From DIY to API – the Evolution of Mobile Backend Integration

Mobile app development is a “build fast, build repeatedly” model which has brought a whole slew of changes for today’s business, IT and developers. The age of mobile creates new demands for data as users expect information at their fingertips that is contextually aware and immediate, while protecting their privacy. For enterprise apps, much of the data to be consumed by mobile devices resides in systems of record across multiple backend systems, legacy applications, databases, and cloud services. Taking increasing data workloads from these backend and legacy systems, making it available across multiple connected devices, and protecting these systems of record from security breaches, is daunting. Add to this the data requirements from Internet of Things and a new set of challenges emerge.

Businesses are turning to mobile innovation and digital transformation in order to remain relevant and competitive in today’s market. This means driving hard to deliver on user-experience, data integration, and security for their mobile app development, and doing so at speed. This impacts all aspects of the app development. Going mobile means going agile and with that new tools, architectures, and processes – all playing essential and intersecting roles.

From DIY to API

While a good deal of focus has been on client-side app development and UI/UX with toolkits emerging to help front-end developers become more agile, the need to bring agility to backend app development is worthy of attention. Backend development, is where most of the complexity and resource-intensity lies. According to Gartner, creating a custom integration to the backend can take between 50 and 70 percent of the costs and time associated with app development. It’s not hard to see that a Do-It-Yourself backend development approach for each app goes against the grain.

With the number of connected devices and associated applications on an exponential trajectory, the data workloads that need to be shuffled to and from device and systems is set to explode. A model based on developing custom integrations for each app is neither sustainable nor scalable. Yet, the level of mobile maturity is such that many companies still code these backend connections from scratch or by using available libraries. According to a recent survey we conducted, this model is representative of a staggering 55% of organizations.

Red Hat Mobile Backend Integration

Mobile backend-as-a-service (MBaaS) solutions have emerged and evolved to help developers connect apps to backend systems. MBaaS, in essence, a set of pre-built APIs that are optimized for mobile and are made available to front-end developers without them having to spend time coding for each backend connection. As mobile complexity and maturity increases, organizations are beginning to adopt MBaaS and API-based approaches.

Mobile Maturity mirrors the Age of the Internet

If you look at the Internet when it first started. There was a lot of DIY with companies building their own web servers. Over time, standards and off-the-shelf products emerged. You can make this analogy with Mobile – companies developing their mobile architectures are early adopters . MBaaS is a relatively new phenomenon that can be difficult to grasp until the volume and complexity of mobile apps being developed reaches a point where DIY coding and deployment just won’t suffice. Those that build MBaaS into their mobile architectures early begin to reap the rewards.

Another noteworthy similarity between the Internet and Mobile is that, in the early stages of mobile, developers tended to start writing mobile apps against existing web APIs. Having built hardened APIs for the web, all they did was build a mobile app called a RESTful API, which is a very normal way of doing things. So, they built one mobile app that utilized or had similar functionality to the web app. This was great but was really more relevant to consumer apps where the hardened API was exposed to the public – over a public network. When you think of enterprise mobility in terms of employees accessing sensitive information from backend systems from outside the firewall, these hardened APIs didn’t exist. That’s not how people were thinking. So, some APIs may already be mobile-ready in terms of security, but they may not be mobile-ready in terms of producing JSON data in the right format.

The Mobile Backend Integration Journey

So how do companies start tackling the backend and move away from the customized or DIY approach? The focus needs to shift to more efficient means of sharing backend services across multiple mobile projects and one way to do that is to look at enterprise-grade MBaaS and Mobile Application Platform solutions that are architected for mobile and centralized for IT.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither can all this be tackled and changed overnight. Think back to the Internet! However, accepting the status quo won’t help the mobile journey. As companies evolve from initial single app rollouts to handling multiple apps, this means taking a leap of faith in MBaaS and Mobile Application Platform technology.

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