutions that target specific customer needs. They must focus on what clients want and need, not just what IT can offer. Old-style legacy systems often drive the processes and functions used in the business. Here is a chance to change things and provide solutions that much better match what the business needs. Mobile devices come with a plethora of new tools, colored hi-res displays, cameras, GPS capture and touch screen manipulation. Many of the best solutions will use these to enhance the user experience. Be wary of falling in to the trap of limiting functionality because the ‘backend cannot support it,’ look for creative ways to deliver the user benefits beyond these legacy restrictions.
4. Multiple device support
Mobile devices are ubiquitous. There is a growing range of different devices available in the market, both commercial and consumer with mobile app release cycles short and frequent. Be careful of standardizing on any one device. This is especially true if taking advantage of cheaper consumer devices. Though often more powerful and feature-rich, they can become obsolete in a very short time. There is no point deploying a complex mobile solution that only works on a specific high-end consumer device if the manufacturer plans to replace and withdraw support after only a short period. Consider safe-guarding solutions by using hybrid programming techniques and code that enables easier porting to different devices.
5. Cloud-based platforms
If this is your first foray into developing a portfolio of mobile solutions, then chances are details may be scarce with regard to the likely take-up and use of potential apps in your organization. Estimating the demand and subsequent load on IT infrastructure will be challenging and could derail initial roll-outs. Avoid some of this uncertainty by looking to utilize cloud-based platforms that are easily re-configured to managing fluctuating loads. Many of these have been developed with a mobile-first strategy in mind, and typically incorporate up-to-date technologies and they continue the OpEx funding model already adopted by the development team (making it easier for the business to pay only for the service it uses).
Finally, there is a lot of hype around using mobile solutions for driving enterprise efficiencies. Don’t be put off – lots of what you are hearing is true!
 451 Research “2014 US Enterprise Mobility: IT Decision-maker Survey, Dec”, Dec 2014
by Tim Lock, Project Manager, Red Hat Mobile